comments 3

Chocolate Babka: Baking, Birthdays and Lockdowns

An alternative title for this blog post could have been the Babka baking bible. Simon suggested this due to the level of detail I have included. I didn’t mean to write quite so much however it has turned into everything you wanted to know about Babka but were too afraid to ask! Combining a love of baking with my food science and technology background meant I researched the subject thoroughly before attempting to make one.
Babka is something my Grandma used to make and has become popular again in bakeries and cafes in New York, London, and around the World.
I have wanted to make Babka at home but never got round to it until now. The consequence of living through the Pandemic and a 3rd lockdown here in London has given me the opportunity to give it a go. It’s also a day to remember and reflect as 23rd March marks the 1st anniversary since UK was put into lockdown and instructed to stay at home, save lives and protect the NHS.

I decided to make a chocolate and hazelnut Krantz loaf for my Dad’s birthday, as a surprise. With any family celebrations curtailed it would be a doorstep drop off, and a socially distanced chat a few metres away in front of his home.

Krantz is a type of Babka and refers to the plaited shape, baked in a loaf tin. I read that Babka can be a little tricky to make as it uses a yeast dough enriched with butter and egg. The dough proves slowly overnight in the fridge and needs to be handled when cold. I asked my local baker for some tips and she actually freezes her dough once rolled out for 10 minutes. I didn’t have any room in my freezer to try this tip. I researched Babka  comparing the recipes and methods from the following cookbooks and blog posts:

Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi Jerusalem Cookbook

Sarit Packer & Itamar Srulovich Honey & Co. The Baking Book

David Lebovitz Chocolate Babka from his blog based on Honey & Co recipe with a few tweaks.

There were slight differences in each recipe and method. Using my food technology skills and experience I decided to come up with my own version based on all three recipes with a little twist.. literally!

I have previously  tasted the Honey and Co. amazing Babka at Sarit and Itamar’s restaurant of the same name in Central London. The photos in both Jerusalem Cookbook and David Lebovitz’s blog were very helpful and gave me confidence at each stage. The trickiest part was plaiting the split soft dough layers with chocolate & nut filling. I used fresh yeast from my local bakery however the recipe states you can use dried yeast which is easier to buy.

Key Tips:

Flour Type: Strong White Bread Flour (13% protein)

The Jerusalem recipe and David Lebovitz both used plain ( all purpose flour) in their recipes. David talked to Sarit and Itamar about flour type. He based his version on Honey & Co. recipe. Plain flour has less protein, typically around 10.5%.

I decided to stick with Honey and Co. recommendation and used strong white bread flour and the quantity in their recipe. I reckoned the higher protein in this type of flour would help give a good texture, with finer, more even bubbles in the finished loaf.

Yeast Dough Method

I used the David Lebovitz method as I liked the idea of activating the yeast first.

1st Dough Prove

All 3 suggest chilling the dough for at least 6 hours or ideally overnight. David Lebovitz had made a version with less chilling, however as he is both a professional and experienced baker I decided to stick with chilling it  overnight.

Cold Proved Dough, Divide in Two

All 3 recipes and my local professional baker said the trick to making Babka is keeping the dough chilled and handling it quickly as it is soft.
The Jerusalem cookbook recommends to divide the proved dough into two equal pieces, roll out one and keep the other half chilled. I decided to use this method. Also my kitchen top is granite so is a cold surface, ideal for working with Babka dough.

Warm place for 2nd Prove

The disadvantage of a cold kitchen means that after shaping the dough the second prove can take around 2 hours.

I have an easy way to overcome this. I heated my oven to 50C/122F, for 10 minutes, then switched it off keeping the door shut for the same amount of time. I created a nice warm space to prove the Babka before baking. Using this method the dough proved in 1 hour 20 minutes. Proving times depend on temperature. I include some before and after photos as a guide. Babka should increase by about 20-30 % after the 2nd prove.

