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THE UBIQUITY OF by Laura Di Lembo

Babka comes to us from Eastern Europe, Old World yeasted sweet bread to take with sips of scalding tea. Babka is suddenly making an appearance in my life after a very long absence.

Yotam Ottolenghi’s Krantz Cakes (with a slight modification – a more generous ratio of filling to bread!)

and leave it to rise for a few hours until doubled in bulk. Alternately, the dough can be left to rise overnight in the fridge. Refrigerated dough should be taken out of the fridge for a couple of hours to bring it to room temperature before baking.

What strikes me as odd about this is that during my childhood, I believed it was an insider’s secret from my Ashkenazi Jewish family, gracing our tables because we knew the select kosher or Polish bakeries that made babka. We bought it, but babka wasn’t mainstream, not seen in cookbooks or in the world at large outside of my predominantly Jewish neighbourhood near Montreal. And then, recently, like a time warp, babka is back! It’s making appearances on award-winning food blogs and in highly acclaimed cookbooks. If we take our cues from New York City, it’s clear that babka is now enjoying some well-deserved attention. Articles in the New York Times are singing its glory and long lineups at Manhattan’s Breads Bakery every morning at 11a.m. when babka appears are a testament to the loyal following. I recently purchased Breads Bakery’s cookbook: Breaking Breads, A New World of Israeli Baking by Uri Scheft and there is a whole chapter on babka. As if the traditional chocolate, cinnamon and walnut versions weren’t inspiring enough, we now have halvah babka, ricotta streusel babka, babka pie, apple babka, savoury za’atar babka twists and poppy seed babka. These are glorious, golden creations, offering loads of rolling, filling, twisting, proofing, baking and noshing entertainment. My initiation to babka-making began with Yotam Ottolenghi’s much-loved book Jerusalem. His babka is called a krantz cake, and it takes a standard babka many steps beyond the basics. Richly veined with the most unctuous chocolate/nut mix, it’s topped with a glaze that sweetly crackles on the teeth. And the technique makes me swoon: slather the dough with the delicious goop, roll it up and then slice it along its length to reveal the striations. Twist these strands together, co-joined in a bread pan. Each slice reveals babka’s inner heart of chocolate and nuts, taunting you to take the next piece because you can see exactly how much generous filling awaits you. With babka enjoying the populist glory it deserves, and debates raging about which ones are best, let’s settle it right now and make our own, which are always the most loved. I offer up an exquisite range of flavours and techniques, the classic chocolate/nut version as well as one with a silky halvah and tahini filling, and a savoury goat cheese and za’atar rendition. We will perform some rolling and slicing, as well as some twisting and turning today in the kitchen. Let’s get messy... First things first: there are two basic ways to make babka dough, one Easy and one Complicated. I give you Easy. And we use this easy base recipe for all three of our creations.

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CITYPALATE.ca NOVEMBER DECEMBER 2017

Babka dough: 4-1/2 c. all-purpose flour plus extra for dusting the dough as it forms 1/2 c. granulated sugar 2 t. fast-rising active dry yeast grated zest of 1 scrubbed lemon 3 extra-large eggs 1/2 c. water generous 1/4 t. kosher salt 2/3 c. unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into 3/4“ cubes canola oil for greasing the pans

Chocolate nut filling: 3/4 c. confectioners sugar 1/2 c. unsweetened cocoa powder 1 t. ground cinnamon 6 oz. dark chocolate, melted (I’m a fan of the Presidents’ Choice bars from France, available at Real Canadian Superstores, with 70% cocoa solids) 3/4 c. unsalted butter, melted 1-1/2 c. walnuts, lightly toasted, cooled and coarsely chopped 3 T. granulated sugar

Sugar syrup: 2/3 c. water 1-1/4 c. granulated sugar

For the dough, place the flour, sugar, yeast, and lemon zest in a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook and mix on low speed for 1 minute. Add the eggs and water and mix on low speed for a few seconds. Increase the speed to medium and mix for 3 minutes, until the dough comes together. Add the salt and then start adding the butter, a few cubes at a time, mixing until it is evenly incorporated into the dough. Continue mixing for about 10 more minutes until the dough is completely smooth, elastic and shiny. During the mixing, you will need to scrape down the sides of the bowl a few times as well as add small amounts of flour to keep the dough from sticking to the bowl. Gather the dough into a ball and place it in a large bowl. Rub it all over with canola oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap

Grease two 9”x 4” loaf pans with canola oil. Line the bottom of each pan with a rectangle of parchment paper that goes up the sides. Make the filling by mixing together all the ingredients into a spreadable paste. Deflate the risen dough with a good punch or two. Flatten the ball with your hands and place it on a floured rolling surface. Cut the dough into two pieces. Keep the second piece covered with plastic wrap while you work on the first piece. Roll out the dough into a rectangle measuring 15”x 11”. The longest edge should be closest to you. Spread half of the filling over the surface of dough, spreading it as evenly as you can. Brush a little bit of water over the long end farthest from you. Use both hands to roll up the rectangle into a tight cylinder. Start from the long side that is closest to you. Press the dampened end to seal the log and use both hands to even out the roll. Rest it on its seam. With a sharp knife, cut the roll in half lengthwise. You will see all the layers of filling visible along the length of both halves. With the cut sides facing up, press together the top ends of the two strands. Lift the right strand over the left so that you are weaving the two strands together, allowing the cut sides to face up. Continue a few times until you reach the bottom of the strands and pinch these ends together. You can squeeze and tuck the twisted bread as you lift it to fit into the prepared loaf pan. Repeat this process with the second ball of dough. Cover the loaf pans with a dampened tea towel and leave the breads to rise for 1-1/2 - 2 hours, until almost doubled in bulk. The risen breads should fill the loaf pans generously. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Remove the tea towels from the loaves and place the breads on the middle rack of the oven. Bake for about 30 minutes, until golden brown and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean (there may be some molten chocolate on your skewer but there should be no wet dough). While the breads are baking, make the sugar syrup. Combine the water and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat and bring the mixture to a boil. Allow the syrup to boil for 2 minutes, until it is just starting to thicken. Remove it from the heat and allow the syrup to cool down slightly. As soon as the breads come out of the oven, brush all of the syrup over them. It is important to use all of the syrup, even if it looks like a lot. Let the breads cool to room temperature and remove them from the pans. Dive in! They freeze very well if you can resist eating them all at once. Makes 2 loaves.

City Palate November December 2017  

The Flavour of Calgary's Scene - The Entertaining Issue