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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Whole Wheat Blueberry Scones

These just might be the best scones I’ve ever made. Maybe I just forgot how much I love scones because I don’t have them very often. Maybe it’s because I made them with my HUGE CSA blueberries. These were really really delicious. We ate them warm from the oven with fresh blueberries, nectarines & pluots on the side.

This recipe is from Smitten Kitchen’s Very Blueberry Scones. Fabulous!

Yield: 8 scones

  • 1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup (120 grams) whole wheat flour
  • Zest of 1 lemon, finely grated
  • 3 tablespoons raw (turbinado) or light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse or kosher salt
  • 5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small bits
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 2/3 cup (150 ml) milk, whole is best here
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon raw (tubinado) or other coarse sugar for finishing

  1. Heat oven to 400°F convection. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, combine flours, zest, sugar, baking powder and salt.
  3. Add cold butter and work into the flour mixture until the biggest pieces are the size of small peas with either your fingertips or a pastry blender.
  4. Stir in blueberries, then milk, mixing only until large clumps form. Use your hands to reach inside the bowl and gently (so gently) combine the mixture into one mass. The more you knead, the wetter the dough will get as the blueberries break up, so work quickly and knead only a few times. (I mixed it just until it came together- I think it keeps the scones more tender.)
  5. Transfer dough to a well-floured counter and pat into a roughly 1-inch tall disc. Cut into 8 wedges, do not fret if the blueberries are now making a mess of the dough; it will all work out in the oven.
  6. Transfer wedges to prepared baking sheet, spacing them apart. Brush the tops of each with egg, then sprinkle with coarse sugar.
  7. Bake for 15 to 17 minutes, until scones are golden brown on top. Serve warm. I find most scones to be best the first day, but they can be eaten on day two, gently rewarmed in the oven before eating.

Note: If freezing: Scones can be frozen unbaked. Hold any egg wash until ready to bake. Simply spread the wedges on a baking sheet and chill until frozen solid and will no longer stick to each other, and pack tightly into a freezer bag. You can bake them right from the freezer; you’ll only need 2 to 4 minutes extra baking time.

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Strawberry Cornmeal Griddle Cakes

Okay. I made the special jam, the “world-famous” strawberry shortcake cookies, the slab pie… We still had more hand-picked strawberries! I always feel a lot of pressure to make sure that they are put to good use. When I saw this recipe, I thought it would be the perfect breakfast on the morning of the last day of school- I surprised my kids with them. 🙂

This special breakfast was the perfect use for my super ripe- almost overripe- strawberries. SO sweet. This recipe is from Smitten Kitchen. We ate them right off the griddle with maple syrup. Easy and delicious. Happy Summer Vacation!!

Yield: 14 3-inch pancakes

  • 3/4 cup (95 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup (105 grams) yellow cornmeal
  • 2 tablespoons (25 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea or table or coarse salt
  • 3 tablespoons (45 grams) unsalted butter, plus more for buttering the pan (I used canola oil spray on my griddle)
  • 1 cup (235 ml) buttermilk, well-shaken, or 2/3 cup plain yogurt thinned with 1/3 cup milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup (about 140 grams or 5 ounces) roughly chopped strawberries
  1. In a large bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt with a whisk.
  2. In the microwave, melt 3 tablespoons butter in the bottom of a medium bowl.
  3. Whisk buttermilk with the melted butter, followed by the eggs, one at a time.
  4. Stir in strawberries. Pour strawberry-buttermilk mixture into dry ingredients and stir until just combined.
  5. In a large skillet (preferably cast-iron) or on a griddle, melt butter over medium/medium-low heat. (I used canola oil spray instead.)
  6. Pour a scant 1/4 cup batter into skillet for each pancake. Cook until bottoms are golden and bubbles appear all over top, about 1 to 2 minutes. Flip pancakes and cook until second side is golden, another minute. If batter slipped out the sides of the pancake when you first flipped it, return it to the first side for another 30 seconds to ensure the leaked batter cooks.
  7. Repeat with remaining batter, adding more butter/oil spray as needed. If pan gets too hot — the butter turns brown as soon as it melts, the pancakes are done on the outside before the inside — reduce the heat to low.
  8. Serve with fixings of your choice, be it a pat of butter, powdered sugar, syrup and/or additional fresh strawberries.

Note: If you’re not going to eat these right away, you can spread them on a baking sheet and keep them warm until needed in a 200 degree oven.

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Mushroom Bourguignon

It’s official… “bourguignon” is my new favorite word! I can’t stop saying it!! AMAZING. 🙂 I’m driving my family crazy…

This “meaty” vegetarian dish is hearty and rich with flavor. A wonderful twist on a classic French dish. I adapted the recipe from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook: Recipes and Wisdom from an Obsessive Home Cook by Deb Perelman. We ate it over fresh tagliatelle noodles, but it would be delicious with any other type of egg noodles such as pappardelle as well. An easy and elegant weeknight meal.