Loaf Tin size

The Jerusalem recipe makes a bigger batch of dough and suggests baking two Krantz loafs. I decided to use the Honey & Co dough recipe size. I still used two loaf tins 12cm Width x 22cm Length x 6 cm Height. In imperial that’s 4 1/2 W x 8 3/4 L x 2 1/4 H in inches.

Loaf Tin Preparation

Brush a little sunflower oil on the base of both tins. Line the base and sides with baking (parchment) paper.

Chocolate Filling Recipe

Both cookbooks had slightly different recipes. Jerusalem uses mostly icing ( powdered sugar) with a sprinkling of caster sugar on top. Honey and Co. uses all caster sugar. Jerusalem says use a good quality dark chocolate whereas Honey & Co. mention 70% cocoa solids.

I made my own version with slightly less sugar and used 50:50 mix of icing and caster sugar. I used a 65% cocoa solids dark chocolate from Dominican Republic as I like the fruity mellow flavour. I suggest using a dark chocolate you like! Ensure the chocolate filling is kept at room temperature and not chilled as it will set solid and be hard to spread on the soft thin dough.

Baking Temperature and Time

In Jerusalem Cookbook it recommends pre heating your oven sufficiently. I heated mine for 15 minutes before baking my Krantz loaves.

The Jerusalem recipe says 190C (374F) or 170C (338F) fan for around 30 minutes. The Honey & Co recipe says 220C (428F)or 200C (392F) fan for around 30 minutes. David Lebovitz suggests 190C (374F) for around 30 minutes. As every oven is different, I decided to bake at 185C (365F) fan for 27 minutes. I used the Honey & Co tip and turned my loaf tins after 10 minutes  baking. All 3 recipes suggest testing the baked dough with a skewer which should come out clean. Just make sure you pierce through a section without chocolate filling.

Chocolate Krantz Loaf ( makes 2)

Yeast Dough Recipe

20g fresh yeast (or 2 teaspoon dried yeast)

330g strong white bread flour

40g caster sugar

a pinch table salt

1 large whole egg, beaten ( at room temperature)

85g milk ( I used semi skimmed warmed slightly to room temperature)

90g unsalted butter cut into 2cm cubes at room temperature)

Method

Combine the yeast with the milk. If using dried yeast ensure it’s dissolved. If using fresh yeast, crumble it into the milk.
Add the sugar and 40g of flour to your mixing bowl. Stir briefly with a spoon and leave for 15 minutes. You will see small bubbles on the surface as the yeast is activated ( see photo below).

I used a Kenwood mixer with the dough hook attachment. With the mixer on its slowest speed slowly add the cubes of butter, then the beaten egg. Mix for 1-2 minutes to combine. With the mixer running on slow gradually add the flour and a pinch of the salt. Once the flour is added and the dough starts to form turn the mixing speed up to medium. That is number 4 ( of 8) on the Kenwood mixer I used. Knead the dough for 5-6 minutes. if there is dough sticking to the sides of the bowl, scrape down part way through. When the dough is fully mixed and kneaded,  the mixing bowl should be clean with minimal dough stuck to the sides (see photo).

Dough after kneading

Brush a large bowl with a little sunflower oil and add the ball of dough.

Dough ready to prove

Cover with a clean tea towel and put in the fridge for at least 6 hours. I left mine overnight for 15 hours.

Once the dough has proved and is ready to roll out make the chocolate and hazelnut filling.

Chocolate and Hazelnut Filling Recipe

90g unsalted butter

75g icing ( powdered) sugar, sieved

75g caster sugar

80g dark chocolate, broken into small squares

40g cocoa powder, sieved

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon of freshly ground nutmeg

70g roasted hazelnuts chopped

Method

Melt the butter in a small saucepan on a low/medium heat. Remove from the heat, add the icing and caster sugars, then  stir to dissolve. Add the cocoa powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and stir to combine. Add the dark chocolate squares and mix. The heat of the filling will melt the chocolate. Give the mixture a good stir to ensure everything is combined ( see photo).

Chocolate Filling

Roll out the dough and make the Krantz Loaf

Divide the dough into 2 equal pieces. Place 1 half back in the bowl, cover and put back in the fridge.

