Of babkas and babushkas
Several weeks ago I came across some gorgeous photos of chocolate babka on Trissalicious which sent me into a nostalgic swoon. When I was growing up babkas often followed the herring, chicken soup and brisket on special occasions, the Eastern European yeasty treat having migrated to Africa with my ancestors from the Shtetls of Lithuania and Latvia. I had never, however, made a babka myself – but from the moment I saw those photos I knew I’d be making my own batch soon.
In the few short weeks I’ve now gone through the recipe more than once, perfecting the craft and making a total of 30(!) mini babkas to consume (and share with friends). Fortunately I have found that they freeze very well. And that even when they have spent a few days in the bread box they are simply magnificent toasted and slathered with butter. 30 loaves was perhaps excessive but its not my fault: my Eastern European ancestry bequeathed on me the sweet tooth and ample appetite. It is not for nothing that the national doll of Russia has the shape of a woman who has been eating too much starch her whole life. That’s me, a Russian babushka shape – and not the tiny one in the center of the nest either.
Even if you aren’t my kind of glutton: I hope you’ll try this soon: its the perfect blend of a sweet egg bread with a lovely dense crumb and the twist of chocolate and nuts and the sprinkle of sugar on the top make it a truly special treat. The original recipe was from the Australian Gourmet Traveller and I am reprinting it below with the American measurements that I worked out using my trusty new kitchen scale.
I’m submitting this recipe to yeastspotting and also to Buttermilk Party Cake’s ‘Whats for elevenses’ roundup which I can’t wait to see on June 11th (Hobbits are as fitting a symbol of my apetite as babushkas!)
Chocolate Hazelnut Babka
from Australian Gourmet Traveller
makes 10 very generous mini loaves (or 2 regular sized loaves)
3/4 cup lukewarm milk
5 tsp dry yeast (or two sachets)
½ cup sugar
3¼ cup plain flour, sifted
1 cup (2 sticks) softened butter
2/3 cup hazelnuts
3/4 cup dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
For brushing: eggwash
For scattering: demerara sugar
1. Combine milk, yeast and 1 Tbs sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle and set aside in a warm place until foamy (5-7 minutes). Add 3/4 cup flour, mix to combine, then add eggs, yolk, remaining sugar and a pinch of salt, mix to combine. While mixing on low speed, gradually add remaining flour until combined, then add 1 1/2 sticks butter, a little at a time, beating until dough is shiny and elastic (3-5 minutes; dough will be quite soft). Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with oiled plastic wrap and set aside until doubled in size (1-1½ hours).
2. Preheat oven to 350F. Place hazelnuts on a baking tray and roast until golden (5-7 minutes), cool slightly, then rub with a tea towel to remove skins and cool completely. Process in a food processor until coarse crumbs form, combine with remaining softened butter to form a paste and set aside at room temperature until required.
3. Line loaf tins with parchment paper, or grease well and flour. If oven is not still on from toasting the nuts, preheat to 350F.
4. Knock back dough and divide into ten (if possible do this by weight to get evenly sized loaves). Working with one half at a time, roll dough on a lightly floured surface into a 3 1/2″ x 5 1/2″ rectangle. With longest side facing you, spread with hazelnut paste ( about 1Tbs per loaf), leaving a 1/2″border, then scatter over half the chocolate. Roll away from you to form a cylinder, brush ends with a little eggwash, then join ends to make a loop, twist into a figure of eight and place in a loaf tin. Set aside in a warm place until dough reaches the top of tin (1 hour). Repeat with remaining dough. Brush babkas with eggwash, scatter with demerara sugar and bake in centre of oven until golden and cooked through (35-40 minutes). Cool in tins for 10 minutes, then turn out, cool on a wire rack and serve warm or at room temperature. Babkas will keep, stored in an airtight container, for 3 days, and are best served warm or in toasted slices.