Thursday, September 13, 2007

Chocolate Babka

Really, I should not be a baker. I am neither precise nor patient, I have no faith in anything, and baking fills me with anxiety. Yet I persist. Why? No idea. Is the product worth the pain? This week: decidedly.

I know, Rosh Hashanah. I should be making honey cake, or at least apple cake. We even have a delicious recipe for apple cake (the apples are applesauce, and there is lots of olive oil--it's Italian[ish]). Nevertheless, Monday night found me sitting at the kitchen table with Nigella and Joan, trying to decide what to make.

I didn't get to Nigella. I didn't even get to the Rosh Hashanah section of Joan. I got stopped in Shabbat by Chocolate Babka. Chocolate Babka? For Rosh Hashanah? I don't know: it just grabbed me and had to be made. Remember when I used to make chocolate cakes? I haven't made one in a long time, and just the other day I thought: I should make a chocolate cake. Then there was the Chocolate Babka recipe in last December's Gourmet. Phantom made that one, and my recollection is that it did not blow us away. So Chocolate Babka remained an unspoken goal. And there it was.

Sure enough, my usual baking trauma commenced. Made the dough the night before. An ordinaryish dough, five eggs, made in the mixer, 15 minutes of mixing. And it was still totally sticky. The recipe said soft, but this seemed ridiculous. Luckily, S was home by that point, so he reassured me, as he does, divided the dough in three, dusted the three with flour, and put them in the refrigerator.

The next day. Need for ingredients. Whole Food: chocolate, but no almond paste. Way too many chocolate choices, and I hadn't written down what kind I needed. Finally went for Lindt bittersweet, since you pretty much can't go wrong with bittersweet or Lindt, and it was a 10 ounce bar and I had written down that I needed nine ounces (and it did not cost a fortune). Luckily, bittersweet turned out to be right. Gourmet store: French almond paste in tiny and huge bars. Hadn't written down how much I needed. Got the huge. Anyone know any almond paste recipes?

Home. Have to pick up E in two hours. House is a mess. I am tired. Need to mix cake crumbs (chocolate chip muffin from Whole Food), melted butter, and fraction of huge almond paste bar in Cuisinart. Only no-longer-so-new-that-my-failures-have-any-justification Cuisinart refuses to turn on. There is something that I am not locking, but I have no idea what it is. Call S. He is useless. Hang up on him. Waste precious time searching for Cuisinart manual online. Download Adobe to new computer. Cuisinart manual seems to assume a level of competence I lack--i.e. the ability to turn on the Cuisinart. Give up and switch to tiny Cuisinart. Which barely mixes cake crumbs, melted butter, and almond paste, but clearly is not going to chop ten ounces of chocolate. Chop chocolate by hand.

Roll out dough, spread almond paste mix, sprinkle chocolate, roll up, put one in loaf pan, two in bundt pan. Creatively mix leftover chopped chocolate (remember, bar was 10 ounces, recipe said 9) into streusel. Sprinkle streusel on babkas. Streusel slides down sides of babkas. Leave babkas to rise. Pick up E from school.

Recipe says they should rise above the pan. Nothing ever rises above the pan. But it's been more than an hour. Stress. Put babkas in oven. Go to farmer's market.

Home with apples, tomatoes, potatoes, squash, flowers. Take babkas out of oven. They have risen above pan. They look like babkas. Everyone impressed. I am sure that appearances are deceiving.

Well, they were outrageously good. We ate the loaf last night with my dad, and leftovers at lunch today with my mom. I took the bundt to the neighborhood Rosh Hashanah picnic this evening, and the crowd went wild. Truly. Softly sumptuous dough, sweet chocolatey filling, delicious streusel, light yet filling.

Joan Nathan's Chocolate Babka: definitely a keeper.

Lessons learned? Probably none.


Jenny Davidson said...

A gripping account! Cuisinart episode sounds harrowing. Here is a recipe for a cake that in my book is one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten, I used to make it all the time to bring to parties (I like it with old-school very very plain pink icing--like icing sugar, milk and a splash of vanilla plus red food coloring). But it doesn't even really need icing, it's so rich--dust it with cocoa or something if you want decorative... Warning: b/c of the texture of the paste, batter is VERY stiff--don't be alarmed...

Phantom Scribbler said...

Yes, I concur that the Gourmet chocolate babka did not thrill us (and not just because one of us was off chocolate, and I was really craving cheese babka instead). I'm not sure I have the patience for the one you describe, though. Any leftovers?

I'm pretty sure the almond macaroons from Pesach called for almond paste, if you're desperate to use it up. I still have a container of almond paste in the freezer from April. (Right, because no one would eat almond macaroons but me. Sigh.)