Dough after 1st Prove Overnight

1st Prove done, dough cut into two

Place the other half onto a lightly floured surface and roll out into a rough rectangle shape around about 26 x 30 cm (10.2 x 11.8 inches). The dough should be thin, approximately 3 mm ( 0.1 inch) thick. If it has warmed up and softened put the dough on a tray and chill in the fridge for 10 minutes.

Half the dough rolled out

Spread half the filling on the dough with a knife until an even layer leaving about a 1 cm( 0.4 inch) gap around the edge. Sprinkle with half of the chopped hazelnuts.

With the long side of the rectangle in front of you, use a little cold water to dampen the dough edge furthest away from you.
Carefully and quickly roll up the dough into a long sausage and lightly press the dampened edge to seal.

Start Rolling

Using a sharp knife trim the ends ( about 1/2cm ).

All rolled up

Then split the dough down the middle of the sausage shape to reveal layers of dough and chocolate/hazelnut filling ( see photo).

Roll cut into two, ready to plait

You will have 2 semi cylinders with the cut side upwards.
Work quickly so the dough doesn’t soften too much. Twist each half and plait ( see photo).

Krantz plaited

Place into a loaf tin.

Krantz plait before 2nd Prove

Repeat with the other half of yeast dough.

Second Prove

Once both Krantz doughs have been rolled, filled and shaped, leave in the tins in a warm place for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. The Krantz loaves should increase in size by about 20-30% (see photo).

After 2nd Prove, ready to bake

Baking

Approximately 15 minutes before the end of 2nd prove heat the oven to 185C (365F) fan. Bake the Krantz loaves on the middle shelf for 10 minutes then turn the tins round and bake for another 15-20 minutes.

I baked mine for 27 minutes.

Sugar Syrup Recipe ( quantity for 2 Krantz)

100g caster sugar

100g cold water

1 tablespoon of honey

Heat the ingredients in a small saucepan on a medium heat until boiling. Cook for 3 minutes, take off the heat and then cool to room temperature.

Check the Krantz loaves are baked by inserting a skewer into the dough not the filling. The skewer should come out clean.

Just out the oven ready for syrup

Remove the loaf tins from the oven and immediately brush with the sugar syrup whilst they are still hot. The recipe recommends using all the syrup even though the top of each loaf looks quite drenched in syrup.

After Krantz has been brushed with syrup

Cool the Krantz loaves completely in the tin before removing. To serve use a serrated knife to slice. The Krantz loaves are best enjoyed eaten freshly baked. They will keep up to 3 days in an airtight container. They can also be frozen, which I recommend doing the day they are baked. They will keep for 2- 3 months frozen.

Two Krantz Loaves are better than one!

I really enjoyed making Chocolate Babka Krantz Loaves. These would be great for Easter, birthdays or for any reason whether in or out of lockdown!

Thanks to Yotam Ottolenghi, Sami Tamimi and David Lebovitz for guiding me through my first Chocolate Babka experience.


comment 1

Our Pick of 4 Beers and 1 Cider for Thanksgiving

Last November, when Brendon O’Brien, DeCicco’s Supermarket’s Merchant of Joy (and also, Director of Beer) and I sat down to discuss the ideal beverages to serve for the Thanksgiving Holiday Meal, little could we have known about the mayhem that would descend upon the whole world just a few months later. Who would have guessed that by Spring 2020 the brewing industry would be producing hand sanitizer, or that folks across the USA and beyond would be emulating super heroes, wearing our masks every time we left home to pick up a pack of beer, or that toilet roll would become more valuable than gold?

This Thanksgiving, as the Pandemic rolls on, instead of making our annual migration across the USA, to visit family for the Holiday and contributing to the Turkey cull in another State, we have been advised to stay at home to hang out with our immediate family and share our favorite beverages with them. The latest restrictions also meant that Brendon and I were unable to meet face to face. So instead, we have done our best to remotely assemble a list of our top 5 beverages for your Thanksgiving Meal.  So I apologize in advance, if you miss the quirky pictures of yesteryear which were taken at DeCicco’s of Armonk, as despite the best Zoom has to offer, one cannot pour and drink the beers online yet! 

