Chocolate Babka

Back in December 2009, I clipped a recipe from Cooking Light magazine for a chocolate-laced bread called babka. Since then, I have attempted that particular recipe on several occasions, only to face undercooked bread, issues with the dough not rising, and bread with HUGE air pockets.

Babka

Chocolate Babka: bread laced with chocolate filling

I have persevered, though, because the swirls of chocolate filling enticed me. I finally tried another sweet bread recipe from Lindsey at Pinch of Yum and combined it with the filling method from Cook’s Illustrated cinnamon swirl bread. Finally, success!

Babka

Aren’t those swirls of chocolate and cinnamon filling gorgeous!

Wondering about the origins of the name babka, I googled it to learn that babka is a Ukrainian sweet bread made for Easter. In my Croatian heritage, my mom and aunt always make Easter bread, which is a tad sweet and dry. Theirs bakes up lighter than this one, but the breads share the same level of mild sweetness. I prefer this one due to the chocolate spirals inside, though. I took it to work (to prevent myself from devouring it all), and my coworkers loved it.

So, I present to you a version of babka that took me five years to perfect.

Babka

Utterly delicious sweet bread

Chocolate Babka

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INGREDIENTS

Dough

  • 1 package (2 1/2 tsp) active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 2 cups milk, scalded and cooled to lukewarm
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 8-9 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • optional: zest of one orange

Filling

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips or 4 ounces finely chopped semi-sweet chocolate (or dark chocolate, if you prefer)
  • 3 tbsp. cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp. cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

Egg Wash

  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten

Icing

  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 6 tsp. milk (or you can use orange juice to enhance the orange flavor if you used orange zest in the dough)
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla

DIRECTIONS

  1. To make dough: In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, allow the yeast to dissolve in the warm water until it reaches a frothy state.
  2. Add the milk, sugar, salt, eggs, orange zest (if using) and 2 cups of flour; using the paddle attachment of a standing mixer, mix on low speed until the dough is smooth and elastic.
  3. Switch to dough hook and add 3 more cups of flour; mix at a slightly higher speed. The dough should appear smooth and glossy.
  4. Add the melted butter; mix until dough appears glossy again.
  5. Stir in remaining 3-4 cups of flour a little at a time until a stiff dough forms. You will probably use closer to 3 cups of flour rather than 4.
  6. Transfer dough to a generously flour-coated surface, gently rolling dough around to coat it with flour. Place the dough back into the mixing bowl, cover, and allow to rest for 15 minutes.
  7. Using mixer, knead dough at low speed until smooth and satiny, about 4 minutes. Place dough into a lightly greased mixing bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel, and allow it to rise in a warm place for about 1 hour, until doubled in size (my dough took almost 2 hours to rise).
  8. To make filling: Whisk together powdered sugar, chocolate, cinnamon, cocoa powder, vanilla extract, and salt until well combined.
  9. Grease two loaf pans (I used shortening).
  10. Rolling dough and adding filling: After dough has risen, transfer it to a lightly floured surface; divide dough in half (at this point, you can wrap one half in plastic wrap, place in resealable bag, and freeze for another time; to use, allow to thaw overnight in refrigerator and to sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes or so). Working with one half at a time, roll dough into a large rectangle, roughly 14×16 inches and about 1/4-inch thick.
  11. Using a spray bottle, lightly spray the dough with water. Sprinkle half of the filling mixture evenly over the dough, leaving a 1/4-inch border on sides. Spray filling lightly with water (FYI: the powdered sugar absorbs water, forming a sticky paste that helps to hold the layers together, eliminating pesky air pockets).
  12. Starting from the longer side of the dough, roll dough away from you into a firm cylinder. Pinch ends closed. Holding dough by ends, gently twist the cylinder 4 times, as if wringing out a towel (this creates a spiral effect with the filling). Place the dough into the prepared pan, squeezing it into an S-shape to fit. Cover and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.
  13. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  14. Brush the loaves with the beaten egg so bread will bake with a golden crust. Bake for 55-60 minutes, until internal temperature reaches 200 degrees F.
  15. Remove from oven, place bread pans on cooling racks for 10 minutes, then remove from pans and allow bread to cool completely on wire rack before icing and slicing.
  16. To make icing: Combine icing ingredients and mix well. Drizzle over cooled bread.

