“You can’t beat a Babka”
I am addicted to Seinfeld – as much as I am addicted to coconut. Maybe more so?
For those of you who don’t know it – it was an American sitcom that ran through the 80s and was essentially a show…about nothing. Although, nothing being the everyday annoyances, faux pas, and incidents that drive us all stark raving mad. There are some classic quotes that I use almost daily and drive all my friends and work collegues crazy with.
The Dinner Party episode is one of my favourites, when Jerry and Elaine go to a bakery to a Babka (or Bobka) to take to a friend’s house for dinner.
What is hilarious is that you never get to see this mythical Babka. For years I wondered what this elusive cakey bread was, never having the chance to find out which was better; cinnamon or chocolate. Why did I live in a country where there was no Babka? We only had inferior iced buns and jam doughnuts.
All I can say is, thank goodness for Google – it answers all those random questions rattling around in your head; like why you never see baby pigeons and what blamanche is made of and whether pineapples grow on trees? It was Google that held the answer about the true nature of the Babka.
The Babka, I finally discovered after about 10 years, is an Eastern European coffee cake, a rich dough filled with either chocolate or cinnamon. Intriguing.
It is a special bread for special occassions; brought out after a harsh winter of eating nothing but black bread and cabbage soup all year. This is the king of breads. This bread has chocolate built into it. A superior bread that doesn’t require any sort of manual labour to spread chocolate on it. This bread is something you can imagine a Polish grandmother who lives in a wooden cabin in a dark forest would bake to warm your cockles after you had become lost in a blizzard after hunting Snarks. Or, you could buy it from a Jewish deli in New York.
If you bring this to a dinner party – you will definitely be the hero of the hour! No one will let you leave and they will tie you up in the basement and make you bake babka for them every morning.
It felt special enough to make for New Years and so I made it. This enormous chocolate beauty will definitely become one of our New Year’s Day traditions.
Enriched Dough recipe
This recipe is the antithesis of everything people are trying to do at New Years – it’s the anti-healthy eating. However, when its rainy and cold with snow on the way, this is nice to have as a comforting snack in the evening or for the leftover family and friends still hogging your sofa and using your hot water bottle (This is a subtle hint to my mother who has stolen my hot water bottle as I’m typing! I’ll batter you with a slice of babka if you don’t give it back).
2 tsps dried yeast
200ml warm milk
6 tablespoons caster sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract/paste
1/2 tsp salt
2 large eggs and 1 extra egg yolk
18 oz / 510g self raising flour
5 tbsps butter (softened)
1/2 cup light brown sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
4oz /110g butter
4oz /110g dark chocolate, finely chopped
4oz / 110g milk chocolate, finely chopped
4oz / 110g roasted and crushed hazelnuts
1. If using a breadmaker, use the setting for an ‘enriched dough’. For those without a breadmaker, mix the warm milk, a tsp of sugar and yeast together before adding the flour, salt and vanilla. Then add in the eggs and butter a bit at a time until combined. You’ll need to put this sticky dough into an oiled bowl, cover with wet tea-towel and leave in a warm place until it has swollen to twice its size.
2. Once your dough is ready, roll it out onto a floured surface.
3. Spread the babka filling mixture onto the floury mattress.
4. Roll the long edge towards the middle, then do the same with the other side so you have two sausages meeting in the middle.
5. Now twist the sausage as if you were wringing out a tea towl. The tighter the twist the more swirls you’ll get.
6. Tuck in the ends and put into a loaf tin.
7. Leave to rise for about 40 minutes in a warm place.
8. Brush with milk and then a beaten egg.
9. Put into an oven preheated to 175 C / 350 F / Gas Mark 4 for around 40 minutes (set your timer for 30 so you can go and check on it).
10. Leave to cool, the slice and serve warm, with a glass of cold milk.
The swirling vortex of hazelnut and chocolate is mesmerising. Be careful you don’t get lost it in. Slice it quick and eat it while it’s hot.
The Results: I succumbed, I couldn’t resist tasting this – and ate a whole slice. The dough is lovely and sweet and moist and the hazlenuts give you something to get your teeth into.
There’s something about baking a loaf (although I was abley assisted by my trusty sidekick the bread maker) – you feel like you have really accomplished something. It’s almost cavewoman like. Look…made…babka…babka good.
I’m quite excited to see how the ‘twist’ in the babka turns out later down the loaf. In the meantime, here’s a gratuitous close up of the hazelnutty chocolatey madness going on inside this loaf. It definitely makes for interesting toast!
There are some brilliant food releated Seinfelds – all of which make me laugh out loud. The eight series are filled with great American brands and American foods, marble ryes, yoghurt ice-cream, calzone, Bosco, Snapple, fried chicken, big salads, tuna fish and pastrami sandwiches, Hampton tomatoes, black and white cookies, Ho-Hos, jujee fruits, Drake’s coffee cake, Kasha, Mackinaw Peaches, Beefarino, Gyros, Pez, a lot of soup and a lot of cereal. Here are some of my favourites.
The Pothole – Elaine hides in a laundry closet just so she can be in the delivery area of a new Chinese restaurant to try the Supreme Flounder.
The Slicer – Kramer buys a meat slicer as he is fed up of irregularly shaped meats for his sandwich. Elaine’s neighbours have gone on holiday and left their radio alarm on. She shorts the fuses to disable the alarm, but also disables the cat feeder. She and Kramer end up pushing thin slices of meat from the meat slicer under the door to the cat.
The Frogger – Elaine eats a cake from the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s wedding that costs $29,000. “It’s the most romantic thing I’ve ever eaten.”
Soup Nazi – A soup chef who is very particular about queuing and soup ordering. “No Soup for You.”
The Rye – there’s a hilarious scene where George uses a fishing rod to hook a marble rye to smuggle into his future in-law’s kitchen.
The Non-Fat Yoghurt – Elaine, George, Jerry and Kramer become addicted to a supposedly ‘non-fat’ yoghurt which it turns out, makes everyone fat.
The Chicken Roaster – Kramer becomes hooked on fried chicken.
The Junior Mint – a junior mint becomes lodged in someone when Jerry and Kramer are watching an operation.
The Muffin Tops – Elaine becomes a muffin consultant and persuades her former boss to open a ‘muffin’ top shop called “Top of the Muffin”.
The Big Salad – English salads are rubbish. Iceberg lettuce, cold un-ripe tomatoes, and a floppy cucumber. American salads are big and bold and you always get a choice of dressings. Tempers flare over this Big Salad. “Big lettuce, big carrots, tomatoes like volleyballs”.