I’ve always had this idea to do a food film festival. Babette’s Feast, Eat, Drink,Man, Woman, Big Night, The Cook, the Thief, Her Lover and His Wife…(well, maybe not that last one.) The idea has evolved over the years, new movies come out like Julie and Julia, (though I’d skip the annoying Julie part and just do the Julia), or Chef, and the thing grows to a point that it gets too overwhelming to wrap my head around.
So I decided to switch to the smaller screen. And one specific cast of characters. It wasn’t that hard to choose them either. When I started looking closely, there was a wealth of culinary inspiration. “Look to the cookie, Elaine”. “No Soup for YOU!” “Big lettuce, big carrots, tomatoes like volleyballs.” “It’s chocolate, it’s peppermint, it’s delicious!” And then, there’s babka.
You just can’t beat a babka.
Now truth be told, I’ve always had babka-envy. It was hard not to. I grew up just outside of NYC, or as it’s known by its other name, Babka-land. These magical bread-cake creatures were not something mere mortal hands could make, sitting there all smug and alluring in the bakery case. They flaunted their funky twists and turns of chocolate and buttery sweet breadness as they peeked out from under a veil of powdered sugar. No, these must be the result of the yiddish-tinged incantations of eastern european mystics. Occasionally I’d look at the instructions of some blogger or cookbook peddler who claimed they made them all by their little self, but I never really believed it. You’d obviously need three hands to cut and hold and twist and plop into pan before all that good babka stuff falls out.
Then I saw it. A recipe from Tasting Table (tastingtable.com) that was the baking equivalent of peaking behind the Wizard’s curtain. With slides! It was babka, with training wheels. Sure it wasn’t a chocolate babka, or the lesser one (cinnamon), but this babka I was going to try. And it was freakin’ awesome!
Someday soon I’ll give the lesser babka a try. But not the chocolate. Not yet. I’ve got to practice my yiddish incantations a bit more before I go for the babka big leagues….
The Great Pumpkin Babka (From tastingtable.com)
Check out this link to see the life of a babka in pictures. It makes the forming of the loaves a lot easer.
Makes 2 loaves
For the dough:
- 1 cup whole milk, warmed to 115° 21⁄4 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 1⁄4 cup, plus 1 teaspoon, granulated sugar, divided
- 51⁄4 cups flour, plus more for dusting 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1⁄2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1⁄4 cup light brown sugar
- 4 eggs, divided
- 1 stick unsalted butter, cubed and softened, plus more for greasing
For the filling:
- One 15-ounce can pumpkin purée
- 1⁄2 cup brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1⁄2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1⁄2 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1⁄2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1⁄2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 cup golden raisins (optional)
1. Make the dough: In a large bowl, combine the milk, yeast and 1 teaspoon of the granulated sugar. Let it sit until it begins to foam, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk the flour, salt and cinnamon, and set aside.
2. To the foamy yeast mixture, add the remaining granulated sugar, the brown sugar and 3 eggs, and whisk to combine. Slowly stir in the flour until a dough forms, then transfer to a lightly floured surface. Using your hands, knead in the softened butter, a little at a time, until a smooth dough forms. Place in a greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
3. Meanwhile, make the filling: In a medium bowl, stir the filling ingredients together until incorporated.
4. Assemble the babkas: Preheat the oven to 350° and grease two 9-by-5-inch loaf pans. Divide the dough into 2 balls. On a lightly floured surface, roll 1 ball of dough out into a 14-inch square, about 1⁄8inch thick.
5. Spread half of the filling evenly over the surface of the dough, leaving a 1-inch margin at the top of the square. Sprinkle with half the raisins. Starting with the edge closest to you, roll the dough up tightly. Leaving 1⁄2inch of dough connected, cut the roll lengthwise in two. Twist the strands together and pinch at the end to seal. Carefully place the babka in one of the prepared pans.
6. Repeat this process with the remaining dough and filling. Cover both babkas loosely with plastic wrap and place in a warm area until the dough expands to fill the pan, 45 minutes more.
7. In a small bowl, beat the remaining egg and liberally brush onto each babka. Bake, rotating halfway through, until golden and cooked through, 40 to 45 minutes.
8. Let cool slightly, then remove each bread from the pan and let cool before slicing and serving.
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