Chocolate Babka

I have wanted to bake this special cake ever since first seeing photos of it from Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem book all over the blogosphere. It always looks stunning and delicious.

This version is an adaptation of the Chocolate Krantz Cakes in Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi from Smitten Kitchen.com. I loved that she had already made this babka FIVE times, and modified the recipe to perfection. Tried and true. Thank you, Deb Perelman! 🙂

Perelman’s adaptations included omitting the nuts, using granulated instead of superfine sugar, large instead of extra-large eggs, and reducing the amount of sugar syrup topping. She also modified the technique for ease. I melted the chocolate and butter in a double boiler and let the dough rise in a proofing drawer as well.

We enjoyed it warm from the oven for Easter dessert. Rich and wonderful.

Yield: 2 loaf-sized chocolate babkas

For the Dough:

  • 4 1/4 cups (530 grams) all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast (rapid rise)
  • grated zest of half an orange
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup water (cold is fine) and up to 1 to 2 tablespoons extra, if needed
  • 3/4 teaspoon fine sea or table salt
  • 2/3 cup unsalted butter (150 grams or 5.3 ounces), at room temperature
  • Sunflower, Canola, other neutral oil, or cooking oil spray, for greasing

For the Filling:

  • 4 1/2 ounces (130 grams) dark chocolate (I used 72% cacao dark chocolate)
  • 1/2 cup (120 grams) unsalted butter, cold is fine
  • scant 1/2 cup (50 grams) powdered sugar
  • 1/3 cup (30 grams) cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

For the Sugar Syrup:

  • 1/3 cup water
  • 6 tablespoons (75 grams) granulated sugar

Make the dough:

  1. Combine the flour, sugar, yeast and zest in the bottom of the bowl of a stand mixer.
  2. Add eggs and 1/2 cup water, mixing with the paddle or dough hook until it comes together; this may take a couple of minutes. (If it doesn’t come together, add extra water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough forms a mass.)
  3. With the mixer on low, add the salt, then the butter, a spoonful at a time, mixing until it’s incorporated into the dough.
  4. If using the paddle, switch to the dough hook. Mix on medium speed for 10 minutes until dough is completely smooth; you’ll need to scrape the bowl down a few times. After 10 minutes, the dough should begin to pull away from the sides of the bowl. If not, add 1 tablespoon extra flour to help this along.
  5. Coat a large bowl with oil (or scrape the dough out onto a counter and oil this one) and place dough inside, cover with plastic and refrigerate. Leave in fridge for at least half a day, preferably overnight. The dough will not fully double, so don’t be concerned if it doesn’t look like it grew by more than half.

Make the filling:

  1. In a double boiler, melt butter and chocolate together until smooth. Remove from heat.
  2. Stir in powdered sugar and cocoa; mixture should form a spreadable paste. Add cinnamon.

Assemble the loaves:

  1. Coat two 9-by-4-inch (2 1/4 or 1 kg) loaf pans with cooking spray, oil or butter, and line the bottom of each with a rectangle of parchment paper.
  2. Take half of dough from fridge (leave the other half chilled). Roll out on a well-floured counter to about a 10-inch width (the side closest to you) and as long in length (away from you) as you can when rolling it thin, likely 10 to 12 inches.
  3. Spread half of chocolate mixture evenly over the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border all around.
  4. Brush the end farthest away from you with water. Roll the dough up with the filling into a long, tight cigar. Seal the dampened end onto the log.
  5. Transfer the log to a plastic wrap-lined, rimmed baking tray. Place in the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes. (This allows the log to be cut in half more easily.) Repeat with second dough.
  6. Trim last 1/2-inch off each end of log. Gently cut the log in half lengthwise and lay them next to each other on the counter, cut sides up. Pinch the top ends gently together. Lift one side over the next, forming a twist and trying to keep the cut sides facing out (because they’re pretty). Don’t worry if this step makes a mess, just transfer the twist as best as you can into the prepared loaf pan. (The dough will fill in any gaps by the time it’s done rising and baking, so don’t worry if the pan isn’t filled.) Note: Next time I would try crossing the dough more than once, if possible.
  7. Cover with a damp tea towel and leave to rise another 1 to 1 1/2 hours in a proofing drawer or at room temperature. Repeat process with second loaf.

Bake and finish cakes:

  1. Heat oven to 375°F (190°C), preferably on convection.
  2. Remove towels, place each loaf on the middle rack of your oven. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. A skewer inserted into an underbaked babka will feel stretchy/rubbery inside and may come back with dough on it. When fully baked, you’ll feel almost no resistance. If your babka needs more time, put it back, 5 minutes at a time then re-test. If it browns too quickly, you can cover it with foil.

