No rise blues: An ode to sourdough bakers

Many bakers send me private photos of their loaves attached with rude, judge-y remarks. 

“Pancakes.” 

“F$%#-ing catastrophe.”

“Dismal deflation.”

“Friggin’ flat tire.” 

These are just a few of the adjectives frustrated bakers announce when a loaf doesn’t bounce up to the height they had seen in their dreams or worse still, Instagram.   

I try to console with “That happens to me all the time…” but that never really helps soften a defeated sourdough baker’s fall from grace. 

Let’s face it. Not everyone has the patience or stamina for sourdough baking, especially if you have done some or all of the following:

  1. Mixed the levain late one night.
  2. Spent the following day sloshing together a long list of ingredients in a bowl, each scoop of flour, splash of water and sprinkle of salt meticulously measured by the gram or ounce.
  3. Tugged and stretched and folded every 30 minutes for an entire afternoon or morning before shaping an unbelievably sticky blob into a boule or baton.
  4. Transferred your shaped loaves into a flour-lined banneton (upside-down, no less) searched for a shower cap or plastic wrap amid a drawer packed tornado-style with measuring cups, spoons and bench scrapers, your fingers sticky with a floury adhesive plastered on everything you touched including the handle of the fridge where the loaves will retire — yet rise —  overnight until early the next morning, grumpy and tired, you remove said sourdough loaves ever so gingerly, turn their upside-down forms upright on a parchment paper-covered sheet, score each with a sharp razor blade tremulously pinched between bent, arthritic fingers, don elbow-high, warrior-thick oven mitts, reach into a 500 F degree oven without pulling another muscle, place a hot Lodge combo cooker on the range top, remove its cover,  slide a scored loaf into it, replace the lid, emit a bovine-like moan while lifting the five-ton, molten hot-lidded combo cooker, bend back down again into the hellish heat to settle one pan and remove the next until both loaves are now blessedly in their baking place, covered until the timer dings in 20 minutes to uncover what could be the most blissful or depressing sight you’ve seen in the past 48 hours of your baking life. 

Who cares if you’ve created a splattered 2-inch pool of dough, and not the eight-inch-high bursting boule of your dreams? 

You do, if you have read this far.  Several decades of baking have taught me several lessons or simple rules. 

Rule one for success. To be a sourdough baker you must be obsessed if not on the verge of masochistic.     

Rule two. When the lid comes off and the dough has spread like a pool of blood, tell your ego to shut-up and wonder why. (If George hadn’t been curious, he wouldn’t have lived through all those books).  Was my starter fresh, strong and resilient enough?  Did I shape the boule to have sufficient tension? Am I scoring art or slashing their hearts? Is my flour organic, local and freshly milled? Am I using chlorinated water or sweet spring H2O?

Rule three. Know your dough like the back of your hand, the nose on your face, your third eye, whatever.  When you fail, try the very same bread recipe again, yes, again, without complaining or holding your breath. Just observe.  Do that three-day process all over again making it a meditation on sticky versus wet, pliable versus loose. Wonder how far you can gently stretch the dough without tearing. Do you want to maintain those bubbles or press them out? What is the ambient temperature of your kitchen? Have you tried putting a thermometer in your flour, dough or water? 

Last rule: Post every winner on Instagram and quietly embrace your losers. Listen to your palate because sourdough ugly ducklings offer up rich, artisanal flavours you’ll never taste in store-bought.

Apple Pecan Sourdough

Makes 2 loaves

This bread is adapted from Sarah Owen’s brilliant Butternut Squash and Cherry Bread found in Sourdough. Freshly ground flour ramps up the taste factor 100 per cent. 

Stiff levain

30 g 100% hydration starter

60 g  water

85 g  organic, unbleached hard white bread flour

Final dough

175 g stiff levain

250 g thick, preferably homemade apple sauce

355 g water

45 g honey

525 g organic, unbleached hard white bread flour

140 g whole spelt flour

30 g whole rye flour

14 g sea salt (Guérande, a gray, coarse salt from Brittany is my favourite for bread)  

1 cup toasted pecan pieces

Make the levain in a medium bowl, mix with your hand and knead into a small ball. Cover with plastic wrap and leave to ferment at room temperature for 8 to 10 hours or when it is tightly domed. (You can refrigerate after 7 hrs and keep there for up to 6 hrs if your schedule requires).