Yield: Serves 6 as a main course

  • 3 T (45 ml) olive oil
  • 3 T (45 g) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 pounds cremini mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed, & cut into 1/4-inch slices
  • 1 1/2 cups (172 g) pearl onions, peeled (thawed if frozen)
  • 1 small carrot, finely diced
  • 1 yellow onion, finely diced
  • 1 large shallot, finely diced
  • 1 1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves or 3/4 tsp dried thyme leaves
  • coarse salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups (352 ml) full-bodied red wine
  • 2 1/2 T (52 g) tomato paste
  • 3 cups (712 ml) beef, chicken, or vegetable stock
  • 2 T plus 1 tsp (18 g) all-purpose flour
  • egg noodles, for serving (I used fresh tagliatelle)
  • chopped chives or parsley, for garnish, optional
  • sour cream, for garnish, optional
  1.  Heat 1 1/2 T olive oil and 1 1/2 T butter in a medium-sized Dutch oven or heavy saucepan over high heat.
  2. Sear the mushrooms and thawed pearl onions until they begin to take on a little color- your mushrooms will make a delightful “squeak-squeak” as they’re pushed around the hot pan- but the mushrooms do not yet release any liquid, about 3 to 4 minutes.
  3. Remove mushrooms and pearl onions from the pan and set aside.
  4. Lower the flame to medium and add the second T of olive oil. Add the carrot, yellow onion, shallot, thyme, a few pinches of coarse salt, and several grinds of black pepper in the pan, and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion is lightly browned.
  5. Add the garlic and cook for just 1 more minute. Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Add the wine to the pot, scraping any stuck bits off the bottom, then turn the heat all the way up and reduce it by half, which will take about 4 to 5 minutes.
  7. Stir in the tomato paste and the stock.
  8. Add back the mushrooms and pearl onions with any juices that have collected; bring the mixture to a boil- then reduce the temperature so it simmers for 10 to 15 minutes, or until both the mushrooms and onions are very tender.
  9. Combine the flour and the remaining butter with a fork; stir this into the stew.
  10. Lower the heat and simmer for 10 more minutes. If the sauce is too thin, boil it down to reduce to a “coating” consistency. (I boiled mine down for 10 minutes!) Season with additional salt and pepper, to taste.
  11. When the desired consistency of the stew is achieved, cook the egg noodles according to the package directions in salted boiling water.
  12. To serve, spoon the stew over a bowl of egg noodles, dollop with sour cream (we omitted this topping), if using, and sprinkle with optional chives or parsley.

Note: The stew reheats very well on the second and third days in a large saucepan over low heat.

IMG_3880

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Gooey Cinnamon Squares

Wow. These super moist cookie-cake squares were good. They are snickerdoodle meets creme brĂ»lĂ©e meets coffee cake (maybe even (our favorite) King Cake!?!). Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen has shown me- once again- why she is an amazing food blogger… This is her own description of this dessert:

“The base is slightly more cake than cookie, the topping is a cross between toasted marshmallow and cinnamon toast, and if you just read that and haven’t shut this book to make this happen in your kitchen immediately, I’ve failed.”

She didn’t fail to encourage me to make them- and we were very pleased with the results. 🙂 This recipe is from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook: Recipes and Wisdom from an Obsessive Home Cook by Deb Perelman. I used coarse salt instead of table salt. Traditionally cream of tartar is used, but 2 teaspoons of baking powder could be substituted for both the cream of tartar and the baking soda. I used the traditional corn syrup but Perelman noted that honey or golden syrup would work equally well. Great!!

For the Soft Cookie Base:

  • 8 T (115 g, 1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pan
  • 1 1/2 cups (188 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp coarse salt
  • 3/4 cup (150 g) granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) milk (I used 1 percent)

For the Gooey Layer:

  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) light corn syrup, golden syrup, or honey
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) milk, half & half, or heavy cream
  • 1 T vanilla extract
  • 12 T (170 g, or 1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup plus 2 T (225 g) granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp coarse salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/4 cups (155 g) all-purpose flour

For the Topping:

  • 2 T (25 g) granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

IMG_3265

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. (I used the convection setting.)
  2. Line the bottom of a 9×13-inch cake pan with at least 2-inch sides with parchment paper and either butter the paper and sides of the pan or coat them with non-stick spray.
  3. Prepare the Soft Cookie Base: Whisk the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.
  4. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the 8 T butter with sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
  5. Add the egg and the milk, and beat until combined, scraping down the bowl and then beating for 10 seconds more.
  6. Beat in the dry ingredients until just combined.
  7. Dollop cookie base over the bottom of the prepared pan and spread it into an even layer with a butter knife or offset spatula. Set pan aside.
  8. Prepare the Gooey Layer: Whisk liquid sweetener, milk, and vanilla together in a small bowl and set aside.
  9. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter, sugar, and salt until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
  10. Beat in the egg, scrape down sides of the bowl, and mix 10 seconds more.
  11. Add 1/3 of the flour and mix, then 1/2 of the vanilla mixture and mix. Repeat again, twice, until all of the flour has been mixed until just combined.
  12. Dollop over the cookie base and spread carefully with an offset spatula or butter knife.
  13. Make the Topping: Mix the sugar and cinnamon in a tiny dish and sprinkle it over the entire gooey layer. It will be thick but will come out of the oven almost like a creme brûlée lid, i.e. awesomely.
  14. To Bake & Serve: Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until the cookies have bronzed on top. The gooey layer will rise and fall in the oven but will still be a bit liquidy under the cinnamon crust when the squares are done.
  15. Let cool completely on a rack, then cut into 1-inch squares.

Note: The squares keep at room temperature in an airtight container for at least a week.

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