SOURCES: inspired by Cooking Light; adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Cinnamon Swirl Bread and Pinch of Yum

2013’s Most Popular Posts

Hubby and I prefer to stay home for a quiet and calm New Year’s Eve. We celebrate by cooking something special, usually lobster. However, two years ago I saved a recipe for Beef Wellington, and this year I’m finally going to try it. Hence, I’ve spent the entire day in the kitchen prepping. If all goes well tonight, I’ll share the recipe later this week.

Anyway, I decided to rest my weary feet a bit and catch up on some emails. Lo and behold, I received my annual report of the most popular posts for 2013 (all sweet treats, by the way), so I thought I’d quickly share them. A couple of the most-searched posts go back to 2011 and 2012!

Wishing each and every one of you a very healthy, happy, and peaceful 2014.

Most popular posts of 2013:

Kahlua Cheesecake

Kahlua Cheesecake

Kahlua Cheesecake: graham cracker crust, ganache layer, velvety Kahlua-flavored cheescake, sour-cream layer, and drizzled ganache topping. Can you say decadent?

Oreo Cheesecake Bites

Oreo Cheesecake Bites

Oreo Cheesecake Bites (2012): Still popular a year later, and rightfully so. These little babies pack a ton of chocolate-y flavor amidst tangy cheesecake. And oh-so-easy to make, too.

Ho Ho Cake

Ho Ho Cake

Ho Ho Cake: This light and airy layered cake garners a lot of oohs and aahs from its recipients. Very yummilicious cake.

Magic Custard Cake

Magic Custard Cake

Magic Custard Cake: Magic indeed as three layers appear from one batter!

Cinnamon Pull-Apart Bread

Cinnamon Pull-Apart Bread

Cinnamon Pull-Apart Bread (2011): Still going strong two years later, this pull-apart bread is simply fun with layers of dough stacked so they pull apart easily after baking. Drizzle with lots of glaze for a glorious treat.

Zucchini Recipe Roundup

Zucchini Recipe Roundup

My garden has three stunted squash plants. Since May. They grew about 8 inches high and refused to grow anymore. Nor have they succumbed to perishing. I don’t get it. Last year’s zucchini plant grew for months and months and months. I even tried a second round of plants this year and same situation: stunted growth.

Hence, we’ve had no zucchini dishes this season. However, since I had quite the abundance the past couple of years and tried numerous recipes and since squash season is in full bloom and since I’ve had quite a few people subscribe to the blog (welcome all!), I thought I’d share my collection. Just click the link below the photos to view the posts/recipes.

How do you like to cook zucchini?

Zucchini Recipe Roundup

Pesto Zucchini Lasagna

Pesto Zucchini Lasagna

Pesto and Roasted Zucchini Lasagna

Zucchini Frittata

Zucchini Frittata

Zucchini Frittata

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Chocolate Zucchini Cake (unbelievably moist and delicious)

Lemon Rosemary Zucchini Muffins

Lemon Rosemary Zucchini Muffins

Lemon Rosemary Zucchini Muffins

Zucchini & Carrot Slaw with Asian Dressing

Zucchini & Carrot Slaw with Asian Dressing

Zucchini and Carrot Slaw with Asian Dressing

Zucchini Cheese Bread

Zucchini Cheese Bread

Zucchini Cheese Bread

Grilled Zucchini Greek Salad

Grilled Zucchini Greek Salad

Grilled Zucchini Greek Salad

Stuffed Zucchini in Tomato Sauce

Stuffed Zucchini in Tomato Sauce

Stuffed Zucchini in Tomato Sauce

Zucchini Melt

Zucchini Melt

Zucchini Melt

Zucchini Fries

Zucchini Fries

Zucchini Fries

Irish Soda Bread

IrishSodaBread3

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Although we don’t do anything to celebrate, I did make this Irish Soda Bread. Perhaps waking up at 3 a.m. had something to do with that decision. I couldn’t sleep. Neither could hubby. (We have a big trip planned with departure soon and are both incredibly excited. I’ll tell you more in a couple days.) We finally got up at 4am and he made us eggs and bacon for a super duper early breakfast. I then mixed up this bread and popped it into the oven.