In a large bin or bowl, combine stiff levain, apple sauce, water and honey. Using your hand, break up and squeeze the levain until it breaks down into a bubbly, cloudy mix.  Add flour, spelt and flour, mixing with your hands,  a Danish dough whisk or large spoon. Cover and leave to autolyze for about 20 minutes. Sprinkle over with salt and mix it into the dough, squeezing and grabbing the dough, with a moist hand until a dough forms with no dry flour bits. Cover and bulk ferment for 2 hours, turning and folding every 30-40 minutes.  Fold in toasted pecans and continue to ferment another 1-2 hours, or until the dough is puffy and almost doubled in size, knowing that hot summer temperatures raise dough faster. 

Sprinkle brown rice flour inside lined bowls or bannetons to prevent sticking. On a lightly floured surface, halve the dough into two pieces, shape and place seam-side up, covering with shower caps or closed plastic bags. Refrigerate 8-12 hours. 

Preheat two Lodge combo cooker pans in the bottom rack of a 500 F oven. Depending on your oven this will take 30-60 min.

Remove raised loaves from the refrigerator, uncover and place a piece of parchment paper and small cutting board over each one. Flip each one over to release the dough and score. Wearing heavy duty oven gloves, remove one heated combo cooker. Remove the cover. Slide the scored loaf into the shallow bottom pan, replace cover and return to the oven. Repeat. Reduce the oven to 450 F and set timer for 20 minutes.  Carefully remove covers and leave to bake another 15-25 min, until loaves are golden brown. Cool on baking rack for an hour before serving.  

Tip

Making your own applesauce is easy to do. Core and quarter 4 large organic apples, place in a medium saucepan, add 1/2 cup water, cover and heat on medium.  Cook, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes or until the apples are soft enough to mash into a puree. 

Tip

Toasting nuts and seeds brings out rich flavour but it’s easy to burn them, instead. Try toasting in a dry frying pan over medium-high heat, stirring and watching until golden brown. It helps to have raw ones nearby to compare colouring. If smoke appears, take off heat immediately.

 

 

Banana Pecan Flax Bread

Banana Pecan Flax Bread

These dark brown loaves are sweet, airy and bursting with whole grains. I always have a bag of really ripe bananas in my freezer ready to do their job. I freeze bananas in their skins and defrost on the counter in a big bowl after rinsing with tepid water. Don’t worry about all the water expelled and mash until well combined. If you aren’t using frozen bananas, reduce the cooking time by 5 or 10 min. Sourdough discard improves the crumb of this quick bread, but is optional. 

Preheat oven 350 F

1 ½ cups organic all-purpose white

1 ½ cups whole spelt, emmer, spring wheat or red fife 

½ cup ground flax seed

1 tbsp baking powder 

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp cinnamon 

2/3 cup organic sunflower, canola oil or melted unsalted butter 

1 ¼ cup brown sugar

4 eggs

6-8 ripe bananas 

½ cup plain yogurt

1/2 -1 cup refrigerated sourdough discard (up to 1 month old) * optional

1 cup toasted pecans or walnuts

In a large bowl, whisk together all purpose, spelt, ground flax seed, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.   

Cream oil or butter with brown sugar in an electric mixing bowl using the whisk attachment. Add eggs, one by one. Mix in mashed bananas, yogurt and sourdough discard, if using.  

Add dry ingredients to wet and mix/fold gently until combined.  

Pour into two greased bread loaf pans.   

Bake 60-70 minutes or until a tester comes out clean from the centre of the loaf.  Allow to rest in the pans for 5 minutes. Carefully turn out on to baking racks and leave to cool.

Potato Bread

Whenever I buy a big bag of potatoes, I like to bake them all as soon as I can, before they languish in a cupboard, start to sprout and end up in the compost. I choose organic because they have double the flavour and nutrition.  

I scrub them under running water, but I don’t peel them. I prick each with a fork and leave them to dry on a clean tea towel as the oven heats to 425F.  Once it’s ready and hot, I open the oven and try to put each tater on the hot rack without any fall-throughs to the oven floor. I love the sizzling sputter when the cold potato skins hit the hot bars. 

