Welcome back, my little yeasties!

I hope you like the name, I was inspired after watching Gaga’s performance on Sunday, the one she bookended with football. Man, that was great.

This week, I blended two of my favorite things: chocolate and bread. This is okay because another of my favorite things is riding cream colored ponies.

I’ll just move along.

I made babka! Chocolate babka. Glorious babka. I actually don’t remember hearing of this style of bread until a couple weeks back, and I promptly proceeded to make some that turned out okay-ish. This time around, I was determined to make it perfect.

Once again, I used Bread Illustrated from America’s Test Kitchen.

Bread Ingredients:

  • 2 cups (10 oz) All-Purpose Flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1½ teaspoon instant yeast
  • ¼ cup (1.75 oz) granulated sugar
  • ½ cup (4 oz) whole milk, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 egg yolks, room temp
  • 8 oz unsalted butter, softenened

You will need a loaf pan to make this recipe, just so we’re clear from the beginning.

I have very little to say about these ingredients. There are about 3 times as many ingredients here as are strictly necessary for making bread (flour, water, salt), but this is almost like a cake. But not quite, so you can eat it all day long. Breakfast of champs.

 

–  This recipe calls for all-purpose flour instead of the bread flour I’ve been using for the other recipes so far. My understanding is the lower-gluten flour will give me a tender-crumbed loaf, more Melt In Your Mouth and yadda yadda.

–  The room-temperature specification is pretty important to adhere to, especially when there are larger quantities of potentially-cold ingredients. Yeast takes longer to get moving when surrounded by cold—just like you in the morning when it’s freezing in your room but not under your covers—and we all know how that goes. Don’t subject your yeast to traffic jams without coffee. Just don’t.

 

 

The first step was to combine the dry ingredients (flour, yeast, salt), combine the wet ingredients (sugar, vanilla, egg yolks, milk), and then throw the two parts together. In my experience, most baking recipes call for this process [(dry + dry) + (wet + wet) = batter/dough/new thing].  If you’re wondering why sugar, quite dry, goes with the wet ingredients, it’s because sugar has that way of dissolving; mixing it with wet helps ensure even distribution when the main combo goes down. Also, we wouldn’t want everything to be too intuitive, right?

 

 

Okay, so up there is everything minus the butter. I found myself struggling to get all the flour hydrated just mixing with my bowl scraper, so I used one of my favorite techniques ever: smearing. Yeah, that means you smear the dough around with your hands for a couple minutes. Really, quite satisfying. But then things got difficult because…

 

 

…butter.

In Bread Illustrated, America’s Test Kitchen encourages home bakers to use their KitchenAid stand mixer. I have access to one, but I didn’t use it because last time, when I tried, it didn’t help much thanks to the relatively small amount of flour in this recipe. The dough hook just swirled around and around, grabbing only small bits of the dough with the very tip, forming big ol’ gluten knots. If you have a KitchenAid and you have one with a smaller bowl, by all means use that. Otherwise, you’ll be like me, just enjoying a dumpster fire of a mixing process.

But really, I did enjoy it. Look down.

 

 

Finally, after I got all the butter kinda evenly distributed, I moved on to kneading which took about 16 minutes and required me to get cozy using the dough scraper.

 

 

EVERYTHING WORKED OUT, THOUGH! YAY!

 

Here’s the dough right after I finished kneading. Something to keep in mind: this babka won’t be as profoundly glutenous as other kinds of bread. First, the lower-protein (gluten) flour gives us, well, less gluten to build with. Second, fatty ingredients inhibit gluten development. Babka calls for a cornucopia of fat, from the butter and milk and egg yolks, so when I did the windowpane test after about 10 minutes of kneading, there was breakage left, right, and center. Things got a bit better after 5 minutes, and I stopped soon after that. I’ll need to make enriched bread a few more times before I get a good feel for done-ness.

Anywho, the dough looked like this after its first rise of roughly an hour:

I really should have let the first rise go on for 1.5 to 2 hours, but I had places to go, people to see, and the dough eventually sits in the fridge for a while, so I just did that a bit early.

Usually, bread dough takes a trip to the fridge in order to develop flavor by prolonging fermentation. Think back to the groggy, cold yeast; after 12 hours in the cold, that yeast will still be happily burping because it’s taking things slow. After 12 hours at room temperature, that yeast will have used up all its resources. This isn’t to say you should always proof your dough for hours in the fridge, just something to keep in mind.

In this case, the dough chills in order to make it easier to handle. Remember all that butter? Melty. After 1 – 24 hours in the refrigerator, the dough should be easier to handle and easier to shape. I chilled this dough for about 15 hours, which meant I needed to set it out at room temperature for 15ish minutes to take some of the chill off.

The first time I tried this recipe, I only chilled for an hour, and I found the dough much easier to manipulate this time around. It felt a lot like the dough for cut-out butter cookies, actually, which weirded me out a tiny bit.