It’s incredibly easy to make. It just takes minutes to stir the ingredients, dump it onto a baking sheet (or into a cast iron skillet), shape it a bit, and bake. About 45 minutes later, you have a crusty  ball of bread with a tender interior.

Slather it with plain or flavored butter, jam, curd, chocolate hazelnut spread or whatever your heart desires. I used butter then sprinkled on cinnamon sugar. Yum. Made a terrific morning snack after our ridiculously early breakfast. (Until I typed this out and checked for links, I didn’t realize I had made so many types of spreads!)

I’ve had my eye on this bread since last year around this time when it kept popping up all over the food blogosphere. Again this year it made an appearance on numerous blogs, calling out to me. I had never heard of it until last year, so this was my first experience with this quick bread. Love it. No kneading. No yeast. No long rising times. And you get a dense, crusty, tender loaf to enjoy. Perfect!

IrishSodaBread1

Irish Soda Bread

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INGREDIENTS

  • 4 tbsp. butter, cold
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 cups buttermilk, plus a bit more for brushing the loaf

Optional additions:

  • 2-4 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tbsp. orange or lemon zest
  • 1/2-3/4 cup raisins or other dried fruit

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly oil a cast iron skillet or baking sheet, or line a baking sheet with parchment paper of a silpat mat.
  2. Place dry ingredients into the bowl of a food processor and pulse a couple times to mix. You can also mix the dough by hand, so you would whisk it all together at this point in a large bowl.
  3. Cut butter into small pieces and add to food processor. Pulse until butter is mixed in. If mixing by hand, work butter into flour by pinching and rubbing butter into flour, or use a pastry cutter. (I actually started this way but decided the food processor would be much faster.)
  4. Remove chute from food processor, and while machine is on continuous pulse mode, slowly add the buttermilk. If mixing by hand, use a spatula or wooden spoon to mix buttermilk into dry ingredients. The dough will be wet and shaggy at this point.
  5. Use a rubber spatula to push the dough out of the bowl and onto your skillet or baking sheet. Use the spatula to help shape the dough into a thick, slightly flattened ball. (This was a messy process trying to get the dough out of the food processor, but it was certainly a quick method for mixing the butter into the dry ingredients. Next time I’ll probably transfer the flour/butter mixture to a bowl then add the buttermilk.)
  6. Using a sharp knife, mark a large “X” into the center of the dough, cutting from end to end and about 1/2 inch deep. Brush entire loaf with a bit of buttermilk.
  7. Bake at 400 degrees F for 45-55 minutes, checking after 25 minutes. If bread is browning too quickly, place a piece of foil over it. Bread will be done when the center of the “X” is no longer looking wet and shiny. A cake tester should also come out clean when it is done.
  8. Allow bread to cool for about 10 minutes once you remove it from oven, then transfer to a wire rack to continue cooling. You can actually cut into it at this transfer point. Cutting into it any sooner, though, may result in a gummy textured center.

SOURCE: The Kitchn

Banana Bread

BananaBread3

I have a banana bread recipe that I had used for years…got it from my trusty first-ever cookbook: Betty Crocker, the 1982 edition. However, I switched over to my friend’s recipe that she got from her Home Ec cooking class back in high school, about 40 years ago.

In the summer when she and I are free from teaching, we meet weekly for marathon scrapbooking and cardmaking days, alternating between her house and mine. Often when we meet at her house, she bakes this banana bread. Hers comes out lighter than the Betty Crocker recipe I’ve used, so years ago I asked her to share it with me. I now turn to this bread recipe when I have bananas sitting on the counter growing overly ripe.

I haven’t made banana bread in ages, though. I’ve taken to freezing extra bananas and using them in smoothies instead, but with the colder weather, I felt a need to bake some comfort food, and for me, banana bread falls into the comfort category.