While the babkas are baking, make the sugar syrup:

  1. Bring sugar and water to a simmer until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and set aside to cool somewhat.
  2. As soon as the babkas leave the oven, brush the syrup all over each. It will seem like too much, but will taste just right — glossy and moist.
  3. Let babkas cool about halfway in pan, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool the rest of the way before eating. (or serve warm!)

Do ahead: Babkas keep for a few days at room temperature. Reheat prior to serving, if desired. If longer, freeze them. They freeze and defrost well.

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Watermelon Salads

My kids and I love summer watermelon. We usually just chomp on slices of it at the beach, but I recently incorporated it into two refreshing summer side salads.

The first was an adaptation of the classic Middle Eastern Tabouli Salad substituting watermelon for tomatoes. What a great idea! 🙂 The second was another classic Middle Eastern way of serving watermelon- with feta and basil. I made it for a party and was unable to capture it in a photo. You can (will have to!) imagine how pretty it looked. I had been unaware of how wonderful watermelon pairs with feta cheese- so simple and tasty.

The tabbouleh recipe was adapted from Martha Stewart Living and the watermelon-feta salad recipe was adapted from Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London’s Ottolenghi by Yotam Ottolenghi. Fresh, seasonal and delicious.

Tabbouleh with Watermelon

Yield: Serves 4

  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • coarse salt
  • 3/4 cup bulgur wheat (I used coarse red bulgur)
  • 1 1/2 to 3+ cups peeled and coarsely chopped watermelon
  • 2/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced on the bias
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest, plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 ounces soft goat or feta cheese, crumbled
  1. Bring water and 1/4 teaspoon salt to a boil in a medium saucepan. Stir in bulgur, and remove from heat. Let stand, covered, for 15 minutes. Fluff with a fork, and let stand, uncovered, until cooled, 15 to 30 minutes. (I spread the cooked bulgur out on a rimmed baking sheet to speed the cooling process.)
  2. Transfer bulgur to a bowl, and toss with watermelon, parsley, scallions, oil, lemon zest and juice, and 1/4 teaspoon salt.
  3. Gently fold in cheese. Serve.

Watermelon, Basil & Feta Salad

Yield: Serves 4

  • 10 oz block feta (preferable sheep’s milk)
  • 4 to 5 cups of large-dice watermelon cubes
  • 3/4 cups basil leaves, chiffonade
  • 1/2 small red onion, very thinly sliced
  • olive oil, for drizzling
  1. Slice the feta into large but thin pieces, or just break it by hand into rough chunks.
  2. Arrange all of the ingredients, except for the olive oil, on a platter or bowl, mixing them up a little.
  3. Drizzle olive oil over the top and serve immediately.

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Ottolenghi’s Deconstructed Baba Ghanouj

This is the final part of our amazing Middle Eastern feast that I would like to share with you. Even though baba ghanouj is typically an appetizer, we really could have eaten this dish as a complete meal! We gobbled it up with warm naan.  Our spread was complete with grilled chicken thighs, Tomato and Pomegranate Salad, Hummus, and Baked Rice. SO so SO good.

This recipe was adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi via The New York Times, contributed by Sam Sifton. I used 3 eggplants and charred them on a gas grill. I loved the use of fresh oregano as a garnish because my home-grown oregano has completely taken over my herb garden! 😉

  • 3 large eggplants, approximately 2-3 pounds
  • flaky sea salt or kosher salt, to taste
  • 4 tablespoons tahini paste
  • 2 plum tomatoes, roughly grated
  • 1 small garlic clove, crushed, peeled and minced
  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves
  • warm naan, for serving
  1. Char the eggplant. Prick surface of the eggplant in multiple places with a fork to release steam when cooking. To cook on a stove, place each eggplant directly over an open medium flame, and cook for 15 or 20 minutes, using tongs to turn the eggplant a number of times, until the skin is charred all over and the flesh is soft and smoky. To cook on a gas or charcoal grill, place the eggplants on the grill, and cook over medium-high heat, using tongs to turn the eggplant until the skin is charred all over and the flesh is completely soft and smoky.
  2. Remove the eggplants from the heat, and place on a rack to cool and drain, approximately 15 to 20 minutes. Once they are cool enough to handle, peel away the skin, leaving the stalks intact, and place them on a large plate.
  3. Using your fingers, coax each eggplant into a fan shape, sprinkle with a pinch of salt and drizzle with a tablespoon of tahini.
  4. Meanwhile, mix the grated tomato in a medium bowl with the garlic, oil, lemon juice and another pinch of salt. Spoon the mixture over the eggplants and tahini, leaving some of the eggplant visible, and then sprinkle with the oregano leaves and a final dusting of salt.
  5. Serve with warm naan.

