Home on the Range
November 27, 2011
The first time papa brought a babka, it was gone in a flash.
He set the white bakery box on the kitchen table, then turned to get a knife. There was a flash of fur, the gnash of teeth, silence. Theo makes quick work of his prey. We never even found the box.
The next time papa came to visit, we were prepared. When he set the butter-stained box on the table, we closed in, shoulder to shoulder. We folded back the flaps to reveal something drab. Babka is round and brown.
We sliced the round, brown loaf into wedges and discovered strata of sweet white marbled with chocolate dark. We peeled apart the layers, following the swirls to the center where sugar grit, cinnamon flecks and chocolate shards converge. The mother lode.
Our technique took longer than Theo's, but the result was the same: The babka was gone.
We slumped around the kitchen, waiting for papa to visit again. We passed the time by tracing the babka family tree. The butter- and egg-enriched dough calls to mind the braided challah and the tender brioche. It's related to the syrup-soaked baba au rhum, the custard-filled savarin and the tall kugelhopf. Babka comes from that big happy family of sweetened breads baked up bumpy, like a beehive hairdo, which is (more or less) what babka means.
We tried kneading our own rich dough twisted up with treasure. We kept adding more of the good stuff until we'd concocted a loaf so buttery and sweet and chocolate-chocked it deserved the name babka. We're not telling Theo. Or papa. We still love delivery.
Takes: Much of the day, but well worth it
Makes: 1 large Bundt loaf
For the babka:
2/3 cup warm whole milk
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs, lightly beaten
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 1/2 cups flour
For the filling:
8 ounces semisweet chocolate
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup pecans, toasted
For the egg wash:
1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water
Pour warm milk into the bowl of a stand mixer. Stir in yeast and a pinch of the sugar. Let sit until creamy-looking, about 5 minutes.
Attach dough hook. Mix in (in order) sugar, eggs, butter, salt, nutmeg. Sprinkle in flour 1/2 cup at a time. Let mixer run on medium speed, kneading a smooth, soft dough, about 5 minutes.
Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rest 1 hour (dough may not double). Punch down dough, let it rise again, 1 hour.
Meanwhile, make the filling: Break up chocolate and tumble into the food processor. Add cinnamon and sugar. Buzz to small bits. Add pecans and pulse a few times. Set aside.
Divide dough in half. Set one piece on a floured work surface. Roll out to a ¼-inch-thick rectangle, about 20 x 10 inches. Brush one of the long edges with a 1-inch wide stripe of egg wash. Leave this stripe bare of filling. Cover the rest of the dough with half the filling. Roll lightly with the rolling pin to press in filling.
Roll up dough into a 20-inch-long log, starting at the long chocolate-covered edge and working your way toward the egg-wash-covered edge. Pinch to seal. Set this log aside. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.
Lay the two logs side by side. Twist the logs around each other (it's easiest to start in the center and work toward one end, then the other). Curl into a large (6 cup or more) Bundt pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise, 1 hour. Or, refrigerate until babka time.
Slide pan into a 350-degree oven and bake until loaf looks deep brown and sounds hollow when thumped, about 40-45 minutes. Turn out onto a wire rack. Cool completely. Slice with a serrated knife. Enjoy.
Leah Eskin is a Tribune special contributor e-mail her at email@example.com
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