BananaBread

Banana Bread

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INGREDIENTS

  • 1 3/4 cups (7.88 ounces) unbleached, all-purpose flour (I swapped 1/4 cup whole wheat this time)
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup oil
  • 1 cup mashed bananas (about 2 whole bananas)
  • 1/2 – 1 cup chopped nuts, optional

DIRECTIONS

  1. Grease a loaf pan; set aside. (I use shortening for greasing.)
  2. In a large bowl, whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
  3. Slightly beat eggs, then add eggs, oil, and bananas to flour mixture. Mix thoroughly (I use a fork to mix).
  4. Transfer batter to greased loaf pan; bake at 350 degrees F for one hour.

SOURCE: my dear friend Marion, from her high school Home Ec cooking class back in the 1970’s

Homemade Hamburger Buns

Yes, I could have easily bought buns to sandwich our pulled pork, but what fun is that? How much more satisfying to know I baked these myself. And aren’t they just gorgeous with that shiny golden brown top speckled with sesame seeds?

I’ve baked with yeasted doughs a few times, and this is definitely the most pliable, easy-to-handle dough I’ve encountered yet. It was a bit tacky initially, but once the dough finished the first rise, it was smooth as can be to handle.

This particular recipe uses potato flour–not something I stock regularly in the pantry, so it did require a special trip to the store. However, I do list an alternative in the recipe below. I learned that the potato flour, though, helps keep moisture in the bread.

It also uses nonfat milk, another item I don’t regularly stock. I have seen it in small packets at the store, though, so you don’t have to buy a big bulky box of it.

This ended up being a fairly easy recipe, so I plan to continue making sandwich buns for us, keeping extras in the freezer to use as needed.

Homemade Hamburger Buns

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INGREDIENTS

  • 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. instant yeast (also called rapid rise yeast) or 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast   (.25 ounce packet) (see yeast tutorial to learn about the two types)
  • 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 2 tbsp. white granulated sugar
  • 3 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup nonfat dry milk
  • 1/4 cup potato flour (alternative: grind mashed potato flakes in a food processor)
  • 1 cup + 2 tbsp. lukewarm water
  • 1 extra large egg

For the egg wash

  • 1 extra large egg
  • 1 tbsp. water
  • sesame seeds or poppy seeds, optional

DIRECTIONS

  1. Combine the flour, yeast, salt, sugar, melted butter, dry milk, potato flour, water, and egg in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook; knead until smooth and elastic, about 5-7 minutes. Adjust the dough’s consistency with additional flour or water as needed, but remember that the more flour you add, the heavier and drier your buns will be.
  2. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and shape into a ball.
  3. Lightly spray the inside of a large bowl with nonstick cooking spray. Place the dough into the bowl; loosely cover with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap and place in a draft-free space to rise until doubled in size, about 1 – 1 1/2 hours.
  4. Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface. Gently deflate the dough and divide into 8 equal portions. Roll each piece of dough into a smooth ball and flatten into a   3 1/2-inch disc. Transfer discs to a parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing them       2 1/2 inches apart. Cover lightly with a kitchen towel and allow to rise for 1 – 1 1/2 hours in a warm, draft-free space.
  5. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining egg and 1 tbsp. water. Brush the tops of the buns with the egg wash and sprinkle with sesame or poppy seeds, if desired.
  6. Bake the buns until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Yield: 8 buns

SOURCE: The Galley Gourmet

Bread and Butter

Bread is not a staple in my diet although I grew up with a mom who bought a loaf of fresh-baked grocery store french bread each evening. I love bread but don’t need it to accompany every meal. Sit me down at my parents, though, and I scarf several slices slathered with butter or sopping with my mom’s gravy. Or give me a basket of bread at a restaurant, and I shamelessly down more than my fair share. Especially if the bread is warm and soft.

Macaroni Grill serves one of my favorite restaurant breads–a warm loaf of rosemary bread with a crunchy crust brushed with butter and sprinkled with a touch of coarse salt and a super-soft, chewy interior. The server pours a swirl of olive oil on a plate followed by a swirl of balsamic vinegar. Then he grates fresh pepper over that. Totally yum city to dip that warm bread in the mixture. And forget slicing the bread. Just break off a piece, rustic style, and dip away.

