Holiday Spiced Babka

I’ve been making this holiday spiced chocolate babka for the past few years around the holiday season. It is a great treat to make during chilly weather when you have a whole day at home to spare. I love adding cinnamon and nutmeg to compliment the dark chocolate, creating an indulgent melt in your mouth flavor that’s excellent for this time of year.

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Ingredients: 3/4 cup milk, 3 tsp active dry yeast, 3/4 cup and 2 tsp sugar, 3 1/4 cups flour, 2 eggs and 2 egg yolks, 1 tsp vanilla extract, 3/4 tsp salt, 15 Tbsp softened butter, 1 Tbsp heavy cream, 8 oz finely chopped dark chocolate (72% cacao), 2 tsp cinnamon, 2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg.

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Instructions: warm up the milk in a saucepan until it’s warm but not boiling. Add milk and 2 tsp of sugar to the bowl of a stand mixer and stir gently, then sprinkle the yeast on top. Let stand for about 5 minutes, until it’s foamy. Add 1/2 cup of the flour and beat with a paddle attachment until combined. Add 2 whole eggs, 1 of the egg yolks, vanilla, salt, and 1/2 cup more of sugar while beating constantly. Continue beating and add remaining flour in small increments. Gradually add 10 Tbsp butter until everything is completely incorporated. Transfer dough to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and place in turned off oven for 2 hours.

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Once dough has risen for 2 hours, remove from bowl and cut in half. Sprinkle countertop with flour, and roll out the dough with a pin until you have a large rectangle. Beat the remaining egg yolk in a small dish with the heavy cream, and brush along the sides of the dough. Spread 2 1/2 Tbsp butter on the dough, then sprinkle 4 oz of chocolate, 2 Tbsp sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon, and 1 tsp nutmeg over butter.

Roll the dough towards you, and seal along the edge. Then make a circle out of the log, sealing on the ends. Quickly twist the circle twice, and place the dough in a bread pan that has been lined with parchment paper. Cover dough with a new sheet of plastic that has been lightly buttered and place back in the turned off oven. Repeat with the other half of the dough and leftover ingredients. Let loaves rise for another 2 hours.

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Remove loaves from oven and pre-heat to 350F. Remove plastic and brush tops with remaining egg wash, then lightly sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 40 minutes, until golden brown and cooked through.

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The babka will keep for a couple of days to be enjoyed in the morning with hot coffee, or as a dessert in the evenings.

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Homemade Sourdough Bread

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Bread is one of those foods that I love to eat, but had never made myself at home. Though it’s such a staple item eaten all around the world, I always found it a little intimidating. Those three simple ingredients (flour, water, and salt) needed to create a delicious loaf are in most households, but the process of converting those ingredients felt like nothing short of alchemy. Recently, I finally decided to just go for it and make my all time favorite bread: sourdough.

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The most important component of sourdough is the starter dough, which will give the bread that essential tangy flavor, and provide the yeast necessary for the dough to rise. To make the starter dough mix 4oz water with 4oz of all-purpose flour in a bowl. Cover and let sit at room temperature.

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The next day, ‘feed’ the dough by removing all but 4oz of starter and feeding it 4oz of flour and 4oz of water, mixing thoroughly. Repeat this process every 12 hours for a few days. The amount of time for the starter can vary, but it helps to keep it at a consistent temperature away from the cold. You will know it’s ready when it is very bubbly and even a little foamy on top.

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Place any extra starter dough in the refrigerator, and feed once a week to maintain. When it came time to discard and feed the ready starter, I poured some into jars instead of discarding, and gifted to some friends.

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To make the bread: add 30 grams of active starter to 75 grams of all-purpose flour, and 75 grams of water. Mix thoroughly, cover, and let sit overnight or for about 12 hours. Once the leaven is bubbly you know it’s ready. To double check that it is ready, drop a small dollop of the leaven into a bowl of water – if it floats, you’re good to go.

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Mix all of the leaven in a large bowl with 475 grams of room temperature water. Mix it in with your hands until the leaven has dissolved into the water. Add 350 grams of all-purpose flour, and 350 grams of whole wheat flour to the bowl with leaven and water. You can also do 700 grams of all-purpose if you don’t want whole wheat, but I think it gives it a richer flavor. Mix until you no longer see any dry flour. Cover and let sit for at least 30 minutes, or up to 4 hours. Once the dough has rested, dissolve 1 tablespoon of salt into 50 grams of water and add to dough. Mix with your hands to combine.

Fold the dough, in the bowl, by grabbing one end and folding the dough in half. Then, move the bowl a quarter turn and fold again. Repeat until you have folded it over four times. Cover and let sit for 30 minutes, then repeat the folding process. Do this process a total of 4 times, every 30 minutes. After you have folded it for the 4th time, let the dough rest for about 45 minutes, until it looks a little puffed.

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Sprinkle flour on your countertop, and turn the dough over onto the flour. Cut the dough in half to pre-shape the loaves. Shape into rounds by running a pastry scraper or blunt knife around the bottom edge. This will start to make the top of the dough taut, and give you a more even shape. Let dough rest for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare two proofing baskets or bowls by lining with a kitchen towel and dusting them with flour. It helped me to lightly spray the towels with water first before adding the flour. Rub the flour into the towel to create a layer of flour on the towel.

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Give the loaves their final shape by dusting the tops with flour, then turning them over so the flour side is down. Gently take the top lip of the loaf, and fold it into the center, then repeat with the other three sides. The idea here is to make the top more taut. Cup your hands around the edges of the loaf to give it its final shape. Sprinkle with flour, then transfer to the towel lined baskets or bowls, smooth side down. Cover with plastic, and let sit at room temperature for 4 hours, or place in refrigerator and let sit overnight.

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When ready to bake – place a dutch oven or heavy pot with lid in the oven and pre-heat to 500F. Remove the hot dutch oven from oven, and place one of the loaves inside, smooth side up. Score the top with a sharp knife. You can do three diagonal lines like I did, or do an X in the middle.

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With the lid on, bake at 500F for 15 minutes, then reduce temperature to 475F for 15 minutes. After the first 30 minutes of baking, remove lid and continue to bake for another 20 minutes – or until the crust has a deep golden brown color.

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Remove from oven and place the loaf on a cooling sheet for at least 10 minutes before slicing. You will see the quintessential holes filling each delicious loaf.  Enjoy it fresh and warm with toppings of choice.

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