Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Chocolate Cinnamon Babka

For dessert on Charlotte's second birthday, Spencer decided that she would be most happy with some chocolate cinnamon babka to conclude her birthday dinner. While Charlotte isn't choosy about her carbs (and even less choosy about dessert carbs) I have to say that Spencer hit the nail on the head.

Babka is a dessert of Russian-Jewish origin made with a yeast dough that is rolled/layered with chocolate or cinnamon. Though, for this version, the chocolate and cinnamon are included together. Why be forced to choose between these two? Earlier this year, my sister and I were in NY for my grandmother's funeral (a wonderful lady of Russian-Jewish origin) and tried to decide whether we preferred the chocolate babka or the cinnamon babka that friends had brought from Susan Lawrence. I don't remember if we came to a conclusion, but I do recall how amazing they tasted.

Around this same time, I signed up to do some beta-testing, er, beta-baking, recipes for Peter Reinhart's new bread book. (My name is in the credits - buy a copy!) After completing my first 'assignment,' we were allowed to pick subsequent doughs from a list, and I was so excited to see babka! I confess, I was a bit daunted by the amount of time it took. I've made his recipe twice, and it is a two day process in our house. Or, I suppose it could be done in a single day if you don't have children, or if you strategically plan your time out of the house around the multiple rise times.

I had to keep Charlotte contained in her high chair to watch the assembly process. She was becoming a bit frantic seeing the quantity of chocolate in front of her, yet out of reach. While it was funny/sad to watch her squirm and beg "choc-o-late! cin'min! choc-o-late! cin'min!" it was wonderful to see the pure delight on her face at the end of the evening. Spencer is already starting to put some thought into what dessert he would most like for his sixth birthday later this year.

Chocolate Cinnamon Babka
Adapted from Peter Reinhart, though I'm also curious to try Martha Stewart's Babka one of these days, but am more than a bit scared by the pound of butter and more than two pounds of chocolate!

2 Tablespoons instant yeast
3/4 C milk, lukewarm
1 stick butter, room temp
6 Tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
5 egg yolks
3 1/4 C all-purpose flour
less than 1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/2 C semi-sweet chocolate
1/2 stick butter, cold

Streusal Topping (optional)
1/2 all purpose flour
1/2 C brown sugar
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1. Sprinkle the yeast in the lukewarm milk. Stir to dissolve the yeast and set aside for about five minutes.

2. Cream the soft butter with the sugar using the paddle attachment on medium speed, until smooth. While the mixture is creaming, add the vanilla to the egg yolks and whisk lightly to break up the yolks. Slowly add the egg yolk/vanilla mixture to the sugar mixture in four installments. When all the eggs are incorporated increase the mixer to medium high speed and continue mixing for another 2 minutes, or until the mixture is fluffy. Turn off the mixer, exchange paddle for dough hook and add the flour, salt, and lukewarm milk and yeast. Reduce the speed to low and mix for approximately 2 to 3 minutes to make a soft, supple, tacky dough.

3. Dust the work surface with flour and transfer the dough. Knead the dough by hand for an additional two minutes, adding more flour, if needed, to make the dough pliable. The dough should be a beautiful golden color and feel soft and supple, “like a baby’s bottom.” Form it into a ball and place the dough into a lightly oiled bowl, cover the top of the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and let the dough ferment at room temperature for about 2 1/2 hours. It will rise somewhat, but will not double in size.

4. While the dough is rising, prepare the chocolate cinnamon filling by grinding the frozen chocolate in a food processor until the chocolate is nearly powdered and add in the cinnamon. Cut the cold butter into 8 to 10 pieces, add it to the food processor, and pulse until the butter is evenly cut and dispersed into the chocolate mixture to make a streusel-like chocolate crumble. Set the filling aside at room temperature for later use.

5. On a lightly floured surface, use a rolling pin to roll out the risen dough into a 16” square, anywhere between 1/4” and 1/8” thick. Use a metal pastry blade or a plastic bowl scraper to lift and continually dust under the dough to prevent sticking. Sprinkle the chocolate/cinnamon/butter mixture over the entire surface, breaking up any clumps so that it covers the surface of the dough evenly (leave a 1/4" border around the full perimeter without chocolate). Roll up the dough like a jelly roll log and roll the log back and forth to extend its length a few more inches.

6. For coffee cake-style, grease a bundt with spray oil, wrap the log around the tube and press the dough into the pan to connect the ends of the log. Cover the pan loosely with plastic wrap and let the dough rise at room temperature for two to three hours, until the loaf fills the pan or is about 1 1/2 times larger than when first formed. You can either refrigerate it overnight at this point or proceed to baking. If holding it overnight, remove the dough from the refrigerator approximately two hours before baking to take off the chill.

7. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Poke a few holes in the top of the loaf with a toothpick to eliminate possible air pockets between the layers of chocolate and dough. Brush the top of the loaf with egg wash and top the loaf with streusel. Bake for 20 minutes and then rotate the pan and continue baking until the top is a rich dark brown. The loaf will begin to brown quickly because of the sugar, but it won’t burn, so bake until it is golden on both the top and bottom, about 50 to 60 minutes total time. The center of the loaf should register approximately 190ºF and the sides of the loaf should be a rich golden brown, not white. The loaf will sound hollow when thumped. The sides may feel soft because of the air pockets caused by the spirals. The bread will soften as it cools. Allow the bread to cool at least 90 minutes before serving—best served at room temperature after the chocolate has had time to set.

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