When Mel from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe posted a recipe for Macaroni Grill Rosemary Bread, it soared straight to the top of my “must try” recipes. And shortly after I made it, I dined at Macaroni Grill with a buddy, allowing me the opportunity to compare the two breads. I enjoy the restaurant version, but the homemade dough far surpasses the restaurant version. It’s softer and fresher. My mom spent some time working in the bakery of a grocery store, and the bread doughs all came frozen; the workers used to pop them in the oven to bake; hence, they weren’t really fresh. Same thing at one of my favorite local restaurants. When asked if they made their bread fresh every day, I was told it came frozen.

Well, eating my homemade bread and eating the restaurant bread just a few days apart, I could tell the difference between fresh and frozen dough. The frozen dough has a tougher texture and a slightly metallic taste. I may just have to start baking bread at home more often now after this comparison. The only problem with that is that I would eat far too much of it at one time. Tender bread fresh from the oven is way too hard to resist.

Want to make it even harder to resist? Then try this cream cheese & herb butter that Mel also posted. Oh.My.God! It is freakin’ heavenly. Creamy, tangy, and savory–a trinity of taste sensation. Spread that on top of a warm slice of bread and you will swoon. Ecstasy.  Serious ecstasy. Oh, and super easy to whip up.

Although the bread takes time to make due to the rising-of-the-dough part of the recipe, the time is well worth it in terms of the final product. And the herb butter makes the entire experience doubly divine.

Rosemary Bread

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INGREDIENTS

  • 1 tbsp. instant yeast (or 1 1/2 tbsp. active dry yeast)
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
  • 2 3/4 — 4 cups all-purpose flour (I used 3 3/4 cups)
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. fresh rosemary, chopped and divided
  • 2 tbsp. butter, melted
  • coarse salt for sprinkling

DIRECTIONS

  1. In a large bowl (or the bowl of an electric stand mixer), combine the yeast, sugar, and water. If using active dry yeast, let the mixture stand until foaming and bubbly, about 5 minutes. If using instant yeast, proceed with recipe.
  2. Add two cups of the flour, the salt, and 1 tbsp. of the rosemary; mix.
  3. Continue adding flour, gradually, until a soft dough is formed. Judge the dough based on texture and feel. The dough should be slightly tacky to the touch but should hold its shape while still being soft and smooth. Knead the dough by hand or with an electric mixer for 4-5 minutes, adding additional flour only if the dough is overly sticky and not clearing the sides of the bowl.
  4. Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl and cover with greased plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rise until doubled in size, approximately 1-2 hours, depending on the warmth of your kitchen.
  5. Prepare a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper, a silpat liner, or lightly grease the pan with cooking spray.
  6. Once the dough has doubled, gently deflate the it and divide in half. Shape the dough into two smooth oval-shaped loaves. Place them on the baking sheet, one on each half of the tray so they have room to rise and bake without touching.
  7. Use a brush to slather the melted butter over the top of the loaves. Continue brushing on the butter until it is gone (the loaves will be well saturated).
  8. Sprinkle the remaining chopped rosemary over the top of the loaves, patting down gently to set into the dough, if needed.
  9. Cover the loaves with lightly greased plastic wrap; let them rise again until puffy and nearly doubled, about one hour (again, the exact time will depend on the temperature of your kitchen, so judge the dough by how it looks).
  10. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
  11. Lightly sprinkle coarse salt over the top of the loaves.
  12. Bake for 18-20 minutes until browned and baked through. Transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Yield: 2 loaves

SOURCE: Mel’s Kitchen Cafe

Cream Cheese Butter Herb Spread

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INGREDIENTS

  • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup butter (2 sticks), softened
  • 1/2 tsp. oregano
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp. onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp. sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. dried parsley
  • 1/8 tsp. thyme
  • 1/8 tsp. celery salt
  • 1/8 tsp. salt (Mel’s recipe calls for 1/4 tsp.)

DIRECTIONS

  1. In a medium bowl, whip the cream cheese and butter until light, fluffy, and smooth.
  2. Add the spices and herbs; mix until well combined.
  3. Serve at cool room temperature (very clumpy and not spreadable otherwise).

SOURCE: Mel’s Kitchen Cafe