It’s impossible to over-bake a potato, they just get fluffier and more intensely flavoured with time — but it is possible to have potato explosions when the taut, tight skin breaks. That’s why I prick them, to release the hot air. Yet, if you leave a little guy in there too along alongside bigger potatoes that are still under-done, you may hear a commotion behind the oven door and find sticky potato confetti splattered throughout. 

The best time to eat a baked potato is when it is hot out of the oven with a melting nob of butter and a sprinkle of Vancouver Island salt. 

The second best time is to bake it, again, in bread. 

Potatoes and bread are partners in starch crime. A potato makes bread fluffier and the crumb richer. If you prefer to boil your potatoes, save the (cooled) cooking water, for that also makes a flavour-filled difference when added to levain, sourdough or yeasted dough. 

The recipe below is loaded with garlic, too.  Roasting garlic takes away the harsh bite of fresh and turns it into a sticky, spreadable goo.  Equally sticky is this bread’s stiff levain. Running a plastic bowl scraper under water may help to remove it from the bowl in a large piece which you can break into chunks using wet hands. 

Freshly baked bread, whether it contains potatoes or not, will make your friends and family delirious with joy and is worth every sticky messy gooey part of the cleanup.  

Roasted Potato, Garlic and Spelt Levain

Adding potatoes to bread dough creates a fluffy, richly flavoured crumb, especially with the addition of roasted garlic. Yukon gold or yellow-fleshed potatoes are perfect for the job, but fingerlings are just as tasty, too. 

2 medium potatoes (9 ounces) organic yellow-fleshed or Yukon gold potatoes  

1 head organic garlic

Sea salt

Fresh rosemary or thyme

1 tbsp olive oil

Preheat oven 425 F.  Slice 1/2 inch off  the top of the garlic head, place upright on a square of aluminum foil, sprinkle with sea salt, dried or fresh rosemary or thyme and a teaspoon of olive oil, pull four corners of foil to top and close. Place in the oven.  Prick potatoes with fork and place directly on the oven rack. Bake 45 min or until potatoes are tender and ready to explode.    

1.5 oz 100% hydration starter

6.2 oz spring water

9.6 oz white flour

In a medium glass bowl, knead starter, water and flour to create a stiff levain. Cover and leave on counter to rise and create a dome,  7-8 hrs.  I usually do this in the evening before bed.

11 oz organic whole spelt 

11 oz organic white all-purpose or bread flour 

13 oz spring water

9 oz roasted organic potatoes with skins on, crumbled 

All the gooey garlic squeezed out of the roasted head of garlic

.6 oz sea salt

Next morning, mix spelt, white flour, water, potatoes, garlic and sea salt in mixer with paddle to combine. Remove 1.5 ounce of the levain and reserve, labelled and dated in fridge. Spoon out remaining levain in chunks and add to shaggy dough.  Mix with dough hook for 3 min at first speed, increase to second speed and mix another 3 minutes, until dough is balling around the hook. Cover the bowl with plastic or a dinner plate and leave on counter for 45 min. Run your hand under water and start tugging the dough gently stretching it as far as you can without tearing then folding down on top. Repeat three more times, turning the bowl in quarters clockwise. Rest another 45 min. 

Shape the dough and place upside down or crease side up in rice flour-dusted bannetons. Cover with shower caps. Refrigerate 18-24 hours.

To bake, preheat two dutch ovens (I use LodgePan Combo Cookers) in a 500 oven for 30-60 min depending on your oven. You want the pans to get dangerously hot and you must wear long and durable oven gloves when moving the pans in and out of the oven. 

Remove fermented loaves from the fridge, take off shower caps and cut a piece of parchment paper to fit over each one.  Place a rimless baking sheet over the parchment and holding both baking sheet and banneton, flip it over, lift off banneton and score the dough as desired.  

Carefully remove one dutch oven from the oven, slide the scored dough into the base, cover and return to oven.  Repeat. Bake 20 min. Carefully remove the dutch oven lids, reduce to 450 F and bake 15-20 more minutes or until deep golden brown.

Allow to cool on baking rack for at least 30 minutes before serving.

 

rhubarb Rhubarb

I first set eyes on rhubarb in my Toronto childhood backyard. I didn’t know it was edible but did notice its big, fat, leafy presence.   

My mom, an avid gardener, ignored it. Her passions skewed to flowers. We often shared a loving look at her peonies or roses together, but chives were as far as she’d go in the green department.  