I broke out the rolling pin this time in order to get a good shape, and my rectangle was much improved. Even though I hated the thought of destroying all the gas pockets, my final product definitely had enough rise. Perhaps too much… (*ominous music*)

The rectangle should be about 14″ x 18″, long side close to you

You might be wondering “Gosh darn it, I was promised chocolate! When will this baker give me the chocolate?!”

 

Hold your horses, the chocolate is coming, right now. Have I ever lied to you?

Chocolate filling ingredients:

  • 2 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
  • 2 oz unsalted butter
  • 1 egg white
  • ¼ cup (1 oz) powdered sugar

The first thing you’ll need to do is melt the chocolate and cocoa with the butter, a process for which you can certainly use a microwave. I don’t have access to one, so I just improvised a double boiler. Chocolate is a delicate, magical presence that can burn pretty easily and ruin your whole day, so if you too have no microwave, try a double boiler. What you do is take a pot and a glass or metal bowl that will fit into that pot without touching the bottom. Put some water in the pot, but not enough to come close to touching the bowl. Get the water to a simmer. Proceed with melting.

Stay close to stove top. If you need to look away for like, 2 seconds, ok, but try to be a constant, stirring presence to your butter-chocolate. If you don’t have the trappings for a double boiler, be extra vigilant and keep the temp really low.

If you have a microwave, then whoop-dee-doo for you, just throw everything in there for ~30 seconds at 50% power, stirring every 10 seconds or so.

Once the chocolate loveliness is all smooth, you’re gonna throw in the powdered sugar and stir stir stir until there are not any big lumps of sugar. You’ll probably not be able to get rid of every small lump, so just let this be a lesson in accepting imperfection. Who needs yoga when you’ve got me?

Wait to add the egg white until the chocolate-butter-sugar has cooled off, otherwise the white might cook a bit which would be gross. Definitely use a whisk for this, or a fork, just be sure to really incorporate the egg white. I used that super corny spatula. I have regrets.

The next step is to set aside 1 tablespoon of this mixture. Then, spread the rest of the chocolate all over your dough rectangle. I kept finding globs of unincorporated egg white, like those little jellyfish that wash up onto the beach, and I was really past the point of no return, leaving me to simply accept my mistake and wallow in regret.

Oh, when you do this, try to keep away from the edges. Your life will be easier because chocolate won’t come oozing out all over your hands in the next step, which is rolling everything up.

I think I didn’t roll tight enough, causing some problems down the line, so try to keep your roll really tight by whatever means necessary. This rolling is what’ll give the babka such a cool swirl.

Next, pinch up the seams and the ends. If your dough isn’t 18″ long, make some adjustments by rolling and stretching. And grease your loaf pan.

Grab that reserved chocolate and spread it over the seam, again, careful not to get too close to the ends.

It’s time to do some twisting! You’ll fold the dough over itself (chocolate inside) and pinch the ends together. Then, twist the dough around itself twice. This can be awkward, but I believe you can do better than me. Here’s how mine turned out:

After loosely covering the pan with a plastic wrap, turning the oven to 350°F, and letting the dough proof for about 1.5 hours, things looked promising. The dough expanded to fill the pan pretty nicely.

One last thing you’ll need to do is whisk together an egg wash, for which ATK uses one egg (the whole shebang this time), ~1 tablespoon of water, and a pinch of salt. If you have a pastry brush, use that to coat the top of the loaf. If you don’t, a paper towel works pretty well. You don’t need to use the entire wash; I actually used less than half. You just want to make sure the top has plenty to go around because the wash will make your loaf super shiny and beautiful. Maybe scramble the leftover wash if you don’t want to waste anything.

With the loaf egg-washed and the oven pre-heated to 350°, the time to bake was nigh. I slid the loaf in and set the timer for 20 minutes, turned the pan 180° and continued to bake for 25 minutes.

You’ll want the internal temperature to be around 190°F, and I found I had to bake closer to the maximum suggested time to get there. But finally, it happened and I got this masterpiece:

Really, it’s super pretty, much better looking than my first attempt, and the oven-spring was ridiculous.

I didn’t want to wait the 3 hours for it to cool before slicing the loaf, but I did. I left the bread in the pan for 15 minutes and then, 3 hours later, with baited breath, I put serrated knife to loaf and…

…yikes.

Sometimes you want cavernous. This is not one of those times.

I think my problem was not rolling tightly enough, but also I think the bread was slightly underdone. Only slightly though. Still tasted delicious. A completely unbiased source told me he likes the texture (as he snags another slice), so my mantra seems to still hold:

Great tasting bread with an imperfect appearance is better than a beautiful, inedible loaf.

There you have it: babka!
Stay tuned for a sourdough boule, and check out Gloria in the meantime!