During this Coronavirus pandemic many of us have been busy cooking and baking. The stores, at least temporarily, are out of yeast and flour. Fortunately we had a small stockpile. Last week my friend Jane and I were on voluntary quarantine with my daughter in Chicago. We decided baking bread was a good project to pass the time. Our first loaf of bread was an herb loaf that we apparently allowed to rise too long. It fell during baking and, while it tasted okay hot out of the oven, it was too dense and it later became croutons. A second batch of dough didn’t want to rise at all. We tried deep frying dough balls to simulate donut holes on the theory that anything tastes good deep fried. Wrong. Everything does not taste good deep fried. Our “donut holes” were overcooked on the outside and raw in the center. Even liberal dosing with cinnamon sugar didn’t help. Then we decided to make a Babka. Babka is a traditional Polish Jewish bread. In Polish Babka means old lady or grandmother. If I was a grandmother I wouldn’t mind being called Babka. Soft and sweet and smelling of cinnamon and vanilla. Babka is thought to have originated in the early 1800s when extra challah dough would be spread with cinnamon or jelly and rolled up before baking. The recipe we used is a King Arthur Cinnamon Babka recipe with golden raisins and pecans. Last week we made an initial babka run. I failed at reading the instructions correctly and we cut the dough wrong. It still tasted great! Once I got back home I made another loaf of babka. This time I knew how to properly cut the dough.
3 cups (361g) AP flour
2 tsp instant yeast
1/4 tsp cinnamo
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 tsp salt
1 large egg
5 T unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Combine all of your dough ingredients in a large mixing bowl, starting with the lesser amount of water. With a wooden spoon mix all of the ingredients together until everything is moistened. If necessary add more of the water until the dough comes together. Cover the bowl with a clean towel and allow it to rest for 20 minutes. Remove the dough to a clean, lightly floured work surface and knead until soft and smooth. Place the dough into a lightly buttered bowl, cover, and allow the dough to rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours until the dough is quite puffy.
While your dough is rising make your filling.
1/2 cup brown sugar
4 tsp cinnamon
1 T AP flour
1/4 cup melted butter
1/2 cup diced pecans
1/2 cup golden raisins
Once the dough has risen place it on a clean, lightly floured surface and shape into a 9” by 18” rectangle that should be about 1/4 inch thick. If the dough is fighting you let it rest about 10 minutes, then stretch some more. I used my hands to shape the dough.
Smear the dough with the filling coming to within an inch of the edges. Sprinkle with the nuts and raisins.
Starting with the short end roll the dough gently into a log sealing the seam and ends.
Using a pair of scissors or a sharp knife, cut the log in half lengthwise, not crosswise. You should have two pieces of dough, each about 10” long. Take care to prevent too much filling from spilling out. With the filling side up, twist the two pieces into a braid, tucking the ends underneath. Place the twisted loaf into a lightly greased 9×5 loaf pan.
Whisk an egg with a pinch of salt and brush the top of the loaf with the egg wash. Cover the loaf and let it rise until very puffy and crowned a good inch over the rim of the pan, 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours. Toward the end of the rise time preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Now the bread is ready for the oven. Bake the bread for 40-50 minutes, tenting with aluminum foil during the final 15 to 20 minutes of baking. The loaf should be a deep golden brown and the internal temperature should be about 195.
Remove the babka from the oven and immediately loosen the edges with a spatula or kitchen knife. Allow to cool for about 10 minutes and then turn out onto a rack to cool completely.
Slice and enjoy.
NOTE: King Arthur suggests a topping (also known as supreming) consisting of:
2 T AP flour
1 T brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt
1 T cold butter
Mix the topping ingredients until crumbly and sprinkle over the loaf before rising.
I used the topping on one loaf but not on the other. We also omitted the raisins in the first loaf. As with so many recipes, it’s all a matter of personal preference.
It seems like it would make excellent French toast but I haven’t tried that. It is excellent briefly warmed in the microwave or oven.