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.

 

 

 

Asian Cucumber Salad

Easy Asian cucumber salad

English cucumbers are long and thin, wrapped in plastic and greenhouse grown, versus the pudgy, thick-skinned field-grown cucumbers.

1                      English cucumber, sliced thinly

2 tbsp              seasoned rice vinegar

1 tsp                sugar

1 tsp                sesame oil

Pinch               hot pepper flakes

¼ cup               chopped fresh coriander

Salt                  to taste

In a medium bowl combine all ingredients and serve.

Cardamom Buns

Cardamom Buns

Mado’s Basic Challah Dough

It’s basic because you can use it in various ways, from cardamom to cinnamon to hamburger buns to challah loaves yet it veers from the norm with the addition of whole wheat flour and the development of a sponge starter, first.

Sponge Starter

2 cups warm milk

¼ cup canola oil

¼ cup liquid honey

2 eggs

2 cups organic, unbleached all purpose flour (I like President’s Choice)

1 cup Red Fife or whole wheat flour

1 tsp instant yeast

In the bowl of a large KitchenAid mixer, using the whisk attachment, combine milk, oil, honey and eggs until smooth. Add flours and yeast and mix until combined, using the paddle attachment. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for two hours until the mixture is bubbly and puffing up about 20 per cent. (With a little imagination, the surface should look like a sponge.) If desired, you can make the sponge ahead and store in the fridge up to one day in advance.

3-4 cups organic, unbleached all purpose flour

1 tbsp kosher salt

Remove wrap and add 3 cups of the flour to the bowl and salt. Using the dough hook, mix the flour for about 6 minutes at med-low speed, gradually adding more flour, tablespoon by tablespoon until the dough no longer pools at the bottom of the bowl and gathers around the dough hook. Transfer the dough to an oiled, large bowl or dough container, cover and let rise at room temperature for 2 hours or until doubled. IMG_8443 Make the filling

1 stick room temperature unsalted butter

½ cup packed brown sugar

2 tbsp ground cardamom

In a small bowl, mash the butter, sugar and cardamom until smooth. Once the dough has finished its first, two-hour rise, transfer to a lightly floured surface, shape into a loose ball and leave to rest 5 min.

Dust with flour and roll out to a 24 in x 24 in square. Spread the filling evenly over rolled out dough, then fold in half, pulling the far edge toward you to cover the butter mixture.

Cut two thin (1/4 in) slices of the dough, gently twist together and lengthen like a rope then knot. Place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and cover with a tea towel. Repeat.

Preheat oven to 400F and let rise, covered with a tea towel or oiled plastic wrap for 45 min.

Baste with egg wash and sprinkle with coarse or pearl sugar. Bake for 15-18 min, or until golden brown, turning baking sheets halfway through the bake.

© 2014 Madeleine Greey

Spicy Laotian Chicken Salad

Larb Gai (Spicy Minced Chicken Salad)

This warm Laotian salad served on a bed of cool crisp lettuce is salty, sweet, sour and hot. Ground roasted rice gives it a delectable nuttiness. 

 1 tbsp raw Thai jasmine rice

1 lb ground chicken

1/3 cup  lime juice

2 tbsp vegetable oil

1 tbsp minced shallot

2 green onions, chopped

1- 1 1/2  tsp chili flakes

2 tbsp chopped coriander

2 tbsp chopped mint

1/4 cup fish sauce

4 Romaine or leafy lettuce leaves

4 wedges cabbage

4 Yard-long beans or 12 green beans, trimmed

In a small dry frying pan on high heat, saute rice grains 2-3 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer to small bowl and cool.  Grind finely in a coffee grinder or spice mill.

In a medium bowl, combine ground chicken with 2 tbsp of the lime juice.

Heat wok on high heat.  Add oil, swirl around sides of wok.  Add chicken and stir-fry until no longer pink about 4 minutes.  Transfer to medium bowl.  Add ground roasted rice, shallots, green onion, chili flakes, coriander, mint , remaining lime juice and fish sauce.   Mix well.Arrange lettuce leaves on serving platter and place chicken mixture on top.  Arrange cabbage wedges and green beans around the chicken.

Tomatillo Salsa Verde

You’ll find fresh tomatillos at Farmers’ Market now, wrapped in their papery husks. Inherently sour, tomatillos make a piquant salsa that can still take a squeeze or two of lime juice. A wonderful item to can. Simply multiply by 6 to create a large batch that will keep your pantry full of salsa all winter long. 

 

2 tbsp coconut oil 

½ red onion, chopped

1 large garlic clove, chopped

12 tomatillos, quartered

½ tsp salt

¼ cup water

1-2 tsp dried chili flakes

1 tbsp sugar

2 tbsp fresh lime juice

¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

 

Heat oil in a medium saucepan and saute onion and garlic until soft and fragrant. Add tomatillos, salt, water and chili flakes and simmer 10 minutes, covered until tomatillos turn light green and sauce thickens. Season with lime juice and garnish with cilantro. Makes 1 cup.

Almond Biscotti

Almond Biscotti

I really can’t live in a house without biscotti. They are my go-to cookie and a welcome gift to friends and family . Thanks to the double bake, they store for weeks, even months in a closed glass container and travel well on airplanes and road trips.

Biscotti Batter:

1 1/2 cups whole, raw almonds

1 ¼ cup organic all purpose flour

1 ¼ cup organic soft whole wheat flour or spelt

1 1/4 cups organic granulated sugar

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

4 large eggs

3 tsp vanilla

The Finishing Touches:

1-3 tbsp flour (for rolling out logs)

1 tbsp organic granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 350 ° F.

To toast almonds, arrange on a baking sheet and bake for 5 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Use a whisk to mix thoroughly.

Whisk eggs and vanilla in bowl of an electric mixer until frothy. Use the paddle attachment to mix in flour and sugar mixture.  As soon as the dough clumps around the paddle, add toasted almonds and mix until just combined.

Dust countertop with flour. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Spoon out one quarter of the sticky dough, dust lightly with flour and working quickly, roll into a 8-10 inch log. Transfer log to baking sheet. Repeat 3 times.

Sprinkle sugar over logs with pinched fingers.

Bake for 30 minutes or until biscotti logs are golden and firm. Completely cool logs on a rack for at least 30 min.  Using a serrated knife, cut crosswise into 3/4 inch wide slices.  Arrange cut side down on baking sheets and return to 350 oven for 10-15 minutes or until golden-brown and crisp.