So there I am, minding my own business when suddenly, out of nowhere, the craving hits: chocolate… and fresh bread… and cinnamon.
Oh my, I need chocolate filled babka, desperately! I have other things to do, I argue with myself. There’s laundry (we have other clothes). There’s the floors that need to be swept (people will just walk on them). The beds need to be made (we’re just going to sleep in them again tonight).
Thus, overcome by the logic that I have nothing better to do, I embark on a day of making babka; because making babka takes a full day.
Starting the Babka
I proof 1.5 tablespoons of yeast in ¾ of a cup of warm milk. While that’s going, I put 8 tablespoons of sugar and a half a cup of room temperature butter into the mixer and let it cream, then I toss in two tablespoons of oil for good measure. I add a teaspoon of cinnamon and a teaspoon of salt to the sugar and butter mix.
Then I throw in 4 egg yolks, one at a time and a teaspoon and a half of vanilla extract. Not all of it is mixing so I’ve got to stop the machine and scrape the bowl.
Okay, on to the flour bit. I slowly add in three cups of flour. Thankfully, it doesn’t poof up in my face and all over me so I must have put the mixer speed down far enough when I switched from the paddle to the dough hook.
I let it go for about 4 or 5 minutes, until the dough is nice and elastic. Then I taste it. (Shhh, don’t tell the health department.) I pull the raw dough out of the mixer, and put it into a greased bowl, where I cover it with wrap and let it sit until it’s doubled in size, about two hours.
So now I’ve got two hours to wait. I may as well put together the chocolate filling. I pull out the food processor and toss in a cup and a half of dark chocolate chips (my preference is 60% Ghiradelli) and about two teaspoons of cinnamon. Then, I turn on the machine. The chips take a bit to grind up so I’m pulsing them.
Once they’re on their way, I add about a cup and a half of toasted slivered almonds and make the machine whirl again. Then I cut in four tablespoons of cold butter and pulse the machine until that’s incorporated.
I’m back to waiting. I sweep the kitchen floor (I did spill a bit of sugar). I move laundry from the washing machine to the dryer (since I started a load when I woke up). I check my email and facebook (priorities, ya know). Then I remember, I need streusel for on top. My family loves when I put streusel on top of the babka!
Hey, somehow, my two hours slipped by (I blame Facebook) and I don’t have streusel yet. That’s okay, I’ll do that after I’ve rolled and filled the dough.
I pull the dough out of the bowl and punch it down, kneading out the bubbles and feeling the good elasticity and slight stickiness of the wonderful dough. I put the dough onto the counter and roll it out until it’s 24 inches long and 14 inches high… or somewhere in that neighborhood.
Then I pour the chocolate/almond filling onto the dough, leaving about a quarter to half an inch on the far side and the ends. Now I roll it up. I pinch the ends closed and form the log into a horseshoe.
The next step is to do a sort of braid, putting one side over and the other under, tuck the ends under the whole thing and put it into a greased 9×5 bread pan. Back to waiting. Another two hours before I do anything with it again, since it needs to almost double in size.
Now I can make that streusel! I put about a quarter cup of dark brown sugar and a similar amount of flour into my measuring cup. I toss in a dash of salt and mix that all together. I grate a bit of fresh nutmeg into the mix. Then I throw in a handful of those toasted slivered almonds. Now it’s ready for 2-4 tablespoons of room temperature butter (I eyeball these things, they turn out better that way). I mix it all up… and wait.
Since I still have over an hour and a half for the second rise, I may as well change the laundry over again. Then I head upstairs with the laundry and after I’ve put away what I’ve just folded, I make the beds.
I notice that the towels in the bathroom haven’t been changed recently, so I do that and take the laundry basket, now full of towels, down to the laundry area. I come back up to find that my two hours disappeared again (I blame evil house fairies for putting me in thrall to do their work).
I pull out an egg and mix a bit of water into it. This I brush onto the beautifully risen loaf and then I pack that streusel on top. The nutmeg and cinnamon smell wonderful and the thought of the chocolate and toasted almonds inside makes my mouth water. I slide the pan into a 350 degree oven and prepare to wait, at least an hour and a half, again.
That’s okay, it’s time to go pick up my daughter from school. She tells me all about her day on the way home, including a visit from a Civil War re-enactor who’s been in several movies about the Civil War. He was a soldier in the movies and he wore his uniform to school and brought his musket and told them how to load the musket and she got to wear his hat! Definitely an exciting day at school.
We get home and it’s been half an hour since I left and I turn the bread in the oven so that what was in back is now in front. My daughter has been singing her happy babka song since she walked into the house and smelled it in the air. She is now doing a dance to the babka. I remind her that it’s not yet done baking. She doesn’t care.
My husband comes home from work and smiles hugely as he pulls in a hearty breath of air. My daughter is still doing the happy babka dance and singing the happy babka song so he knows what’s in the oven. He wants to know if I’m going to make everyone wait until it completely cools this time. Yes, I will. Otherwise, it crumbles terribly when it’s cut. He knows this. He whines anyway.
The babka has now been in the oven for about an hour and ten minutes. I stick a thermometer into it to check its temperature (I’m certain it’s not ill though). Ah, the magical mark of 185 degrees!
It is ready to come out of the oven and must be released from the pan. Not so fast though. Even with the greasing, the egg wash and streusel topping make it want to stick. I run a butter knife around the edges of the pan and gently tip it out onto the cooling rack. My husband glares at me, making eating motions in the direction of the babka. My daughter sings a mournful song of waiting for the babka to cool enough so she can devour it.
We eat dinner. My daughter goes to swim lessons and returns home. My husband mournfully asks if we can please eat the babka yet. My daughter chimes in with a baleful tune of a babka whose life purpose, of being eaten by a famished little girl, goes unfulfilled by a cruel mother who will not allow the babka to be cut.
Finally, the babka has sat for nearly four hours out of the oven. It is almost completely cooled. I relent. After all, it was my craving that started this whole thing. I cut into the babka. Everyone has milk to drink. My husband smears his babka with butter. My daughter has a second piece. So does my husband. I won’t say how much we each ate in the end. We all extol the virtues of babka. It may have taken all day but somehow the housework got done; and in the morning, we shall have babka for breakfast. There is not quite half a loaf remaining.