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Ottolenghi’s Tomato & Pomegranate Salad

This salad was fresh, bright, colorful, and loaded with flavor. I loved the crunch from the pomegranate seeds too. We ate it as part of our Middle Eastern feast along with grilled chicken thighs, Hummus, Baked Rice, Deconstructed Baba Ghanouj, and warm naan. Delicious!

This recipe was adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi via The New York Times, contributed by Sam Sifton. I made my own za’atar spice blend and omitted the mint. It would be a lovely side with any grilled meat. Perfect for a picnic too.

I’m bringing this dish to Angie’s Fiesta Friday #127 co-hosted by my friends Suzanne @A Pug in the Kitchen and Jess @ Cooking is my Sport. Enjoy!

For the Za’atar:

  • 1 T thyme
  • 1 T sesame seeds, toasted in a dry skillet and coarsely pulsed in a spice grinder
  • 1 tsp sumac
  • 1/4 tsp coarse salt

For the Salad:

  • 2 pints mixed small or cherry tomatoes, of varying colors
  • 2 teaspoons za’atar (see above)
  • 3 ½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • seeds from 1 pomegranate (I used a 5.3 oz package of pomegranate seeds)
  • ½ yellow bell pepper, seeds removed and very thinly sliced
  • ½ small red onion, peeled and very thinly sliced
  • â…“ cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, chiffonade
  • â…“ cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves, chiffonade (I omitted the mint)
  • freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 1/2 of a lemon)
  • flaky sea salt such as Fleur de Sel
  • 3 ½ ounces manouri or feta cheese, broken into small chunks
  1. Make the Za’atar: Toast the sesame seeds in a dry skillet until lightly toasted. Pulse in a spice grinder until a powder is formed. Combine with sumac, thyme, and coarse salt. Set aside.
  2. Halve or quarter the tomatoes so that they are all roughly the same size, and place them in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Mix two teaspoons of the za’atar with 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil, and set aside.
  4. To the bowl with tomatoes, add the pomegranate seeds, sliced pepper and onion, the herbs, lemon juice, cheese, and the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil and 1 teaspoon of salt.
  5. Gently mix the salad, then transfer it to a large shallow bowl or serving platter. Drizzle the za’atar mixture over the salad and serve.

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Ottolenghi’s Baked Rice

I was drooling over every photo in a New York Times magazine article featuring a home banquet prepared by Yotam Ottolenghi. I wanted it ALL on my plate. But, preparing all of the beautiful dishes at once by myself was another story completely- too large of an undertaking. 😦 This baked rice was at the top of my list. Two heads of garlic! Fourteen shallots! Fabulous.

This recipe was adapted from The New York Times, contributed by Sam Sifton. I used the zest of one half of a lemon and 1 teaspoon of curry masala instead of fresh or dried curry leaves. I also baked the rice in an enameled cast iron pan with a lid instead of transferring the garlic and shallots to an aluminum foil-covered baking dish before baking them with the rice. We ate it for dinner with grilled chicken thighs seasoned with a Pilpelchuma spice blend, Hummus, Tomato and Pomegranate Salad, Deconstructed Baba Ghanouj, and warm naan. Our own banquet. 🙂  Amazing.

  • â…“ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 heads garlic, cloves peeled
  • 12-14 medium-size shallots, peeled and quartered lengthwise
  • zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 2 whole sprigs fresh curry leaves, left on stem, or substitute a handful of dry curry leaves, or 1 tsp curry masala
  • 2 cups white basmati rice
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste
  • ½ teaspoon saffron threads, soaked in 2 tablespoons boiling water for 30 minutes
  1. Heat oven to 425, preferably on convection.
  2. Put the oil into a sauté pan set over medium heat. (I used a large enameled cast iron pan.)
  3. When the oil shimmers, add the garlic cloves, shallots and lemon zest, and cook, tossing occasionally, for about 15 minutes, until the garlic is golden brown and soft.
  4. Add the sprigs of curry leaves, if using, or the curry masala, and cook for approximately 2 minutes more, or until the leaves are starting to crisp.
  5. Pour the garlic and shallots into a large ovenproof baking dish, approximately 10 by 14 inches, and spread the rice over the vegetables in an even layer. (If using a large pan with a lid, keep vegetables in the same pan but spread evenly along the bottom before adding the rice.)
  6. Sprinkle 2 teaspoons of salt over the rice, and then pour 3 1/2 cups of boiling water over the rice. Cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil (or a tight-fitting lid), and place in the oven for 30 minutes or so, until all the water has been absorbed and the rice is light, fluffy and starting to turn crisp around the edges.
  7. Remove the dish from the oven, uncover and drizzle the saffron and its soaking water over the dish. Re-cover the dish with the aluminum foil or the lid, and allow it to sit on the stove top for another 5 or 10 minutes. Serve.

