Monday, January 24, 2011
The Engineer is usually the one who deals with active yeast, kneading dough and letting it rise. Those steps have always intimidated me because on the rare occasion I had tried them (before even meeting the Engineer), I had failed miserably. But I decided I didn’t want that to perpetually be a hurdle, so I waded in the world of active yeast with this chocolate babka recipe. It makes two loaves, so you can always freeze one if you wish.
This recipe is from Epicurious, but I originally found it via Bread Basket Case. It’s a good thing I did, too, because that pointed out a flaw in the recipe: you’re supposed to check whether the babka is ready by unmolding it and tapping the bottom to see if it sounds hollow. The problem is that if you unmold your babka too early, it will collapse! So a better way to check doneness is to verify that the internal temperature has reached about 180 °F, at which point it’s ready. I also agree with the author of Bread Basket Case that the chocolate should be grated, rather than chopped. I made this recipe with margarine (because butter often has too much lactose for me) and white whole wheat flour (which I use almost exclusively over white flour). However, in this case, I recommend that you use real butter and white flour; the babka will be so much better that way. Also, don’t forget the egg wash in the final step like I did; I was so mad at myself for that!
For the dough
¾ cup warm lactose-free milk (105–115°F)
½ cup plus 2 tsp sugar
3 tsp active dry yeast
3 ¼ cups all-purpose white flour, plus additional for dusting
2 whole large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
¾ tsp salt
1 ¼ sticks (10 Tbsp) unsalted butter, cut into pieces and softened (do not substitute margarine here)
For the egg wash
1 large egg yolk
1 Tbsp whole lactose-free milk
For the chocolate filling
5 Tbsp unsalted butter, well softened
8 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (no more than 60% cacao), finely chopped or grated
¼ cup sugar
Making the dough
Stir together warm milk and 2 tsp sugar in bowl of mixer. Sprinkle yeast over mixture and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. (If yeast doesn't foam, discard and start over with new yeast.)
Add ½ cup flour to yeast mixture and beat at medium speed until combined. Add whole eggs, yolk, vanilla, salt, and remaining ½ cup sugar and beat until combined. Reduce speed to low, then mix in remaining 2 ¾ cups flour, about ½ cup at a time. Increase speed to medium, then beat in butter, a few pieces at a time, and continue to beat until dough is shiny and forms strands from paddle to bowl, about 4 minutes. (Dough will be very soft and sticky.)
Scrape dough into a lightly oiled bowl and cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled in bulk, 1 ½ to 2 hours. (I put the dough in the microwave oven, left with the door slightly ajar so that the light is on.)
Assembling with the filling
Line two loaf pans with 2 pieces of parchment paper (1 lengthwise and 1 crosswise).
Punch down dough with a lightly oiled rubber spatula, then halve dough. Roll out 1 piece of dough on a well-floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into an 18- by 10-inch rectangle and arrange with a long side nearest you.
Beat together yolk and cream. Spread 2 ½ Tbsp softened butter on dough, leaving a ½-inch border all around. Brush some of egg wash on long border nearest you.
Sprinkle half of chocolate evenly over buttered dough, then sprinkle with half of sugar (2 Tbsp). Starting with long side farthest from you, roll dough into a snug log, pinching firmly along egg-washed seam to seal. Bring ends of log together to form a ring, pinching to seal. Twist entire ring twice to form a double figure 8 and fit into one of lined loaf pans.
Make another babka with remaining dough, some of egg wash, and remaining butter and chocolate in same manner. Chill remaining egg wash, covered, to use later. Loosely cover pans with buttered plastic wrap (buttered side down) and let babkas rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until dough reaches top of pans, 1 to 2 hours. (Alternatively, let dough rise in pans in refrigerator 8 to 12 hours; bring to room temperature, 3 to 4 hours, before baking.)
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350 °F.
Brush tops of dough with remaining egg wash. Bake until tops are deep golden brown and internal temperature is about 180 °F, about 40 minutes (bottoms of loaves will sound hollow when tapped once removed from the pans). Transfer loaves to a rack and cool to room temperature.