I’ve been obsessed with eating bread for almost as long as I can remember. Maybe I’ve always just been a carb-baby but nothing makes my heart sing like freshly baked bread. It is also my favourite smell in the whole wide world (with the smell of fried chicken coming in as a close second.) I remember reading/watching Harry Potter and Hermione was demonstrating the love potion Amortentia and how it was a different aroma for everyone who smells it, reminding each person of the things that they find most attractive. Instantly I KNEW it would smell like freshly baked bread to me. #geekalert
Okay that was an embarrassing geek moment right there. I think it was slightly creepy too. But anyway, today we are gonna talk about how I’ve finally made the first step to baking something more bread-ish. Babkas are now my favourite things to eat in the bread compartment. I’m waiting for my new kitchen and oven to settle before I start trying my hand at sourdough bread. I’m slightly afraid of keeping a starter cos it’s alive and all and I’m not very good with things like that (note to self: please water the succulents!)
Okay first and foremost, what exactly is this Babka thing? It’s a Jewish bread and it’s sweet. It’s denser than usual breads (think of something more of a cinnamon bun/sticky bun denseness) and it is often swirled with chocolate with nuts or raisins. Traditionally, it is also topped with a cinnamon-sugar streusel. VERY SWEET UH HUH. But chocolate and bread can never do no wrong in my books. Because it’s a denser than usual, the layers are slightly more dry than usual. However it is perfect with the chocolate filling between the swirls. In a single bite, these 2 textures and flavours are a match made in (carb) heaven.
It’s great for breakfast with a coffee, and also for tea time with your much needed afternoon caffeine shot. Small slices are great for snacks (ignore the guilt, trust me it’s worth it). I first tried Babka from a small bakery I found near where I live and even though it was really dense, it was so chocolatey. I was more interested in “Babka? What’s that?!” and hence I’ve been on a hunt ever since.
It’s still not that easy to find Babkas in Singapore. To be honest, I haven’t found another. There’s all sorts of breads here on our sunny island and I must say we have some of the best French Pastries (French pastry chefs love Singapore for some reason but I’m not complaining). I guess finding a Jewish bread is never gonna be easy.
I made my first classic chocolate Babka a couple of weeks ago and it didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to – I added too much chocolate and I didn’t let the dough rise sufficiently. Basically I was greedy and impatient. #whatsnew. Nonetheless, armed with extra packets of instant yeast, I made a mental note to try it a second time. At the same time, I was gifted with some beautiful Matcha powder from a friend who came back from Kyoto and the Asian in me was like “Hey! Make a matcha babka!”
A matcha babka was nice but it wasn’t enough because it had to have a filling (like chocolate and nuts). I was reeling from the too-chocolatey babka the last time round so I decided to just Asian it out and go with a black sesame swirl instead. In the end, the bitterness of the matcha with the richness of the black sesame went together perfectly, and have I mentioned the colours?? My goodness.
My favourite part of this is actually the braiding of the dough. I decided not to do the traditional babka loaf as I prefer my breads and buns in smaller sizable portions. So I braided this matcha black-sesame babka like how Challah buns were braided. Next I stuffed them in individual tart tins so they retained their pre-baked shape. The Boy enjoyed it a lot more and that’s enough for me.
I can’t wait to get my oven up and running again to make another batch. My head is bursting with flavor profiles for babkas and I’m wondering what are the best pairings for them. Strawberry babka with chocolate filling? Cinnamon babka with apple swirls? Ahhhh I can’t wait!
MATCH - BLACK SESAME BABKA
(Adapted from Wise Son’s Chocolate Babka.)
Makes 2 loafs
Ingredients for Babka Dough:
1 cup milk – full fat
1 packet active dry yeast
4 and ¾ cup all-purpose flour
9 tablespoons (130 g) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
¼ cup (50 g) granulated sugar
1 egg yolk
1 ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoon good quality baking grade matcha powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
Method for Babka Dough:
Heat milk for 2 minutes in microwave, for 30 seconds x 4 cycles
Whisk together the warm milk and yeast in a medium bowl. Then whisk in only 1 cup of flour first and let the mixture sit for 20 minutes uncovered.
In a bowl/standing mixer with a paddle attachment, combine butter and sugar. Beat for 4 minutes on medium speed until fluffy. Add eggs and the yolk one at a time, mixing for about 30 seconds between each egg. Mix in the vanilla extract and mix for another 30 seconds
Turn mixer to the lowest speed and add in the remaining flour slowly and sifted matcha powder. Once combined, add in the milk-yeast-flour mixture and continue mixing for 1 minute.
Add salt and allow the dough to be mixed until it starts to pull away from the mixing bowl cleanly (about 5 minutes).
Transfer to a large oiled bowl and cover with cling wrap. Refrigerate overnight.
Ingredients for Black Sesame Filling:
12 tablespoons (170 g) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
½ cup granulated sugar (115 g)
4 tablespoons honey
5 tablespoons roasted black sesame seeds, coarsely ground
Method for Black Sesame Filling:
To toast the black sesame seeds – place in a pan over medium fire for about 7-8 minutes, stirring consistently, until aromatic. Place in food processor and ground them up until coarse.
In the standing mixer/bowl, combine butter, sugar, honey and ground sesame seeds. Beat on medium until combined and fluffy
Ingredients for syrup glaze:
3 tablespoons water
¼ cup (60 g) granulates sugar
Assembly (to give you 2 loaves of babka)
Line the 2 loaf pans with baking/parchment paper
Bring dough down to almost room temperature and punch down the dough (it should rebound slowly). Divide the dough into 2 equal parts and roll out to a large rectangle (about 30 x 50 cm) over a lightly floured surface.
Using a spatula or a butter knife, cover the dough with half of the black sesame filling.
Tightly roll the dough from the shorter end making sure the seam is on the bottom of the roll. Trim the ends gently
Carefully cut the roll into half lengthwise.
Roll the halves over until the cut sides are facing up and twist the 2 halves together. Start by crossing the left end onto the right, pinching them together slightly. Gently lift the right end over the left and repeat this action until the 2 halves are intertwined.
Transfer to the loaf pans and cover with a damp clean towel. Let rise in warm area for about an hour. Repeat for the 2nd loaf.
(For this time, I braided my Babka into mini Challah-like loafs so that it would be easier to transport. YouTube has tons of videos for braiding of bread! Go craycray on them!!)
(There is a special kind of joy for braiding bread, I swear)
Preheat oven to 160 degrees C and use the middle rack. Bake the loaves on the middle rack of the oven for 60-75 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. If the top of the loaves are browning too quickly, feel free to cover with foil and continue baking.
While baking, prepare the syrup glaze. Heat the water and sugar over a small saucepan over medium heat and bring it to a boil. Remove the saucepan from the heat once all the sugar has dissolved. Allow to cool.
Once loaves are ready, remove from oven and immediately brush with the syrup glaze. Allow the loaves to continue to cool for about 15-20 minutes. Serve warm.
Yeaaaa baby. Say yes to the carb life.