Transitioning to Fall With More Baking: Almond Butter Babka

almond butter babka

I am sad that summer is over but at the same time so very excited about fall! Not fully committed to waking up in the dark yet (it’s happening though… downside to being an early bird). Mornings are finally cooler and after the record-braking temps of past months, I actually enjoy putting on sleeves.

I’ve been reluctant to turn on the oven for weeks, but now things are back to normal: bread baking Saturdays are on again, and we started craving other baked goods too.

That’s the short story of my Almond Butter Babka, a really rich and tasty sweet bread we indulge in for breakfast every once in a while. It’s perfect alongside tea or coffee, but it’s by no means limited to morning consumption. Quite difficult to stop at just one slice too (I warned you!).

The history of babka is certainly uncertain, but it’s origins likely lay at distant generations of Eastern European Jews. It’s most consumed and associated with the culture in the Baltics, Ukraine, Russia and Belarus (the initial name was likely baba meaning grandmother in Slavic, later shifting to the diminutive form babka).

The well-known chocolate version seems to be a mid-century American Jewish invention: the dough is spread with cocoa, then rolled up tightly, twisted, folded, and finally baked into the rich loaves we love today.

This time I thought chocolate would be just too decadent though (WTF?), so it got filled with almond butter instead. Beyond being packed with protein, fiber and good fats, almond butter is also loaded with antioxidants, magnesium, iron, and potassium. My sister supplies me with Costco’s store brand Kirkland Signature Creamy Almond Butter which is an all natural, non-GMO, no sugar and no sodium added product. Just roasted almonds, and the price is decent too.

Unfortunately none of this is making your babka any healthier. At all. Plus, I sprinkled it with sugar too. Oh well 🙂 On the plus side, almond butter adds some serious sophistication – a deep, earthy flavor, while the sugar caramelises for a slightly crunchy sensation.

almond butter babka

The dough is the same egg and butter enriched brioche like the one I shared earlier in the post on braided challah, so I won’t repeat myself. At first, making the sliced braid might seem tricky, but it’s actually easier done than said. Practice makes perfect, and oh boy you’ll want to try this again and again!

The steps:

  1. Roll dough into a 1 cm (around 1/3”) thick rectangle.
  2. Spread with almond butter and sprinkle with packed dark brown sugar, leaving about an inch bare around the border.
  3. Starting on the long side, roll up tightly into a log.
  4. With a sharp knife, cut log in half lengthwise. It might get a bit messy, but don’t worry if the filling starts oozing out a bit. Just hold together the best you can, it’s still going to be delicious.
  5. Now you have two strips of filled dough. Pinch two ends together, and twist the logs around each other cut side up 2-3 times. Pinch ends together too.
  6. Place in a loaf pan, let rise, then bake as directed. Enjoy!

almond butter babka

almond butter babka

Love,

Fruzsi

*Disclaimer: I like and use the products mentioned in posts on My Chest of Wonders, what I write about such items represent my genuine and unbiased opinion. I am not being compensated through sponsorship or gifts, but this post contains an affiliate link: I may get a commission for purchases made through it. Thank you for helping me earn a little something on the side!*

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You Asked So Here It Is: Vanilla Brioche

vanilla brioche

After the post about yeast dough and my favorite cookbook on home baking, many of you requested that I share some recipes. And I’d love to oblige of course! The recipes in said book however are copyrighted material owned by the publisher, and I take intellectual property seriously.

But good news! Because of the high demand I’ve contacted Marcsi, the author and face behind Limara Péksége and she was kind enough to agree that I translate and convert recipes from her blog to share with you guys.

I’ve chosen her amazingly soft and fluffy vanilla brioche, a spectacular pastry looking like you picked it up from a chic high street French bakery. It’s guaranteed to impress with it’s fancy voluted shape, yet it’s much less difficult to make than you’d think.

Brioche, sometimes also referred to as the queen of yeast doughs, is a leavened Viennoiserie (the group of Viennese-style baked goods): it is made like bread, but has the richness of pastry because of the added eggs, butter, milk and sugar.

It is common to fill brioche with both sweet and savoury fillings although in this recipe, the vanilla is kneaded straight into the dough itself. Those lovely, tiny black seeds! Also this time, I had some leftover sliced almonds from Christmas baking which I sprinkled the chignons with (optional).

Rich and tender, this sweet treat is perfect for breakfast with butter and homemade jam, or would be an amazing snack to accompany a steaming cup of tea, latte, or hot chocolate and a girly chat.

They are best eaten fresh and warm, but stay soft and very enjoyable the day after thanks to the butter content.

vanilla brioche with almonds

And now without further ado, the recipe as promised:

Vanilla Brioche

  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

Recipe adapted from Limara Péksége.