After a great deal of cogitation and deliberation, with Brendon’s guidance, we have come up with what we think are a perfect set of 5 for Thanksgiving, when stuck at home. A positive quarantine dream team of libations!

Two are amazing local beers from the Hudson Valley, here in New York, another two are incredible British beers from our friends over in England, who are enduring their Second Lockdown as I type. We also have thrown a curveball by adding an extraordinary cider, also from the Hudson Valley, to cater to those on a gluten free, or low carb diet

 

Queen City Pils

Zeus Brewing Company – Queen City Pils 5.2%, Pilsner, Poughkeepsie, NY

To start one’s Thanksgiving Meal, we always look for something inviting, an easygoing beer you can hand to your guests, as they would have walked through the door in years gone by. The great news is we have the perfect newcomer today to fill the role, from a recently founded brewery right here in the Hudson Valley!

Zeus has quickly gained a reputation for making fantastic beer. This soft and easy drinking classic pilsner has a wonderful dry, quenching finish. The German hops with which it is brewed add a floral element that is lovely for pairing with assorted cheeses and charcuterie. A great beer for those appetizers. Such a clean drink it will also make a quaffable companion throughout your entire meal. As Brendon says rather enigmatically: “A beer that tastes like beer!

 

Ginger Citrus

Hudson North Cider Co. – Ginger Citrus 5% Cider with Ginger & Citrus, Newburgh, NY

This year we have strayed a little off the beery path but we feel that celebrating the Fall’s harvest without featuring New York apples (in liquid form) is simply unthinkable here in the Hudson Valley.

Hudson North turns out some fantastic, clean ciders that showcase ripe apple fruit with a crisp finish. Their Ginger Citrus cider is the perfect culinary companion, especially for Brendon and I who love to cook with what we are drinking!

Brimming with grapefruit, orange and lemony ginger notes, this cider is exponentially versatile in the kitchen. It would be remiss of us, if we failed to recommend that you cook your fresh cranberries with a hearty dose of this fine beverage. The dimension it will add to this classic Thanksgiving Meal side dish is simply incredible. However, why stop with the cranberry side, as a healthy basting of this throughout the day on your turkey will give that bird a delicious, caramelized skin with so much flavor.

This ginger citrus apple number is right at home with your main course, that Gobbler in Chief!

 

Shnoodlepip

The Wild Beer Co. – Shnoodlepip 6.5% Barrel Aged Saison, Somerset, England

The philosophy of this brewery from the West Country of England is that they were “…born out of a love of fermentation, barrel-ageing and most importantly, flavour.” 100% true to this mission statement, they consistently produce beers of incredible complexity and dimension

The beer we have selected from their inventory for this year’s Thanksgiving 5, was brewed with pink peppercorns, passionfruit, and hibiscus and aged in red wine barrels for over 6 months. The result is a pleasantly tart and rustic Saison style with playful fruit and spice notes dancing throughout

With its wonderful flavor combination, it has the legs to last your entire Thanksgiving feast but if pressed, Brendon recommends it be served with your Turkey as he loves how it plays off the herbal and bready notes in one’s traditional stuffing. However, why not throw a splash of it into those cranberries too, for an added treat…..?

 

Courage Russian Imperial Stout

Eagle Brewery – Courage Russian Imperial Stout 10%, Russian Imperial Stout Bedford, England

This beer is a real showstopper, as well as an enduring classic. It was originally brewed as far back as 1795 for Catherine the Great of Russia. It is a huge, decadent stout which boasts notes of espresso, dates, figs as well as a subtle smokiness, that plays off the dense chocolate notes

It is a masterpiece of a beer and according to Eagle, is brewed just once a year. Although this beer could easily be your dinner and dessert in a glass, we feel that it is best imbibed at the end of the meal, over sweet, Its intriguing smoky quality and jam fruit presence are a rich way to compliment the end of this big festive meal. However, you might want to consider splashing a little of this fabulous brew in the brown gravy to accompany that bird earlier to give it an even bigger hit

However, some bad news: We understand it is no longer in production but Brendon tells me you can still find it at DeCiccos, as they got hold of a couple of cases of this gem before it ceased to be like so many things this Pandemic year, so if you want to try some history before it ceases to be available, please ask at your local DeCiccos  beer bar for a bottle! 

