28 January 2009

Brioche, Meet Babka

You know that climactic scene in Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle when the protagonists finally sit down to their table full of burgers, start jamming them into their drooling maws, and Kumar almost immediately stops, mid-bite, and starts to sob with joy?

(Wait a second. What do you mean, you haven't seen Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle? It's a film classic, way better than Casablanca, Chinatown and all those other pretentious movies everyone pretends to have seen a million times. Go order it on Amazon, then rent it so you don't have to wait to watch it. NOW.)

That's exactly how the first bite of this cinnamon-swirl babka made me feel.

It's based on the outstanding brioche recipe from Alice Medrich's Pure Dessert, and I've been wanting to make it ever since I got the cookbook. But you know how things can sidetrack you (unfortunately, nothing involving a hitchhiking Neil Patrick Harris). It took just a bit of cajolement from a sugar-fiend sister and the next morning, we were sinking our teeth into bite after pillowy bite.

Brioche and Cinnamon-Swirl Babka
Makes: 10 small loaves or one large babka

3 cups bread flour
20 tablespoons (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold
1 envelope active dry yeast
1/3 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup warm water (105° to 115° F)
5 large eggs, cold
1 tablespoon sour cream or yogurt
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
For babka:
3/4 cup packed muscavado sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1. Place the flour into a mixing bowl, cover, and freeze for 30 minutes. Place cold butter in mixing bowl and beat with the paddle attachment only until creamy and smooth; there should be no hard lumps when you pinch it between your fingers. Scrape the butter onto a small plate and refrigerate (proceed with the dough right away; a long delay will reharden the butter).

2. In the clean mixing bowl, dissolve yeast and 1 teaspoon of sugar in the warm water. Attach dough hook and add remaining 1/3 cup sugar, eggs, sour cream, salt and flour. Mix on low speed until all ingredients are blended, scraping down the side of the bowl as needed. Knead the dough on medium speed for 5 minutes; it will be very soft, moist and sticky and very elastic, and should be wrapped around the dough hook.

3. Add the cold butter in small pieces, letting each incorporate into the dough before adding more. Scrape the dough into an oiled bowl and cover. Refrigerate overnight or up to 24 hours. (Brioche can be prepared plain, at this point: place small balls of dough in buttered brioche pans; let rise for two hours, until doubled. Heat oven to 350° and bake until tops are deeply browned, about 20 to 25 minutes.)

4. For babka: In a small bowl, mix together muscavado sugar, cinnamon, salt and butter.

5. Scrape the cold dough out onto a floured surface. Roll out to an 18 x 12-inch rectangle, about 1/2-inch thick. Spread the sugar-cinnamon mixture evenly over the dough, leaving a 1-inch margin on one long side. Moisten the margin with a little water. Beginning at the long side opposite the margin, roll up the dough, pressing firmly at the end to seal the seam.

6. Turn roll seam-side down and cut into 18 slices, each about 1 inch wide. Toss slices gently into an oiled Bundt pan, without arranging them; just ensure they all come to about the same height. Cover pan with a damp cloth and let dough rise in a warm place until doubled, about 2 hours.

7. Heat the oven to 350° F. Place Bundt pan on a baking sheet and bake until top of babka is deeply browned, about 50 to 60 minutes. Let cool in pan on wire rack for 20 minutes. Invert pan to turn babka out, then let cool another 10 minutes before slicing.

It's hard to improve on brioche- that rich, soft slice that holds more butter than you'd think scientifically possible- but with veins of spicy muscavado sugar and fragrant cinnamon running through it, it's elevated to divine territory.

And having your babka with a simple cup of Darjeeling- or any not-overpowering black tea- makes for a breakfast of the gods, even in such an imperfect world.


Catherine said...

You had me at "pillowy bite"! Love the china.

Unknown said...

while you're at it, you may as well watch "the dinner party" episode of seinfeld, season 5, featuring the chocolate vs. cinnamon babka showdown.

Strumpet said...

I've cried over food, but only when it's something like this.

When it's pretty good but not quite there, I sing opera.

My split is coming along slowly. About half an inch to go!

ana dane said...

damn you. you're about 37 inches ahead of me!

i'll have to keep that opera trick in mind. that's a good one.

Camille said...

ahhhhh...this sounds heavenly. A must make for this weekend.

And, I agree with Mike...watch the cinnamon/chocolate babka showdown (seinfeld).