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If You Like this you may also like:

Ottolenghi’s Sweet Corn Polenta with Eggplant Sauce

The fresh corn polenta in this dish is insanely delicious. I could eat it every meal of the day- so sweet, rich, and fabulous!! It would be lovely with absolutely any topping. It will be the only polenta I will ever make in sweet corn season. Worth every bit of effort. I hope I’m not overdoing my rave review!! 🙂

This dish was adapted from Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London’s Ottolenghi by Yotam Ottolenghi. I reduced the amount of oil in the eggplant sauce by half and extended the cooking time for the polenta. Such a special meal!

I’m bringing this one to share at Angie’s Fiesta Friday #78 co-hosted by Judi @Cooking with Aunt Juju and Petra @ Food Eat Love. Enjoy!

Yield: Serves 4

For the Eggplant Sauce:

  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup vegetable oil (I used coconut oil)
  • 1 medium eggplant, cut into 3/4-inch dice
  • 2 teaspoons tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup chopped peeled tomatoes (I used 14.5 oz diced canned tomatoes)
  • 6 1/2 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
  1. Heat up the oil in a large saucepan and fry the eggplant on medium heat for about 15 minutes, or until nicely brown. Drain off as much oil as you can and discard it. (I decreased the oil and didn’t have excess oil to drain.)
  2. Add the tomato paste to the pan and stir with the eggplant. Cook for 2 minutes, then add the wine and cook for 1 minute.
  3. Add the chopped tomatoes, water, salt, sugar and oregano and cook for a further 5 minutes to get a deep-flavored sauce.
  4. Set aside; warm it up when needed.

For the Polenta:

  • 6 ears of corn
  • 2 1/4 cups water
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
  • 7 ounces feta, crumbled
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  1. Remove the leaves and “silk” from each ear of corn, then chop off the pointed top and stalk. Use a sharp knife to shave off the kernels — either stand each ear upright on its base and shave downward, or lay each ear on its side on a cutting board to slice off the kernels. You want to have 1 1/4 pounds kernels.
  2. Place the kernels in a medium saucepan and barely cover them with the 2 1/4 cups water.
  3. Cook for 12 minutes on a low simmer. Use a slotted spoon to lift the kernels from the water and into a food processor; reserve the cooking liquid. (I used a Vitamix.) Process them for quite a few minutes, to break as much of the kernel case as possible. Add some of the cooking liquid if the mixture becomes too dry to process.
  4. Now return the corn paste to the pan with the cooking liquid and cook, while stirring, on low heat for 15 to 30 minutes, or until the mixture thickens to mashed potato consistency.
  5. Fold in the butter, the feta, salt and some pepper and optionally cook for a further 2 minutes. Taste and add more salt if needed.
  6. Divide the polenta among shallow bowls and spoon some warm eggplant sauce in the center.

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Green Couscous with Arugula

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A few evenings ago, my husband and son were at a swim meet and I was home with my picky-eating daughter. I had tons of beautiful CSA arugula all to myself! 🙂 (It is my favorite!) Initially, I was going to just eat it as a giant salad for dinner, but this seemed much more special. I quadrupled the amount of arugula in this dish. Healthy & delicious- as a vegetarian entree or a side dish. This recipe was adapted from Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London’s Ottolenghi by Yotam Ottolenghi. I am bringing this to share with my arugula loving friends for Fiesta Friday #25 at the Novice Gardener. Have a great weekend!

Yield: Serves 4

  • 1 cup whole wheat couscous
  • 3/4 cup boiling water or vegetable stock
  • 1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp coarse salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground cumin

For the Herb Paste:

  • 1/3 cup chopped parsley
  • 1 cup chopped cilantro
  • 2 T chopped tarragon
  • 2 T chopped dill
  • 2 T chopped mint
  • 4 T olive oil

To complete the dish:

  • 1/2 cup roasted, salted pistachios, roughly chopped
  • 3 green onions, finely sliced
  • 1 jalapeño, finely sliced
  • 4-5 cups arugula leaves, roughly chopped
  • 3-4 oz feta cheese, crumbled
  1. Place the couscous in a large bowl and cover with the boiling water or stock. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave for 10 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, fry the onion in the olive oil on medium heat until golden and completely soft. Add the salt and cumin and mix well. Leave to cool slightly.
  3. To make the herb paste. Place all the ingredients in a food processor and blitz until smooth.
  4. Add the herb paste to the couscous and mix everything together well with a fork to fluff it up.
  5. Add the cooked onion, pistachios, green onions, jalapeño, arugula, and feta. Gently mix. Serve at room temperature.

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