 

Cafe Sour

Newburgh Brewing Company – Cafe Sour 5.5% Sour Ale with Ethipian Yirgacheffe Coffee, Newburgh, NY

This one is a real head scratcher! We wonder whether you have ever had something so good that it simply should not make any sense at all? Well, this is the one! Café Sour, is a Sour Ale whose bright acidity beautifully accentuates the roasted, creamy and fruity qualities of the outstanding Ethiopian coffee with which it is brewed. In the words of that rather old INXS song, “two worlds  colliding” for one of our favorite beers of all time (so far….)!

According to Brendon, if you are an aficionado of those oh so popular Italian Coffees with frothed milk, then this may well be these, in beer form

It is the perfect marriage for a Thanksgiving Dessert like rich Pumpkin Cheesecake. All the classic flavor pairings of coffee and dessert but with enough acidity to cut through the fat of that cheesecake and keep you ready for the next bite. In years past, this beer was available in draft only. However, this year, with the pandemic upon us, the Newburgh deities have blessed us with cans and this, for sure, is truly something for which we can be thankful for!

So, Thanksgiving this year is strange; but then, what about 2020 was not different? Brendon reminded me that if there was ever a day to focus on all the good that we still have, it is Thanksgiving

We are indeed blessed to live in times where the incredible cornucopia of craft brews is so readily available to us and that we can get to share our enjoyment of them with you, our readers and families all over the US and beyond

Have a Happy and Healthy Thanksgiving!

Weblinks to the beer and cider maker/s featured in our post can be found here:

https://www.zeusbrewingco.com/

https://www.hudsonnorthcider.com/

https://www.wildbeerco.com/

Home

https://newburghbrewing.com/

 

comment 0

Feeding London With Compassion

We are living in unprecedented times. I have heard and read those words so many times. My Mum said in early March that the Covid-19 pandemic will bring out the best in some, the worst in others.

One such positive story is Compassion London, a charity set up in March 2020 by Leon Aarts. Leon, a chef and motivational speaker with many years experience working in hospitality, recognised that many people would be impacted by the pandemic and lockdown. His vision was that no person should go to bed hungry, without a decent hot meal. Leon had previously set up Calais Kitchen supporting the refugees in France. He had the experience to know what would be needed to set something up to feed London’s vulnerable communities.

Within 3 days of coming up with the idea, Leon had formed the charity and posted on Facebook asking for donations of ingredients, produce and packaging, much of it excess that the Food Industry cannot utilise. He also sought monetary donations, and most importantly volunteers.

Cabbage Prep

A diverse range of people have come together to cook and pack meals in the kitchen, deliver to many places around London and behind the scenes dealing with logistics, procurement, supply chain, shifts, people – everything required to ensure that meals can be produced and delivered, in a seamless way. Chefs, foodies and many other volunteers with an array of different professions have worked to produce meals for the NHS & key workers, the elderly, the vulnerable, the homeless, and people shielding at home. The charity is supporting hospitals, care homes, charities, schools, food banks and many more recipients all over London.

Two friends, Alexis and Louise got involved at the start and mentioned to me the charity was looking for volunteers and thought I could help. I have a background in the Food Industry as a food scientist and product developer with some experience working as an assistant cook as a student. I was excited to get involved as soon as I spoke to Naomi and Leon.

