Chocolate and Pistachio Babka (and list making)

I would like to be the type of person who makes life lists. You know, like the big life lists – I will accomplish x by the time I turn 30/35/40. There is something aspirationally optimistic in such a list. I have never written one but part of me would like to.

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When my mom was here we were talking about life and living, as we like to do often but particularly since I was in that post-PhD-hand-in crisis that entails questioning what the hell I was a) thinking when I embarked on said PhD and b) what the hell I am supposed to do now, after four years working on the same project. I realised, through the various conversations we had, that I am not the type of person who has a life plan. The best I’ve had is the post-school ‘I’ll go to university and study something for a while and see what happens’ and the nearest serious decision-making I have done was deciding I whole-heartedly needed to go to cooking school and learn how to make dessert. (My mom confessed she is much the same, didn’t really make plans and followed things as they happened.) And so I guess, being that I have been the type of person to leap at opportunities as they appear, it makes sense that I don’t make life lists. (I also wonder at the pressure of such a list. What happens if you don’t finish it by the time you’re supposed to? How do you cope with the disappointment?) But I was reading Sara over at Sprouted Kitchen (an old post titled ‘birthday cake’) and she wrote that making a layer cake made her list of ‘things to do before I turn 30’. And it struck me as odd because a) it never occurred to me to make a list before I turned 30 and b) I cannot imagine not having made a layer cake before that but then I realised that I probably don’t count in the real life version of making cake because I’ve been making layer cakes since I was about six. (And I mean that simply in a statement of fact kind of way and not a oh my goodness, I am amazing because I have been baking since I was six kind of way.)

Anyway, the point of all this rambling was that I realised I wanted to make a list (feel free to laugh here Jen, I know we laughed at other people and their lists together). Not a ‘things to do before a turn 35’ (dear god, how is that kind of a list even conceivable?!) because that is far far far too scary but a kind of list of things I want to do soon (I am good at writing and then promptly forgetting various new years lists, but they hardly count). I figured I could write it here so that there is proof the list exists. (And also because if I write it anywhere else, I will never look at it or remember it again.) And the best thing about this list is this post crosses off one thing that has been on the list of things I want to do (the one that exists in my mind)! So yay! Maybe list making is not so scary?

The 2015 List

Survive my viva

Learn Spanish

Make chocolate krantz cake from Jerusalem (done! see below)

Finish The Third Plate

Write an article for publication

Make a birthday funfetti cake

Use my recipe books more for everyday eating

Read newspapers that are not The Guardian (so I can widen my news sources)

Have people over for dinner

Make this (possibly for said friends above)

Okay. That is more than enough to be getting on with. Nothing totally unrealistic or unachievable. No real timeline. All possibly accomplishable in some way before the end of the year.

So about these babka. Ottolenghi calls them krantz cakes in the book and it appears that the name is interchangeable for babbka (he spells it with two ‘b’s – I’ve always spelt it with one, as does Deb over at Smitten Kitchen). They are soft and sweet, like a sweetened brioche dough and you fill and roll them like a cinnamon bun. But then you split the log down the centre and plait the two halves together, with the inside on the outside. (Even as I write that I realise how complicated it sounds and that is one of the reasons it has taken me so long to make these. But don’t be intimidated. They’re really quite simple and, once you’ve got the rolling and plaiting down, you will probably want to make these every week.) The result is a wonderfully soft, sticky (due to the syrup) sweet bread that you want to pull apart as soon as it is cool enough to touch with your bare hands. I am saving some to make French toast on Saturday morning because I suspect this will make French toast of the gods. I shall report back.

Some notes on the recipe: 1) the dough is pretty soft and if you leave it out of the fridge for a while (like I did) before working with it, it will be difficult and sticky. Keep the dough as cold as possible. 2) The filling needs to be spreadable but it will need to cool to become so – it is quite liquid when you first make it. So make this slightly ahead (by like 15-20 minutes) of when you want to roll the dough into a rectangle so the filling cools and becomes spreadable. 3) This recipe makes enough for two breads. I’m not sure what happens if you halve it but I have frozen the second half of the dough and shall report back when I defrost and use it. 4) Plan ahead. You have to leave the dough in the fridge overnight before you can use it.

Chocolate and Pistachio Babka

Adapted (ever so slightly) from Jerusalem

Bread Dough:

530g plain flour

40g golden caster sugar

60g soft brown sugar

a pinch of salt

10g instant yeast

3 eggs

120ml water (plus about 2 more potential tablespoons – 30ml)

150g unsalted butter, at room temperature (reasonably soft), cut into cubes

Filling:

50g icing sugar

30g cocoa powder

130g dark chocolate

120g unsalted butter

100g pistachios, roughly chopped

2 tbsp golden caster sugar

Syrup: (enough for one bread)

130g golden caster sugar

80ml water

First, make the dough. Place the flour, sugars, salt, and yeast in a bowl. Stir everything together. Using either a standing mixer with a dough hook or a hand-held mixer with dough-beater-feet, add in the eggs and water and mix until the dough starts to come together. If it seems dry and is struggling, add in the extra water. Once the dough has come together nicely, begin to add in the butter. I cut it into cubes and add them one at a time into the mixture. Mix until the dough is smooth, shiny and elastic. Make sure you scrape down the sides of the bowl during this process so everything is incorporated. Place the dough in a large bowl (I just use the one I’ve mixed it in), cover with clingfilm so it is safely sealed and refrigerate overnight.

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In the morning, grease a loaf tin with some oil and place a layer of parchment paper along the bottom. Make the filling. Melt the butter on the stove. Switch off the heat and add in the chocolate. Allow it to sit for a minute and then stir until smooth. Combine the icing sugar and cocoa powder in a small bowl and then whisk in the butter mixture. Leave this to the side to cool.

Retrieve your dough and divide it into two. (I froze the second half). Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface, into a rectangle shape of 38cm x 28cm. Keep a 2cm border at the edge and spread the chocolate filling onto the dough. Scatter the pistachios over and press them into the chocolate filling very lightly with your hands. Sprinkle over 1 tbsp of caster sugar. Brush the long side of the rectangle furthest away from you with some water.

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Roll up the rectangle as you would cinnamon buns, folding the long side closest to you over onto itself and continuing to roll away from you. Press the log closed along the seam. Even the log out with your hands and leave it to sit on the seam. Trim the ends (approximately 2cm).

Now slice the log in half, down the length of the log. Open the two halves so they are sitting cut side up, the filling looking up at you. Press the ends together lightly and then lift the left half over the right half. Repeat with the right lifting over the left, then left over right, until you have plaited the loaf. Press the ends together.

Very carefully lift the plaited loaf into your loaf tin and place in a warm place (covered lightly with a tea towel) for an hour to prove. If you are making the second loaf, repeat this process.

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Heat the oven to 190C and place the risen loaf into the oven. Bake for approximately 25 – 30 minutes, until the cake sounds hollow and a skewer inserted comes out clean.

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While the cake is baking, combine the caster sugar and water in a saucepan. Heat to dissolve the sugar and then bring the syrup to the boil. Remove from the heat and leave to cool. When the loaf comes out of the oven, pour the syrup over the loaf. Do this slowly so that the loaf absorbs all the syrup. Restrain yourself whilst it cools. Then eat with abandon.