If you were a fan of Seinfeld you will never forget one of the classic episodes called The Dinner Party but if you’re like me you still refer to it as the Chocolate Babka story. It all happens around a trip to Schnitzer’s Bakery to pick up dessert for a dinner party which ultimately is decided will be the glorious Chocolate Babka. The line at the bakery is long, no one’s picked a ticket and the last Chocolate Babka is sold to a couple attending the very same dinner party before Jerry and Elaine can claim it. Madness ensues. It was a truly hilarious episode and also had to have launched Chocolate Babka into immediate bakery stardom.
I was salivating through the first edition of King Arthur Flour’s new Sift magazine when a few pages in there it was. The Chocolate Babka. Game on.
Now as much as I love to bake working with yeast is way above my comfort zone. I took a bread baking class once where the baker instructing us said baking bread is like raising children. You can do everything you know to be right, it takes a lot of time and patience, but even after you’ve poured your heart and soul into it you just don’t always know what you’re going to get. And that’s okay. You keep at it and it gets better.
Yesterday I woke up to a blustery, rainy Sunday in the hundred acre wood and knew this was the day I was going to conquer a yeast dough so I could finally experience The Chocolate Babka. The challenge is not following the recipe. Anyone can handle placing ingredients into a mixer. The first challenge is the Zen approach it takes. Now that the ingredients have morphed into a mound of dough I start to question ….well…everything. Is this how dough should feel? How do I know if I need to add a little water or a little flour? Am I doing this right? If a tree falls in the forest…. I can’t tell you how many times an experienced baker has said “Oh you’ll just know when it feels right.” Well thanks, that’s very helpful.
The dough is rolled out so the chocolate filling can get added and then you roll it up and place it seam side down in a 9×5 loaf pan. At least that’s what the directions said. The directions didn’t mention me fighting with a shape shifting blob of dough, too slippery from my “light” grease of oil rolling around like a baby in too many suds. By the way MaryJane from the King Arthur Flour chat line said that was a great description which leads me to believe I’m not the first person to have dropped a dough baby into a waiting prepared pan only to say “well it’s not seam side down, I can’t vouch for the symmetry of the chocolate swirl, and there may be enough oil on that bread it will deep fry instead of bake….but here goes nothing!” This is the point I knew I was making more of a Blobka than a Babka.
Also if you have a Type A personality you have a shortage of patience waiting for dough to rise. This is usually where I lose it. Why isn’t this dough on my schedule??? When I realized I was standing over a pan of dough waiting for it to rise I decided to get away from the kitchen altogether and after about an hour of yoga came back to a Babka ready for baking! Maybe I’m getting the Zen thing finally?
I have to say I thought my Chocolate Blobka had a lot of personality when I pulled it out of the oven. The crumb topping was hiding the probably seam side up on the dough (I’ll never know for sure it all happened so fast!) and when I sliced it open a very Dr. Seuss-ish chocolate swirl was revealed. I could tell the texture was heavier than the picture I had been drooling over but at the end of the day it was a delicious adventure and this time instead of giving up on yeast dough I wanted to do it all over again.
Here are some other excellent & comforting pointers from MaryJane;
- Babka is a notoriously slow riser so an hour or two is normal (see? it’s not just me)
- The dough should be soft and stretchy, but not super sticky. Sugar and eggs makes the dough soft, so that (my dough) sounds pretty normal (ha! that’s two normals)
- Try oiling just your hands instead of the dough. It keeps it from sticking to you, and gives you better control. (ok that might be MaryJane admitting I went oil overboard)
- Like Carnegie Hall. Practice, practice, practice. 🙂
Thanks MaryJane, I think I will!