Thursday, March 30, 2017

Babka trial Part 2 - chocolate pecan

Not to be deterred by a less than stellar result with my first pistachio version babka, I decided to jump right back on the horse and give it another go.  This time - chocolate pecan.

Before attempting this again I scoured books and online sources and reviewed babka (or kranz
cake) recipes from Yotam Ottolenghi's "Jerusalem", Packer and Srulovich's "Honey & Co. The Baking Book", as well as David Lebovitz's version of the Honey & Co. babka.  I had already done Peter Reinhart's dough with a "Bake from Scratch" pistachio filling.

I was ready.

I ultimately followed David Lebovitz's version of the Honey & Co. recipe with a few tweaks of my own based on all the recipe versions I had reviewed.

I'm not here to outline the recipe but to talk about my experience with the process.  The dough came together nicely and felt absolutely wonderful! So soft and pillowy with a hint of what the end product might bring.

I formed it into a ball, placed it in a lightly oiled container covered with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge overnight.

Below is what I had after the overnight rise - looks a bit puffier.  Remember this is a sweet dough and the rise may not be as pronounced as with a lean bread dough.

While the dough was warming up a bit I made the chocolate filling by melting 100 g unsalted butter in a saucepan, adding 150 g granulated sugar and blending to (mostly) dissolve the sugar. Off the heat I added 85 g chopped chocolate (70%), stirred to melt, then blended in 40 g Dutch process cocoa powder and a teaspoon of Vietnamese cinnamon. 

Please note!  The filling has to cool to room temperature so it's more paste like and easily spreadable on the dough, so plan ahead for that.

I decided to use pecans (rather than any of the other great nuts one might choose) so toasted and chopped 65 g of those.  I also followed David Lebovitz's path of using 65 g of my home made cocoa wafer cookie crumbs. Yum!

I rolled the dough out into an approximately 12" x 20" rectangle, spread the cooled, spreadable chocolate filling on, then topped that with the chopped pecans and cocoa wafer crumbs.  This was starting to look good.

This time I worked a bit harder at rolling a tight log.

Then I sliced it lengthwise down the middle and formed my braid.  Whew!  That went pretty well.

I was concerned that the braid was longer than my parchment paper lined loaf pan, but I plowed ahead and squidged (did I make that word up?) it into the pan to fit. By the way - this seems to be de rigueur in the various approaches I reviewed.

Will this turn out??!! Seems like a good deal of weight that has to poof up,  n'est-ce pas? 

During the two hour rise I went out for my daily walk and was happy to return to a decent looking pan of risen babka (or so I thought). 

I heated the oven to 350ºF (I used convection) then popped the loaf in for the recommended 30 minutes.  I generally check my goods about half way through the baking time and turn the pan to promote even baking.  It was looking pretty good.  After the 30 minutes I had my doubts as to how well the interior had baked.  I gave it another 5 or 10 minutes and thought the outside had browned quite nicely.

Even though my skewer placed into the middle of the loaf came out clean I was still a bit skeptical as to the extent of the bake - difficult to tell due to the chocolate filling/dough spiraled layers. But I took it out of the oven nonetheless.

Once out of the oven I brushed it all over with simple syrup which I had made a bit earlier with 100 g sugar, 125 g water and one tablespoon honey brought to a boil, boiled for about 4 minutes, then set aside to cool to room temperature.

I gave it a good 90 minute cooling before lifting it out of the pan by the parchment lining.  By that point the center of the loaf had collapsed, not usually a good sign.  Oh, oh. 

Slice into it I did and indeed found the center to be doughy and under baked.  Disappointing to say the least, but let's remember - it's all about learning.

I did have to wonder though - how DO those thin layers of dough and chocolate filling have the room to rise up under the weight of it all?

The good news is that I was able to salvage the exterior and end portions of the loaf so Steve and I could give this project a decent tasting.  In a word - delicious!!

The chocolate filling with the cocoa wafer crumbs was absolutely scrumptious, and the layers of dough were moist but not overly sweet.

I stored all the decently baked portions in a Tupperware container and we enjoyed them over the next couple of days - oh so tasty for a little sweet treat after lunch or for a mid-afternoon gouter with a cup of coffee or tea.

All in all not bad.  I'm considering one more babka go - they say the third time's the charm, right?

Why not - let's go for it!


  1. I suspect King Lear may have been talking about babkas when he said "that way madness lies". A few more things that I've ended up doing:

    Trim the log (before bisecting) so it's not excessively long for the tin and you don't have to squeeze it in. (Bake the offcuts cut-side-up in rings or muffin tins.) I know instructions often specifically state to jam it in but having the ends just about reaching the sides works for me.

    Don't have too many twists; go with just one overlap either side of the middle.

    You could try manipulating the central crossover so it's less "tight" and creates space for the strands to expand. A bit of a cheat but desperate times...

    It's hard to tell from the photos, but it may be underproofed. Try giving it an hour or two longer so it's very well risen and puffy.

    I get best results at 150C convection (ie an oven thermometer on same shelf reads 150C with the fan on.)

    Even after all that, the middle will still be a little gooier. I guess that's why most babka cross sections seem to be photos towards the ends rather than the middle. Hmmmmm.... they're fooling no one. I can't guarantee any of the above will bring you peace but they kept me out of the looney bin.

  2. Thanks so much for your excellent tips and observations Pete! They all make absolute sense, and I can't wait to give this project one more try.

  3. It took me at least half a dozen attempts to get something I was happy with and, as you've discovered, even the disappointments are insanely delicious. Just to clarify my twist suggestion above, the loaf has three crossovers - one in the middle and another one on each side (if you watch the Breads Bakery videos on YouTube you'll see what I mean and how they braid it).

    If you still can't reach the high standards you're setting yourself, there's an alternative construction in the Breads book that works well. After rolling your log, rather than splitting and twisting, cut it into individual pucks about an inch thick and arrange in two layers, cut-sides-up, in a buttered Bundt pan (which obviously helps by removing that pesky middle bit). A little unconventional, but equally delicious and structurally sound.

    I should point out that I've only ever made the Breads Babka using their "advanced" laminated dough, and even then I ended up junking that dough for an alternative laminated brioche (their Nutella/Chocolate filling, however, is a keeper). I have to say that Lebovitz's effort looks a bit lame in his photos, decidedly squat and stodgy in appearance. Maybe his is not the guiding light to follow.

  4. Hmmm - laminated dough for the babka - now there's another level to consider. So much to learn.

    Thanks for introducing me to Uri Scheft, Breads Bakery and their book "Breaking Breads". I took a look at the bakery's website and scanned the book on Amazon - I may have to add that one to my library.

    It's great to have so many options when approaching a baking task. I love the idea of trimming the ends and baking them in rings, and the bundt version sounds intriguing as well.

    You write with wisdom.