Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Finding Chocolate Babka

*Warning....lots of reading today. If you want to go straight to the recipe, scroll down.*

I consider  myself a pretty fearless baker. Thats why it caught me a little by surprise when Z-Monkey said to me casually one morning, " Mommy, how come you never make Babka? Auntie H. always does..." Ok, first things first. Auntie H. ran a bakery.  That should explain something, right? Ummm, not to a six year old, it doesn't. So, how, pray tell, do I go about explaining to my innocent and honest Z-Monkey that the reason why I never make babka is because it never comes out good! For some reason, I don't think that would be such a great topic in "Life Lessons for Today."  
If at first you don't succeed, just never do it again.
Anyways, his question got me thinking. Why do I never make babka? I make cinnamon buns, onion rolls, sweet dinner rolls, bear claws, challah and the likes? Why should babka be any different? You don't have to have a babka making license, right? So, I came to the conclusion, that its my recipe. That is, the lack of one.  I never really found a recipe that spoke to me. Therefore I undertook this as my mission of the week:
Find babka recipe, make babka and post results on blog regardless of the outcome. 
So we will consider this as a documentary of sorts, documenting my quest for the perfect babka recipe. As always, my starting point is Google. The first thing I found on Google was a surprising fact about babka-there are two completely different kinds of babka, which you will never find on the same table! The first kind originates from Jewish Eastern Europe, and is the one we are most familiar with. This kind of babka can further be narrowed down to two groups- Litvishe Babka and Galitzianer Babka
(I am completely serious.) The second kind of babka originates from Western Russia and Eastern Poland, and is traditionally baked for Easter Sunday. So that kind of babka looks like this. Confused yet? Me too. But one thing is clear, I don't care if my babka is Litvishe, Galitzianer, Chassidish or whatever, I just want it to taste like  like Green's! I have yet to find anyone who can reproduce Green's babka. Except for Auntie H. But I don't think its nice to ask professional bakers for their recipes, so thats out of the question. Back to my babka journey. I was surprised to find lots of food bloggers have made babka. I thought it was a super secret food found only deep in the supermarkets of Brooklyn. 
I guess something yummy  is worth sharing, right? So basically everyone used Martha Stewart's recipe for chocolate babka. But I was still nervous. The image I had in my head was layers upon layers of yeast dough, drenched in chocolate. All the pictures of Martha's recipe look like they have a rather dry filling. Plus, her filling called for almost 3 pounds of chocolate. Can you please stop and think about how much chocolate that is? I scanned lots of blog posts that used her recipe, and came to the conclusion that while her filling is iffy, her dough seems to be a success- rich, slightly flaky and moist. But still, how can Martha Stewart be an expert on Babka??* Just saying that out loud sounds funny! In truth, when you want something good, you gotta go to the source. So the source for babka, in my humble opinion, would have to be a baker with European roots, who got the recipe from her grandmother.
 Still feeling overwhelmed over which recipe to try,
 ( I really, really, really do not want to waste an entire evening baking something that is doomed from the start) I asked my boss what her favorite recipe of babka is. Soooo she has a recipe from a so-called Babka Expert and happily forked over the recipe with the cheery disclaimer : " Who makes homemade babka anyways?! Just go buy Green's! " Encouraging, I know. Still, she says its from a Babka Expert. So it must be good right? 
Now I feel like this:
(Minus the headband)

I cannot give up. I cannot quit before I start. I must be a role model to my children. (*Gulp*)
Ok, that pep talk worked. I am just going to pick one recipe and take a leap of faith.Ok maybe two recipes and combine them.
 Here it goes....

Chocolate Babka
8 ½ - 9 cups of flour 
3 ½ sticks margarine 
3 eggs
2 egg yolks (keep one egg white for later)
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1 ½ oz fresh yeast, or 2 tablespoons dry yeast
1 cup warm water (divided)
1 cup room temperature grape juice (divided)
1 tbl. vanilla sugar

Mix ½ cup warm water, and ½ cup grape juice in a small bowl. Sprinkle in the yeast, and wait until it gets foamy, about five minutes. ( Since the liquid is purple its actually really cool to watch the yeast explode while it dissolves!) Put rest of ingredients into a separate, large bowl, including the remaining water, grape juice, and yeast mixture. Knead dough for at least five minutes, until the dough is smooth. If it sticks to your hands, add a little more flour, but the dough is a very soft dough. Cover bowl with a towel, and set in a warm place. Allow to rise about 1-2 hours, until the dough doubles in size. 

