It’s not that often that I bake at home, for fun. I still have the habit of pulling recipes out of magazines and layering the pages of a cookbook with multiple sticky notes, but none of these actions necessarily translate into me pulling out my daughter’s red Kitchen Aid and turning on the oven.
This past weekend, I was blessed with a bit of extra time, on the weekend no less, and a reason to bake – Rosh Hashana. In previous years, ‘baking’ for the holidays consisted of me taking desserts & cookies home with me from work. If I was lucky, I had enough time to put everything on a platter. More often than not, I wasn’t lucky and would show up at my friend’s house with a sheepish, embarrassed grin, my arms clutching boxes and bags. This year, however, I was determined to do more than show up with boxes. I started baking on Saturday morning and didn’t stop until 10 minutes before we left the house Sunday evening.
Out of everything that I baked this weekend, my favorite dessert by far was the chocolate babka.
There is something remarkable and special about working with doughs made with yeast. In my Nashoba Brook Bakery days, I used to work with yeast regularly, making croissant dough from scratch. When I left Nashoba, I left yeast behind me except for the occasional challah I made once every three years or so.
This weekend, I tackled babka and all of the joys and heartaches yeast has to offer. I followed the recipe titled ‘Better Chocolate Babka’ on the Smitten Kitchen blog by Deb Perelman. Click HERE to see her recipe.
Unfortunately, I didn’t follow the one rule I repeat over & over again here at work, which is: read the recipe all of the way through. It seems simple and easy enough, and yet, somehow it’s one of those things that proves time & again to be difficult. In my head, I consider myself a seasoned baker. Show me the ingredients, let me glance over the directions, and I’m good to go. I didn’t stop to read the lengthy ‘NOTES’ section, which proved to be not the smartest move of the weekend.
Had I read her notes prior to going to the supermarket and purchasing my ingredients, I would have seen that Deb recommended using ‘Fast-Acting Active Dry Yeast’. I didn’t purchase that, and I spent a lot of time worrying why my dough wasn’t rising, waiting for it to rise, trying to get it to rise, and finally just giving up and accepting that my babka was going to dense…like a brick.
Yeast aside, the rest of the process was dreamy. I was lucky enough to find the one lone rolling pin at my house, and the chilled dough rolled out easily, without any stickiness or rips.
Freezing the rolled up logs for 15 minutes made cutting the logs in half a non-issue.
I pinched, twisted, tucked & stuffed the logs into the pans, and left them at room temperature to ‘rise’ (aka…not rise).
I can’t wait to try this again with the Fast-Rising Active Yeast…the loaves I put into the oven on Sunday afternoon literally did not rise one speck.
The finished loaves looked beautiful even though cutting into them revealed that they were still really dense. Here’s the good news: I managed to eat a ton of babka. Apparently, I like all kinds of babka, and a dense loaf is not going to deter me from diving in & enjoying a slice or four.
I have already purchased my fast-rising yeast and am going to start this process over again today. I will keep you posted with the results if they come out much better.