Pistacchio and Dark chocolate babka
Last week whilst travelling a bit I found the time to reread my favourite food related book, I read this thing about four times and memorized a lot of its beautiful passages; It’s called Mastering the art of Soviet cooking, by Anya Von Bremzen. It’s a provocative and intricate retelling of what growing up in the late 1960’s in Soviet Moscow was like, to then move as an immigrant with her single mother to New York as a teen ager. She manages to do so by writing about food and people, she never mentions the Babka however for some reason I always think of this sweet bread whilst reading this book, and for the first time I found a couple of hours to bake one and share the method and recipe for it.
Whenever I think of a challenge related to pastry a gorgeous intricate Babka always comes to mind, Babkas are the queens in the yeasted cake/bread department all the twists make for a supersoft loaf and the exposed edges with the fillings take on new textures as they bake in the oven, ripping into one of them is a joy to be shared with many…. definitely not an alone bread.
Babkas date back to the 12th century and finds its origins in the Baltic and Soviet nations, Russia and Ukraine being the ones baking the most gorgeous of specimens. Traditionally baked into tall cakes they are called Babkas as they resemble small sized grandmothers with their long skirts and aprons. The one I am making today is a wreath shaped more connected with the American Jewish community, it’s a free style round loaf.
I filled my Babka with pistachio butter and dark chocolate, however if you do not have these at hand babaks can be filled with anything you want, cinnamon, sugar and butter work really well, chocolate paste and chopped almonds are not a bad idea either.
Not easy to do, however if you are a beginner you can opt for a number of small ones instead of a big one, always increase the size of the pastry you are able to handle gradually, do not be afraid. Pastry can sense tension and will misbehave if you are afraid of it, be courageous, take what you can handle and do not fear, and go ahead and do. As anything in life after all.
Ingredients and Method
For the babka dough: 400ml plus 2 tablespoons milk (scalded) 250g cup sugar, divided 1kg bread flour, plus more for dusting 20g fresh yeast 1 teaspoon salt 1 vanilla bean pod 2 large eggs, divided 2 large egg yolks 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
For the filling
400g Pistachio butter (if you live in Paris, I bought mine from terroir del l ‘avenir)
200g white castor sugar
400g dark, good quality dark chocolate chips;
- Scald the milk: Heat the milk in a saucepan set over medium-low heat until tiny bubbles form at the edge of the pan, just before it simmers. An instant-read thermometer will read between 60 degrees Celsius and 65 degrees Celsius (If you don’t have a thermometer, test it with your finger; it should be warm, not uncomfortably hot.) Do not boil. Let cool to room temperature.
- Dissolve the yeast with the warm milk . Let stand in the bowl until the mixture is foamy, frothy, smells distinctly like yeast, and is beige in colour, 7 to 8 minutes.
- Make the dough: Add the sugar, and salt to the flour Mix well . Slit the vanilla bean pod lengthwise and scrape out the seeds into the mixer bowl. Add the 2 of the eggs and the egg yolks and mix well.
- Add the milk and yeast mixture.
- Add the butter: Divide the butter into 2 or 3 parts. Add one at a time and mix for about a minute after each addition, until the butter is incorporated into the dough. Mix another minute, for a total of 3 to 4 minutes. It will be a sticky dough at first, but it will become a smooth, elastic ball that clears the side of the bowl and sticks at the bottom a bit.
- The first rise: Scrape the dough into a large mixing bowl. Spray nonstick vegetable oil spray over a piece of plastic wrap at least 2 inches wider than the bowl and drape it over the bowl. Cover with a large kitchen towel or two and set aside in a warm but not hot (between 25degrees and 30 degrees) undisturbed spot in the kitchen. Let rise for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, until it has doubled in size. (If you wish, you can let the dough rise in the refrigerator overnight, but allow time for it to come back to room temperature before you bake.)
- I bought the Pistachio paste readymade, from a well-known vegetable store, however Pistachio butter is easy to make although a bit costly, 1 kg of pistachios will yield to around 400g of paste, just place the shelled nuts in a food processor and blitz for a long time, around five minutes at high speed, the results are not always as pleasant as the ones you buy from a respectable shop and in reality in this case its much cheaper to do so.
- Open the dough into a thin around 3cm thickness, I left mine whole, it covered a surface of around 1meter squared
- Spread the pistachio paste on the open dough, scatter the castor sugar and dark chocolate chips.
- Roll into a single sausage shaped cylinder, cut from the middle leaving the tip intact, then braid, not too tight not too loose, roll into a circle and let rest overnight for the second rise. Egg wash before baking.
- Bake early the next morning in a 190 degree oven for around 35 minutes.