Writing about and researching fruits and veggies most of my life, I’ve always been a little dubious of the childhood rhubarb recollections relayed to me by friends. They always shake their greying heads with revelatory passion, recounting how they had dipped freshly grown rhubarb into a jar of sugar.  All this, standing alone in the middle of a vegetable patch at the age of five or six.  Uh, huh? I tried this sugar dip trick recently and couldn’t spit the rhubarb out fast enough. 

Let’s be real folks, rhubarb is one sour mofo. Don’t get me wrong. I can embrace sour but with rhubarb, it’s always begs for more sugar than the rest of the gang.

On the plus side, I adore growing this so-called fruit that’s actually a vegetable. A perennial, rhubarb really grows itself.  It’s the first to poke through the soil in early spring, starting with little red bumps and furled, neon green leaves that stretch out dramatically into a monster of a bush in a few weeks. Rhubarb grown in greenhouses is usually pinker (and deceptively sweeter-looking)  than my garden’s red-green, tannic stalks. 

Alas, the colour of a rhubarb stalk has nothing to do with ripeness.   

This veggie calls out in its pretend, fruit voice for our sweetest of attentions.  It loves to be buffeted in a blanket of sugar, butter and carbs. That’s all it wants.  Maybe you’ll want it too if you give in to the sweetness rhubarb demands.

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Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

Crisps are a simple, easy dessert for fruit-filled success that are just as good — if not better — for breakfast the following day. Einkorn and oats are a match made in whole grain heaven.  There’s a reason strawberries and rhubarb pair so well. They are seasonal sisters in the garden and sugary strawberries help abate all that rhubarb pucker.

2 1/2 cups sliced strawberries

2 1/2 cups rhubarb, diced into 1/2 inch cubes

1/2 cup white sugar

1 Tbsp corn starch 

2 tbsp blanched almond slivers, toasted

3/4 cup whole einkorn 

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 tsp ground cardamom

1/4 tsp salt 

1 stick cold unsalted butter, diced

1 cup oatmeal

In a round 8-cup ceramic or glass dish, toss strawberries and rhubarb chunks with white sugar and corn starch.

In a food processor bowl, blitz toasted almonds, einkorn, brown sugar, cardamom and salt with a few pulses in the food processor.  Add butter cubes and pulse until they are pea-sized morsels. Combine with oatmeal and layer over the fruit. 

Bake in 375 F oven for 40-45 min or until top is golden brown and fruit is bubbling beneath.

 

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Cookies! White choc macs

Fine baking is all about good ingredients and a reliable recipe.  That’s why I turned to one of my baking idols, Bonnie Stern, for this cookie recipe’s foundation.

Desserts, first published in 1988 and revised ten years later, is over 200 pages of sweet perfection. My revised paperback edition is well-loved, covered in stains and filled with dog-eared page after page of handwritten notes.  I found “Triple Chocolate Chip Cookies” on page 108, where I had scribbled “Great!” 20 years ago and made plans to substitute half the chocolate with macadamia nuts.

Mac lovers have a thing for these nuts from Hawaii and you’d think I’d have no trouble finding them on Vancouver Island, just 2,361 miles away…  After two supermarket scans, I had given up all macadamian hope until David pounced on two bags at Country Grocer in Cobble Hill.

Bonnie wrote this recipe after lunching with “Mr. Chocolate Himself” (Bernard Callebaut) making me woeful not to have a chunk of his white stuff in my cupboards. I had to make do with PC white chocolate chips.

Luckily, butter fared better. Freshly purchased from Cow-Op, I had a glorious half-pound of Avalon organic unsalted butter that was whipped into a frenzy by Krystal, driving our cookie operation inside the KitchenAid mixer.

Ten minutes earlier, Krystal had placed two cold eggs from the fridge into a bowl of warm water to gently warm them up to room temp for the bake. I knew Promise Valley’s farm stand eggs were the finest and freshest I could find, their deep orange yolks ready to enrich this already rich mix.

For added flavour and a hint of nutrition, I substituted all-purpose with True Grain’s Sifted Spelt. Whether it’s sprouted, whole or sifted, spelt doesn’t disappoint in chocolate cookies.

This recipe delivers gooey, sugar-loving smiles and zillions (okay, just 50) cookies. If you can, hide some in the freezer — a tactic I’ve employed too often to really call successful any more.