Divide the dough into five parts. Sprinkle your workspace with a very light sprinkling of flour. If there is too much flour, its harder to roll the dough out thin.(That is the trick to a professional looking babka- roll it as thin as possible) Take a piece of  dough and roll into a large rectangle, about 18 inches by 12 inches. The rectangle should be slighty thicker than a rolled out pizza. Spread chocolate filling   (recipe to follow) over the dough. (Don't do what I did- spread the filling right up to the edge.) It's ok if the dough rips a little bit, when you roll it up, you won't be able to see it. 
Start rolling up the rectangle, starting at the shorter side of the rectangle. Once it is rolled up, pull on both sides gently to lengthen it a little bit.
 Fold the roll in half, making a horseshoe shape, and holding both sides, give it 2 or 3 twists. Spray a loaf pan with non-stick spray, and set the roll gently in the pan. Repeat with the remaining four pieces of dough. Cover the pans with a towel, and let rise for about 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400. While the babka is rising, prepare the crumb topping.(Recipe to follow) Brush the rolls gently with the reserved egg whites, and sprinkle on crumb. Bake at 400, for 10 minutes, then lower the oven to 350 and bake for an additional 30 minutes. For an extra touch, drizzle chocolate glaze on top. ( Anytime I make chocolate glaze, I always have a few spoonfuls leftover. It's at times like these that those little spoonfuls come in handy- put the extra glaze into a small ziploc bag, and freeze. When you need it, stick it in the microwave for 20 or so seconds, and then you have instant glaze!)

Chocolate Filling

4 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup cocoa
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 stick plus 1 tablespoons unsalted butter or margarine
1 - 8 ounce container of Rich's whip 
2 tablespoons oil
Grind chocolate chips, cinnamon, cocoa, sugar, and butter in a food
 processor to make a loose paste. Transfer to a mixing bowl, and mix
 in the rich's whip and oil. The consistency should be a little bit thinner
 than peanut butter. This recipe made exactly enough filling for five 
babkas. If you want to have plenty of filling, without having to worry, 
add: 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips, 1/4 cup cocoa, 1/2 cup sugar, 
3 tablespoons margarine, and 2 tablespoons oil. 

Crumb Topping
1 2/3 cup confectioner's sugar
1 1/3 cup flour
1 1/2 sticks margarine 

In a large bowl, combine sugar, flour, and butter. Using a fork, stir until fully combined with clumps ranging in size from crumbs to 1 inch.

The Verdict
Ok, now that the dishes are washed, counters are scrubbed and floor is swept, I can sit down and contemplate over a steaming piece of babka- was all this worth it? Oh. My. Heavens. Did that answer your question?  Does it taste like a copycat of Green's? No. But this babka is so rich and soft and delicious in its own right, that it can stand on its own two feet. (Figuratively of course! Just imagine a babka dancing around your kitchen, it will make you smile.)
So, if you were secretly hoping for a Green's babka, please go to the store to buy one. Really. But, if you want to make a delicious,moist yeast cake, that is chocolatey and yummy, 
you've got it right here!

* I want to be clear, I have nothing against Martha Stewart. Goodness knows I am the biggest fan of her Cupcake book. I just find the idea of using a European style recipe from Martha Stewart, humorous.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Guess what's in the truffle...

Ok, so I believe that there are two types of people in this world-  The Burnt People and The Raw People. Now before you get all huffy allow me to explain. You know those people who like the crusts of bread, dry chicken and black hot dogs? Allow me to introduce to you.....The Burnt People.  Now there is another person I'd like you to meet. This lovely person likes to eat the middle of the brownies. No, not the middle of the first row, the actual middle piece, smack in the middle of the pan! ( Yes you! I am talking about you! You know who you are...) They also like the inside of the bread ( or better yet, doughy bread), practically raw steaks and of course, cookie dough. Behold.............The Raw People. I have this theory that the world was created like this to make sure there was some sort of balance, to ensure that no cookie goes uneaten, but I digress. Sooo, have you guessed whats in those yummy looking chocolates yet? As a proud member of the Raw People, I am quite proud to present to you 
( bum bum da dum )........