Leon and Naomi organising stuff

I have been helping the team prepare ingredients and pack meals in the kitchen. It has been a wonderful experience meeting and working with chefs, caterers, front of house team managers with hotel, restaurant & cafe experience. Together with students, teachers, a security guard, an optician, a health & beauty therapist, psychologists, a probation officer, local counsellors, an airline steward, a tree surgeon, a professional gambler, a handwriting expert,  builders, procurement, HR, sales, and recruitment managers, charity workers and many more.

Maryam chopping ginger

Michelle frying falafel

Chef Danny & Lorna checking the falafel

Washing up with a smile

From the barrister washing up, and the student chopping veggies to the nanny packing meals. Bringing a team together with different skills all with a common goal of wanting to help.

One huge olive salad!

Veggie pasta ready for lids & labels

Collecting meals for delivery across London

Professionals and non professionals working in harmony to turn good food into simple, nutritious meals and deliver them to those in need as part of Compassion London.

We have cooked in some iconic London locations. Saracens Rugby Club, Wembley Stadium- the Football Association’s National Venue where England play their home matches, to Alexandra Palace, the home of the UK’s first televised broadcast. Ally Pally, as it is known locally, is a beautiful Victorian building. It has a lot of personal memories, as I could see Ally Pally from my family home growing up in North London. It also has an amazing view of the London skyline due to its hilltop location.

Allianz Park home of Saracens Rugby Club

Wembley Stadium

Alexandra Palace

During my work for the charity, I have met and worked with some characters with amazing stories. Professional chefs who have worked in fine dining hotels and restaurants such as the Dorchester, Harry Lomas MBE, Gerard, Stefan and the Chefs at Delaware North who are responsible for hospitality at Wembley Stadium, cooking up to 90,000 meals during match days.

Compassion London Cooking at Wembley Stadium

Harry has cooked for many famous people including the Queen, the Royal Household and the Military.

Chefs Gerard & Harry

Working with the Wembley Stadium team has been a great learning experience in how to work smartly and efficiently. Also the creativity required by all the chefs in every location, as there is not much notice as to what ingredients and produce are going to be available each day.

Ensuring the butternut squash curry is cooked to perfection

Compassion London is supported by a number of other charities such as City Harvest London, Edible London and The Felix Project. They collect surplus food ingredients and produce from food suppliers, manufacturers, supermarkets and elsewhere. So if couscous, marinaded olives, venison, white radishes, leeks, sweet potatoes and coconut oil arrive chefs definitely need to be creative to devise the meals to be cooked from the ingredients available. From 200 meals a day back in March to just over 6,000 meals a day, working at Wembley Stadium, Compassion London has produced around 250,000 meals which is a fantastic achievement.

Pasta Salad Packing

There have been some tough, heartwarming and funny stories along the journey. Leon told me about a mum, shielding after her cancer treatment, caring for her young child alone who had eaten nothing but ice cream for 3 days as she was unable to go out shopping. Danielle told me about the Saracens Rugby Club professional players who came to support in the kitchen. We all wear PPE and there had been a donation of homemade face masks. The sight of a 6 foot 3 player wearing one with frilly elastic straps that looked like it had been made from a pair of ladies knickers. Some banter from his team mates- all in good humour for a great cause. Leon talking ‘chopping’ which sounded a bit like ‘shopping’ with his Dutch twang and his passion, inspiring us all whilst we cook.

Many carrots to peel!

Josh and the admin team sorting out our food safety training and electronic shift booking system, with some initial challenges, always overcome with a positive attitude. Our WhatsApp group with people sharing photos, celebrating birthdays, volunteering for extra shifts, suggesting songs for our playlist.

The Packing Crew

Brad and Leon discussing what’s on the menu

It has been a welcome relief and therapy for us too, to get out of the house, sometimes challenging with lots of personalities, but amazing camaraderie.

Today I am mostly prepping green beans!

Looking forward there will be many vulnerable people to help, support and provide nutritious meals to ensure no one goes hungry whatever their circumstances. Many people to feed, the joy at being able to help, everyone doing it with compassion at Compassion London.

If you would like to find out more, get involved or donate please contact info@compassionlondon.org and check out the website link.

http://compassionlondon.org