Macadamia White Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup/2 sticks               unsalted butter, softened

1 cup                              brown sugar

½ cup                             granulated sugar

2                                     eggs, room temp

1 ½ tsp                          vanilla extract

1 tsp                              water

2 cups                           whole, sprouted or sifted Spelt

1 tsp                              baking soda

½ tsp                             sea salt

1 cup                             white chocolate chips or shredded

1 cup                             macadamia nuts

Preheat oven to 350 F

In a mixer using the whisk attachment, cream butter, brown and granulated sugar on high for about 2 minutes or until very light. Mix in one egg at a time. Mix in vanilla and water.

In a medium bowl, whisk together spelt, soda and sea salt.

Add flour mixture to creamed butter in mixer using paddle attachment until combined.  Add white chocolate and nuts until just combined.

On a baking sheet lined with parchment, drop cookie mix by the teaspoon and gently roll into balls.

Bake 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Leave on baking sheet for 5 min. before transferring to a cooling rack.

All the babka in my life

Babka and I go way back, starting with my Jewish husband. He loved a good, dry cake. Both Don and his father Frank were of that persuasion.  Cake was best when it was dry,  crumbly like desert sands and bought at a deli bakery, of course.

The deli in West Palm Beach sold Don’s ultimate babka. We would stand in early bird lineups at 5 p.m. with my in-laws, demoralized to be part of what we jokingly referred to as “the blue rinse hour” for dinner.  

My mother-in-law Ethel wasn’t a cake eater.  Diabetic, she approached eating with cautious deliberation.  

“I like it bland,” she often said.    

Needless to say, food didn’t play a pivotal role in the Nausbaum family as it might in many other Jewish households. Celebrations were also kept minimal. Ethel used to mail Don a modest birthday check or a boxed shirt from Target.  One year she uncharacteristically asked her adult son what he would like to receive for his birthday and Don didn’t miss a beat.

“I want a babka from your deli, Ma.  It’s too good to be true.”

“What? A babka. That’s ridiculous, Don.”

“Ma, I want a babka. I want a babka from your deli. Fed Ex it to me.” 

I’m not sure what bothered Ethel more, the price of an overnight courier from West Palm Beach to Toronto or her son’s unbridled decadence. But she caved.  He was her only son (and a charmer, to boot).   

“How was the babka? Did it arrive?  Did you like it?” she asked on his birthday.  

“Did I like it?” he scoffed, “Ma, this babka is unfriggin’ believable. I’m going to get another slice right now and eat it while we talk long distance.”  

“Don’t. I can’t stand listening to you eat and talk at the same time.”

“But it’s my birthday!”

Don chuckled,  his mouth crammed full of babka. The crumbly streusel topping sprinkled all over his goatee. He’d already given up on a knife and was ripping the cinnamon-scented, cakey interior apart, moaning in appreciation and smacking his lips loudly.  

“You like it too much,” Ethel said. She was disgusted.  “I’ll never ever Fed Ex you a babka again!” 

She kept to her word and Don’s babka delivery landed squarely in my lap. But I was a Canadian goy who knew nothing about babka baking. Sure, I had done a little food research, happily trailing alongside Don to  Jewish delis in Florida, Long Island and the Lower East Side of Manhattan but not once had I set eyes on a Toronto babka until Don brought home a specimen from the Harbord Bakery. 

He ate one slice, winced, then threw the remainder out.

“It’s up to you, Mado,” he sighed.

Earlier in our marriage, I’d attempted chicken liver spread and was defeated.  Before that, it was the world’s oily-est latkes. Now I had to bake some dry, tasteless coffee cake?  I turned to one of the first cookbooks dedicated to Jewish baking and made a listless facsimile. 

“Inedible” said Don after the first bite.

So babka became a family joke.  A reverie about Ethel and  a guffaw over the Seinfelt segment where Constanza sweats bullets tugging a stolen babka into his apartment window with a rope and pulley.

Then, as beloved things often do, babka came back. Don passed away and left a big piece of babka in his son’s pulsing heart. It helped, too, that Nick’s stepsister Emma is a gourmet sleuth. She found (not a Sahara version) but a sinfully sweet and gooey chocolate babka at Toronto’s Pusateri’s bakery. Somehow she knew that Nick would want that for his birthday. In no time at all, babka was forefront on our mother-son baking list and Rosha Shanna 2020  seemed an apt moment to create Don’s cake.  

