Turkey Day to Christmas Eve of 2016 was definitely the happiest I was all year. It was amazing, and calm, and peaceful. It was warm and full of love and acceptance. I was with my immediate family (though my partner spent significant amounts of time visiting, which was nice). Many days, we did not leave the TTENG “compound”.
Because why would we? We were all off work (well, I still had my online job, but that can be done anywhere). We had cases of wine, freezers full of good food, fresh herbs in the backyard. We had Netflix, HBO-Go, Sling, and Amazon Prime. And this is entertainment beyond more books than you could read in a lifetime, hundreds of CDs and LPs, some board and word games, and–oh–each other for conversation and company. We had two beautiful Christmas trees, a fireplace with plenty of fuel, and an all-house generator in case the power actually went out. Seriously. Why would you leave?
And this isn’t to say I didn’t get to see my friends from undergrad or beyond (because I did). This isn’t to say we couldn’t go out (we could). In fact, I did go out. I mentioned having a dentist’s appointment for the first time in a while (the while was so long, the man complimented me on my immune system and gave me his cell phone number to call if I were “in too much pain”). I also had two eye doctor appointments (of course, only one had been intended).
I knew it’d been too long since I’d been to either doctor, and I had gotten to that stage where I wasn’t going simply because I knew the news wouldn’t be good. I still underestimated just how bad some things were. I was very depressed after all appointments (though honestly more so by the eye doctor). My mother told me to try to turn my frown upside down by cooking. And so that’s why I made babka.
Well, not exactly. There was a little bit more going into this equation. Why babka instead of…well, anything else? Babka was a challenge for me–something I’d never done before as I have an intense fear of cooking with yeast (don’t go there). It wasn’t a toe-dip into this kind of baking either; this was deep end of the pool, sink-or-swim event. Go figure I’d pick for my first yeast bake something that requires a double proof (added challenge: double proofing in a house normally set to 62*F).
But, this also is something that I honestly cannot make in Chicago. Why? Space. At one point, I had to roll this dough out to about 3 feet by about 2 feet. My kitchen in Chicago is 8 feet by 7 feet. There is no way I have that much counter-space total, let alone in one “chunk”. But back home? My parents recently redid their kitchen–here it is when it was “not quite done”:
That stainless steel island? That thing that could be a prop in Dexter? THAT is why I made babka. And that kind of surface really is needed.
This recipe is fantastic (and deeply inspired by a Food52 article–love them! In fact, mostly followed this recipe with the exception of “I don’t really measure or follow instructions”.). It won’t last long it your house (in mine it lasted maybe 48 hours). But it does take a LOT of time and patience. Enjoy!
INGREDIENTS (for the bread part):
- One package yeast
- 3/4 cup milk
- 6 tablespoons butter, room temp
- 2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- vanilla extract
- 4 egg yolks
- 3+ cups flour
INGREDIENTS (for the filling):
- 1-3 tablespoons butter, cold
- sliced almonds
- dark chocolate chips
INGREDIENTS (for the topping):
- Brown sugar
- More butter
- Warm the milk (I used the microwave, but you’d be better off dirtying another pot and using the stove). Do NOT make it hot. Stir the yeast into the milk. It should get foamy. If it doesn’t, start over again (made that mistake. This got large but apparently not as large as it could have.).
- Cream the 6 tablespoons of butter with at most 6 tablespoons of sugar. Add the vanilla extract and oil. Then add the egg yolks one at a time.
- Add the salt, and start adding in the flour a half cup at a time. Add the milk as well. Eventually, you will have to switch to a dough hook (early rather than later, trust me).
- Sprinkle some flour on a surface and knead the dough for a few minutes. Transfer to an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let this proof for 2 hours or until it has doubled in size (I wasn’t patient. Should have been.)
- To prepare the filling, take all ingredients and put them in a blender.
- When the dough has finished its first proof, roll it out to a consistent (relatively-thin) thickness–approximately 3 feet by 2 feet.
- Smear the filling EVENLY across the dough (avoiding the edges). Key word: evenly. Roll the dough into a giant tube. Take that tube and form a “U” shape, and then braid. Pinch the seams together at the other end.
- Place the braided dough in your baking dish, which should be greased. Cover again with plastic wrap, and let it proof a second time for another 2 hours.
- Mix all of the elements of the topping together (it should look like the crumbly bits on top of coffee cake). Place on the babka. Poke some holes in the bread before placing it in a preheated 350*F oven. Cook for a total of 45-60 minutes (turning at the half-way point).