Thursday, February 1, 2018

Date & Raisin Babka

Finally, an instagrammable dessert/breakfast that is simple and doesn't require a mirror glaze.
Okay, okay - I'll be the first to admit that 50 shades of dark brown doesn't necessarily sound appealing. I personally loathe the entire '50 Shades' franchise - it's a horrible caricature of what BDSM is actually supposed to be all wrapped up in a Twilight fanfiction. No, that's literally how it started. Look it up. Die mad about it.

What was I talking about again? Oh, right.

So, I'm a newcomer to babka. My sister Ashley actually gave me the cutest little book called Bubbe and Me in the Kitchen by Miri Rotkovitz. This was a very sweet reference to the fact that I had recently discovered my Jewish heritage via an ancestry.com test. Of course, I loved the book immediately and thanked her. My dive in to Ashkenazi food has been kind of a blind one, and I'm all about good references from reputable sources.

Babka is, in essence, an enriched yeast dough that's filled with chopped dried fruits and nuts, rolled, artfully sliced, then baked in a loaf. There are about a million different swirls you can try with this as a base, and the Great British Bake-Off has covered a good amount of them. A povitica, in fact, is a version of a babka. We won't be getting into that, though, as it's far too complicated for me. We're sticking to the simple stuff, just to get you started.

Of course, I used the recipe as a guide for many babkas, but this one with dates and raisins was my favorite, and not just because it was my first one! I tried one with pistachios, with chocolate...this one was the best. Here's how I did it!

Date & Raisin Babka
adapted from Bubbe and Me in the Kitchen


  • 1/2 c soy or coconut milk
  • 3/4 c sugar
  • 1 tsp yeast
  • 1 c liquid levain/sourdough starter***
  • 1 c white flour
  • 1 c rye flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 6 Tbsp coconut oil/vegan butter substitute
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 c dried, pitted dates, chopped
  • 1/2 c raisins
  • 1/4 c toasted pepitas, chopped
  • 1/4 c sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 Tbsp vegan butter substitute/coconut oil, melted
Note*** If you're not using a liquid levain/sourdough starter, you'll want to up your liquid to 1 cup of soy/coconut milk instead of the half cup. You may also want to add an extra pinch of yeast, just to get everything started.

Gently heat the 'milk' in the microwave or on the stove until just a little warmer than body temperature, add a heaping tablespoon of your measured sugar, and stir in the yeast. Leave in a warm place to froth, about 5 minutes.

Add your flours and salt together, and mix with the dough hook attachment on your standing mixer just to combine. Add in your liquid levain, if using, and stir for about 10 seconds, just to incorporate it. Add in your activated yeast liquid and turn on. Once your liquid is just combined, add in the egg. Allow to knead for about 5 minutes on medium-low speed. Add in your fat, which should be just a little cool to touch, about a spoonful at a time. I borrowed this idea from mixing in fat to a brioche. This, of course, is not a brioche, but the principle should still be basically the same. 

Once the fat is all incorporated, you should check your dough for the windowpane test. That just means that you take a tiny portion of your dough, roll it in a ball, and stretch it quite thin, that you should be able to see light through it. This tests that the glutens have developed. Once it has, remove your dough from the bowl and place it in another bowl that's been gently lubricated with oil and covered with plastic, and left to set in a warm place to rise, about an hour. This is the fermentation process, and your dough should double in size. This gives you plenty of time to clean up and do the filling!

Your dried fruit should be chopped rather finely. If you own a food processor, feel free to use it now to make a rather chunky paste combining all of the ingredients. I do not own a food processor, so I used a mortar and pestle to combine the fruit and nuts in a sort of homogeneous paste before adding the melted 'butter,' sugar and spices. 
This is a babka I made using raisins and chopped apricots; I chose this photo for you because the colors show up
a little more brightly, so therefore it's easier to see!

Once your dough has doubled in size, generously flour a marble slab (or your countertop if you're not a bougie jackass like me) and roll out your dough until it's about half an inch thick. Spread the filling mixture as evenly as you can over the surface, leaving about an inch for rolling room on opposite sides to get stuff to get started and to stick. Roll your dough up, nice and tight, into a nice long snake, and roll it gently out, just to seal the edges and to make it even. 

Next, break out the pan you intend to use and then use it to measure your dough and the places you want to cut it. Here's a tip, though: it's easier to roll out the log to make it thinner and longer than it is to squish it up to make it shorter and fatter. For example, if the log is a little too long for you to simply cut the roll in half and then twist those halves together, it would be simpler to roll out the dough into a longer log and then cut the dough in thirds or even fourths to get the desired effect. This  particular one was easy to make into halves, so I simply cut the log in half and twisted it together, sort of like one might make a candy cane. You can, of course, find video tutorials on how to make a babka, if you're not quite visualizing it with ease with the way I'm explaining it.

Apologies for the potato quality. I was shaky.

Once it's set up, all nice and snug, in its loaf pan, cover it and leave it to proof for another 45 minutes in a nice warm place. Bake at 350 for 35 to 40 minutes, or until it reaches an internal temperature of 200 degrees F. After it's baked, let it cool for at least 15 minutes in the pan before turning it out - this will allow it to be set enough to have it fall straight out of the pan without falling apart. 

You can let it cool to room temperature, of course, before serving, but I just love a nice warm babka. You can have it by the slice, smear it with cream cheese and berries, or make it into french toast. Seriously! It makes amazing french toast! And don't be afraid to experiment - dates, pistachios, raisins, sultanas, dried apricots, dried cherries...whatever! The only limit is your imagination!

Happy cooking and happy eating!