When Nick and I bake, I always learn something.  I start off as Mom Expert and he quietly models a better alternative. Like parchment paper. Babka demands it and I was eager to try cookbook author Mairlyn Smith’s technique: Cut a large swath, run it under water, scrunch it up, wring it dry and fit it into the pan. Yes, this technique moulds around the insides of a loaf pan but Nick’s idea was better – cut vertical and horizontal panels to fit the pans. Not only does  it look more professional, but if you allow for a few inches of overhang, you’ve got handles to lift out your cake effortlessly.     

A beautiful babka means whirls of marbled dough, twisting and turning before your hungry eyes. To achieve this, challah dough is rolled out into a rectangle and spread with a yummy interior of melted butter, dark chocolate and a LOT of freshly ground cinnamon. You roll it up as tightly as possible, take a deep breath and do the unthinkable: cleanly cut this pliable, warm, puffy roll of dough in half, lengthwise. I was certain a serrated knife would do the trick but no sooner did I execute this cut then it caught, pulled and messed up the chocolate spread’s definition. 

Nick used a metal bench scraper and cut it in three clean swoops. Do like Nick does and let this babka become someone you love’s birthday cake, too.

THREE CHOCOLATE CINNAMON BABKAS

A batch baker by trade, I won’t develop a recipe for less than 2 loaves. This one comes with a  bonus babka! Not dry at all, these glossy beauties are made moist by a special ending in which you lavishly baste with a sweet, wet syrup as soon as they come out of the oven — an unthinkable flourish to Don and his father Frank. Makes 3 loaves.

Challah Dough

2 1/4 cups   milk, warmed in microwave (at high, 1 min)

1 TBS   instant yeast

3   eggs

5 TBS   vegetable oil

4 TBS   honey

1 TBS   vanilla extract (we used a vanilla bean, sliced it lengthwise and scraped the seeds in)

8 cups/ 2 lbs 6 oz   organic unbleached bread flour

.6 oz   salt

Put warmed milk, yeast, eggs, oil, honey and vanilla in mixing bowl and blend with whisk attachment until frothy.

Add flour and salt into mixing bowl and knead with dough hook for 8 min. or until the dough pulls away from the bowl and creates a smooth ball. This is a sticky, enriched dough.  If it pools around the bottom of the bowl it may need extra tablespoons of flour during the last two minutes of the mix to ensure the dough pulls away from the bowl.

Place in a large plastic, oiled tub or covered bowl and let it rise until doubled at room temp, aprox 2 ½ hrs. (Or simply refrigerate immediately and leave to rise overnight or up to 48 hrs)

Babka filling

4 1/2 ounces (130 grams)     dark chocolate, Callebaut, 55%

1/2 cup (120 grams) one stick        unsalted butter, cold is fine

Put in a glass bowl and heat in microwave (1 – 1 1/2 min.)

1/2 cup (50 grams)       icing sugar

1/4 cup (30 grams)       ground cinnamon

Add to melted chocolate.

Line loaf pans with parchment, like Nick does.

Divide dough into 3 pieces.

Roll one piece out on a well-floured counter to about a 10-inch width (the side closest to you) and as long in length (away from you) as you can when rolling it thin, likely 10 to 12 inches.

Spread one-third of chocolate mixture evenly over the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border all around. Brush the end farthest away from you with water. Roll the dough up with the filling into a long, tight cigar. Seal the dampened end onto the log.

Cut the log in half lengthwise with a metal bench scraper, like Nick does.  Lay one piece over the other, cut sides up, at the mid-line, creating an “X” then gently twist the ends. Gently place the twist into a loaf pan, doubling it over itself if necessary. Repeat 2 more times. Cover all the pans with oiled plastic or a towel. Let rise until doubled, about one hour.

Heat oven to 375°F 30 minutes before the bake. Beat an egg in a small bowl. Baste babkas with egg just before baking. Place loaves in the middle of the oven and bake 30 minutes. 

While babkas are baking, make syrup,

1/3 cup water
6 tablespoons (75 grams) granulated sugar

Heat in microwave

As soon as the babkas leave the oven, brush with syrup. Use it all up, as this creates a glossy, moist finish.  Let cool about halfway in pans, then transfer to a cooling rack.