Monday, August 26, 2013

At Home: Cheese Babka

Babka is a spongy, brioche-like yeast cake made mainly in Eastern Europe. It is traditionally baked for Easter Sunday in Poland. Traditionally, babka is made from a doubled and twisted length of yeast dough and is typically baked in a high loaf pan topped with streusel.  Common fillings are a semi-sweet farmer's cheese or chocolate.  Sometimes it is studded with raisins or other dried fruit.  Keith's grandmother has made babka from scratch many times and he remembers her beating the yeasty dough over and over again to get it to rise nicely.  Next on What Micky Eats...At Home, I make a Cheese Babka that is my sweet Polish-inspired yeast bread with swirls of cheese and a crunchy streusel topping.  There is about 4 hours of prep time, so be prepared for this more difficult baking adventure.

Cheese Babka
For the Dough:
  • 1¾ cups + 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 2 Tbsp + 1 teasp granulated sugar
  • 1 teasp instant yeast
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 egg, at room temperature
  • ⅓ cup milk, lukewarm at least 120 degrees
  • ½ teasp vanilla extract
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
For the Filling:
  • 6 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 4 Tbsp small curd cottage cheese, drained
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1 teasp vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt
For the Topping:
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • 4½ teasp light brown sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 3½ Tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
For the Egg Wash:
  • 1 egg
  • pinch of salt

- Make the Dough: Place the flour, sugar, yeast and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. Stir on medium-low speed for a minute or so to combine.
- Add the egg, warm milk, vanilla and butter and mix on medium speed until a smooth dough forms, about 5 minutes.  (Use your hands to knead the dough just a bit more if it doesn't come together in bowl.)
- Form into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a draft-free warm area until doubled in volume (about 1 hour).

- While the dough rests, make the filling: In a medium bowl, stir the cream cheese and sugar with a wooden spoon until smooth.
- Add the vanilla extract, egg yolk, cottage cheese, and salt, and stir to combine. Set aside at room temperature.

- Make the Streusel: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugars and salt.
- Add the butter and mix with a rubber spatula until the mixture comes together into large, coarse crumbs.
- Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

- Assemble the Babka: Lightly grease a 9x5-inch loaf pan; set aside.
- On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out into a 10x24-inch rectangle, with the long edge facing you.
- Spread the cheese filling evenly over the dough, leaving a ½-inch border along all of the edges.
- Starting with the bottom edge, roll the dough into the middle of the rectangle, then do the same with the top edge so that the two rolls meet in the center.
- Visualize the long cylinder divided into three equal lengths. Fold the left third over onto the middle third.
- Then, fold the right third over the middle third.
- Pick up the dough and turn it over so the seam is on the bottom.
- Then, holding each end, gently twist it in the middle and place it in the prepared pan.
- Make the Egg Wash: Whisk together the egg and salt and brush it over the babka.  Reserve the remaining wash and set aside in the refrigerator.
- Lightly cover the pan with plastic wrap and place it in a draft-free area until it is doubled in size, 1½ to 2 hours.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Brush the babka a second time with the remaining egg wash and sprinkle the streusel evenly over the top, pressing lightly so the crumbs adhere to the babka.
- Bake until the top is a deep golden brown, about 50 minutes.
- Cool the bread in the pan set on a wire rack for 25 minutes, then unmold the bread from the pan (some of the streusel may fall off) and place on the wire rack to cool completely.
- The bread will keep, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, for up to 3 days.

Wow! Was this a challenge for me or what?  I had been wanting to tackle this Polish bread ever since I first had it with Keith's family years ago.  That loaf was much larger and more round in shape.  I thought I needed a bundt pan to recreate, but Keith suggested I use a regular loaf pan.  I would be making it for only the two of us, after all.  So I researched a couple different recipes online and tweaked each to make my own version.  Working with the yeast was not as hard, since I've used it before pretty successfully.  However, I forgot to activate the yeast this time by not using warm liquid. And it was a cool and rainy day, so I don't think the dough was warm enough during the resting period.  Woops - #fail - my dough did not fully rise as it should and it was very noticeable in the final product.

Instead of farmer's cheese, I used a mixture of cream cheese and added some cottage cheese for that crumbly texture that farmer's cheese has.  I used nearly double of what I listed above because that was what the original recipe I found called for.  But it seemed to be too much and oozed out when I rolled it up.  Therefore I amended the amounts above for future reference.  I wasn't sure how my cheese substitute would come out, but it turned out okay!  Overall, Keith approved of the cheese filling, yet he noticed the bread itself was not as airy and light as babka he's had from a real Polish bakery.  Oh well, I know how to correct my mistake for next time.  Nevertheless, my cheese babka was subtly sweet and the swirl of cheese inside was just right.  The streusel topping was pretty good too.

Next time, in addition to using the yeast properly, I may make a chocolate version.  "Another babka?!"  (Keith is in the background reciting the discovery of the cinnamon babka referenced on an episode of Seinfeld... watch the clip below:)

Have you made babka before? Please leave tips in the comments below.

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