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Truffles! 

salmonella free of course.

And now, without further ado, the recipe:

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Truffles
2 3/4 cups All-purpose Flour
1 1/2 teaspoon Baking Soda
1 teaspoon Salt
1 cup Butter Or Margarine, Room Temperature
¾ cups Sugar
¾ cups Packed Brown Sugar
1 teaspoon Vanilla
⅓ cups Milk Or Soy Milk
1 cup Mini Semi-sweet Chocolate Chips
14 ounces baking chocolate
3 tablespoons oil

Beat butter and sugars and in a large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add soymilk and vanilla. Stir in flour, baking soda and salt and mix on low speed (or by hand) until incorporated. Stir in chocolate chips.
Cover and chill dough for 1 hour.
When dough is firm enough to handle (it may help to lightly flour your hands), form dough into 1″ balls and arrange on a baking sheet lined with waxed paper. Place sheets in the freezer and let chill for 30 minutes.
Melt chocolate and oil in the microwave, stirring every 30 seconds, until smooth. Using forks or a dipping tool, dip cookie balls into the candy coating to cover. Tap fork on the side of the pan to remove any excess coating, and return to the waxed paper-lined baking sheets. Chill until set. Store in refrigerator or freezer, in an airtight container for up to 1 week. Although I haven't tried it yet, I have a sneaking suspicion that these would taste awesome cut into chunks, and mixed into vanilla ice cream.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Cinnamon Streusel Muffins

Ok, so I'll tell you a little secret. But please don't tell the Hawthorne Public Library. I am holding one of their books hostage. Sort of.  Let me explain.... every time I take my kids to the library, I check out the cooking/baking section to see what treasures I can find. Usually the books aren't that exciting. But I am always looking for that one book that is a real find. Anyways, back in June I found this book from Martha Stewart, aptly called "Martha Stewart's Cupcakes." I didnt really think it would be that big of a hit, but it had nice big pictures, and that is my one and only requirement when looking for a cookbook. Anyhow, I took it home and started flipping through the pictures.  I was amazed at how original the cupcakes were, and how many new recipes were inside. So far, each recipe that I have tried from the book was a huge hit.. So after renewing the book 3 times, I present to you....Cinnamon Streusel Cupcakes.  I decided to call them muffins since they are not as sweet as your average cupcake, but whether you call them muffins or cupcakes, these are a Streusel  Lover dream come true! 

Cinnamon Streusel Muffins

2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 1/4 sticks margarine
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups sour cream
Streusel Topping ( Recipe to follow)

Preheat oven to 350. Whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. With an electric mixer, on medium-high speed, cream margarine and sugar, until it is pale and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated, scraping down sides of the bowl as needed. Stir in vanilla by hand. Add flour mixture and sour cream- stir until just combined. Do not overmix!
Drop a teaspoon of batter into 24 lined muffin cups. Sprink half of the streusel topping over this. Divide the remaining batter evenly among the cups. Sprinkle with remaining topping, pressing gently into the batter. Bake for about 18-20 minutes. 

Streusel Topping
2 1/4 cups flour
3/4 cups packed brown sugar
2 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1 1/4 sticks margarine
 Whisk everything together until it is combined but still crumbly. 

1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
3 tablespoons milk
 Whisk together until smooth. Pour into a small ziploc bag and snip off a small corner. Drizzle over cooled muffins. 

Monday, October 4, 2010

Happy Birthday My Sweet Little Monkey!

Happy Birthday to my cutie, 
my adorable little monkey ....

...who is never embarrassed to give me a tackling hug
or puppy dog kiss.

...who changed his mind only 12 times on what kind of birthday cake he wants, 
and then back again.

...who's favorite colors are yellow, green and blue...

....and orange and red.
Probably purple too.

Who says " Ooh, that was fun!" when he falls down.

...who is waiting for Curious George to come over to play with him, because Curious George is real, right Mommy?

I love you, Little Monkey. 
May you always be as happy and carefree as you are today.

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