Pistachio babka trial and a tasty bread pudding

It's been way too long since I've posted here, and I've been chomping at the bit to bake something different.

It's interesting how a certain thing tends to percolate to the surface, often by happenstance, and in recent months one of those things is babka, a yeasted bread-like coffee cake with origins in Russia and Poland. I've come across versions of it on line, both on Clotilde Dusoulier's "Chocolate and Zucchini" site as well as on the "Bake from Scratch" website.

Lately I've also been reviewing recipes from Peter Reinhart's "artisan breads every day", and, guess what?  There's a classic chocolate cinnamon babka just waiting to be tried. 

To top it off there's a chocolate babka recipe on April's Easter Baking class menu at Sur La Table where I've been teaching baking and pastry classes since last June.

Don't you think it's time to make babka!?

I wanted to make a pistachio filling version to use up some pistachio paste in my fridge.  I followed the recipe on the "Bake from Scratch" site and as I was making it, knew in my heart of hearts that it was probably too loose.  But use it I did.  Lesson learned.  After all, this was my first foray into the babka world so why not experiment, eh?

dough ingredients

Filling aside, Peter Reinhart's dough is a lovely soft, enriched sweet dough made as follows. Whisk 19 g instant yeast into 3/4 cup/180 ml lukewarm whole milk. Let sit for about 5 minutes. 

Cream 6 tablespoons/85 g unsalted butter (melted or soft room temp) with 6 tablespoons/85 g sugar on medium speed for 1-2 minutes. 

Add 1 teaspoon vanilla extract to 4 egg yolks, add to the sugar mixture in 4 additions and mix on medium-high for a couple of minutes. 

Stop the mixer, add 3 1/3 cups/425 g all purpose flour and one teaspoon salt then the milk/yeast mixture. Mix on low for 2-3 minutes to achieve a soft, supple, tacky dough.  

Transfer to a lightly floured surface and knead by hand for 2 more minutes. Form a ball.

Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for about 2 1/2 hours.

Here's the dough after the rise.

Now you can either move on to the shaping step or place the dough in the fridge (covered) overnight to be rolled out the next day.

I decided to go forward with the project and rolled the dough into a 15" x15" square.

I spread my loose pistachio filling onto the dough and rolled it up into a log. I must admit I was so focused on spreading and rolling the dough up that I completely forgot to take a photo before the log formation! Rats! But you'll see the filling soon enough.

I placed it on a tray in the freezer for about 10 minutes, hoping that the filling would tighten up a bit.  I was already envisioning the pistachio goodness oozing out as soon as I sliced my log lengthwise.  I was going for a free form twisted loaf rather than putting the braid into a loaf pan as many babka recipes suggest.

I accomplished the lengthwise slice, but it was looking pretty messy.

I gently and gingerly twisted the two pieces around each other, attempting to keep the cut sides up.

Hmmmm . . . . This might work, but what's going to happen during the final rise? Yikes!

I covered the loaf loosely with plastic wrap and gave it another 2 1/2 hour rise at room temperature.  Here it is ready to go into my preheated 350º oven.  A filling mess looms ahead!

About 20 minutes into the bake I took it out and cleaned off some of the partially baked oozed filling from along the sides of the loaf. Otherwise it looked like it was browning nicely.  Maybe there's hope after all . . . . .

After about 40 minutes total baking time I thought it was ready. It certainly is well browned, that's for sure. The French call that bien cuit. I brushed it with vanilla simple syrup for a bit of sheen.

After some cooling I sliced into this interesting piece and found that my layers were pretty much non-existent.  As I suspected, a lot of the pistachio filling had oozed out during baking.

Yet . . . . . The flavor was delicious!  A nice dense yet soft and tender crumb along with a hint of pistachio. Not so bad after all. The next morning we warmed up a couple of slices and spread 'em with some raspberry jam - quite tasty indeed.

Now I'd really like to have another go at the whole babka thing.  I'm looking forward to creating one with a drier chocolate-y filling and a nice twisted spiral of dough. I've reviewed several more recipes, and I know it can be done.

For this first attempt I ended up creating a bread pudding.  I cubed up the babka (about 6-7 cups) and made a custard with two cups whole milk, 1 cup heavy cream, 2 tablespoons melted butter, 1/2 cup sugar, 3 large eggs and some vanilla and almond extracts.

I placed the cubes in a buttered 9x13 Pyrex dish, poured the custard over and let it soak in the fridge for about 8 hours, pushing down the cubes a couple of times to keep them soaking. 

I sprinkled some coarse sugar and freshly grated a bit of nutmeg on the top, then baked the pudding in a 350º oven for about 45 minutes until set.

For a family supper at Mom's I served it warm with my homemade orange and vanilla scented ice cream and a sprinkle of chocolate-graham crumble.  So delicious!

So stay tuned for the next babka bake. It promises to be a good one. Can't wait.