Ingredients

600 g/1.32 lbs all-purpose flour

seeds of 1 vanilla pod, scraped out

1 tsp salt

3 tbsp granulated sugar

1 egg + 1 yolk of an egg

3 tbsp sunflower oil

300 ml/10.1 fl oz warm milk

30 g (1.06 oz) fresh yeast or 9 g (1/3 oz) active dry yeast

150 g/5.3 oz butter, room temperature

1 egg whisked, for eggwash

Directions

  1. If using fresh yeast, add 1 tbsp sugar to 1/3 of the milk in a mug, crumble yeast in it and mix with 1 tbsp flour. Let yeast starter rise for 15 min, until top is crackled.
  2. If using dry yeast, sift it with the flour.
  3. Add all ingredients except butter to the bowl of an electric mixer attached with the dough hook, start kneading on low. After dough comes together, continue kneading on medium, for around 15 min.
  4. Cover, let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 45 min.
  5. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide to 6 or 12 equal parts, depending on how big brioches you want.
  6. Roll out dough balls to 6 mm / 1/4″ thickness and spread 1/6 or 1/12 of the butter on each. (Step A)
  7. Beginning with the long side, roll up buttered dough jelly roll fashion, to form approx. 40 cm/15.5” length ropes. (Step B)
  8. Make the chignons, tucking the end of the dough underneath. (Step C)
  9. Lay brioches on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper, keeping enough distance between them and let rise for 45 min or until doubled in size.
  10. Preheat oven to 180°C/355°F. Wash brioches with the egg, than bake for around 20 min, until golden.
  11. Cool on a rack.

making brioche step 1
Step A
making brioche step 2
Step B
making brioche step 3
Step C

Enjoy!

Love,

Fruzsi

Baking Bread Is Giving Me All The Feels

Happy 2017 everyone! Hope you had a blessed and peaceful holiday. After eating and drinking myself to nearly comatose, I’m back in the game. And while I don’t really do resolutions, this time last year along the usual “getting in the best shape of my life” mantra, I’ve decided to make an attempt at more baking. A lot more. I plan on continuing that!

There is something about baking that is so intensely satisfying. I’ve realized recently I am equally motivated by the result and the process itself. In short, I love the baking part of baking, not just the eating, so baking for me is more than a simple means to an end.

This is especially true when it comes to baking bread. It triggers such powerful, positive emotional responses! I get tons of nostalgic feelings along the way. Working with the dough is very nurturing, it has a homely mood to it that gives me a wholesome feel.

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🍞❤️💪#bake #bread #homebaker #proud

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And if you get to think about it… because of course! Bread, the most important food of humanity. We’ve been eating grains for 20,000 yrs and being able to turn the crops into food was essential knowledge for survival. These days however, the loss of food know-how from one generation to the next is very real.

With modernity, flour and bread became commodities and in the age of industrial bakeries, the impetus to make a loaf for your family is mostly forgotten. Baking your own bread, along with lots of other once-fundamental abilities, is now considered rural knowledge, and the truth is, those things can best be learnt through experience and apprenticeship.

Luckily, more and more people born in Gen X and beyond feel they are missing something and are therefore interested in acquiring the skills that weren’t passed down to them due to the change of our lifestyles (or for any other reason, for that matter). I am proud to be part of that movement!

We, strange as it may sound to some, have an inner drive, the need, the instinct to turn flour, water, yeast and salt into the most basic of meals. And I’m telling you, homemade bread is simply not comparable with what you buy in the supermarket. It’s so much healthier and better tasting, it’s sui generis.

And you know what? It’s not even difficult. A little time-intensive, yes, but some things (e.g. proper proofing) just can’t be rushed. No special ingredients or equipment is required, but one component is absolutely necessary: love!

Did you know there might also be a therapeutic value to baking that is beneficial to your mental health? According to the BBC, psychologists have noted that the aroma of freshly baked bread evokes happy childhood memories, comfort, and tender feelings of being loved. Baking could very well be helpful in relieving the symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Do you need any more convincing? Go and make your house smell of joy!

Love,

Fruzsi

Yeast Dough & The Book That Made Me Do It

yeast dough title image

Earlier this year in the post on baking challah I’ve told you about my weird fear of yeast dough. That was the very first recipe I tried and to my geniune surprise, I was successful right away. Looking back at it now, I just can’t comprehend what I was so anxious about.

If you follow my Facebook page you have seen how since then I started conquering the once-dreaded yeast dough kingdom one pastry at a time, and I’m proud to say not one batch ended up in the bin so far. This makes it even harder for me to understand my former concerns.

Playing my own therapist, I’ve come to the realization that the core problem was both my grandmothers being famously good at baking. Just bear with me, I’ll explain!

I think it’s that they made it look so simple. Effortless. Like adding yeast to flour and a few other simple ingredients to make a living, breathing dough was something so basic no explanation whatsoever is needed.

Also when I was inquiring about a recipe, they usually said there is not really a recipe. My child, this is but the simplest thing. When asked how much of this or that, the answer either was some, you’ll feel it or a few spoonfuls (but with that specific spoon inherited from this great-grandmother or the other).

I don’t remember them measuring ingredients by the gram, and the dough wonderfully came together and has risen perfectly anyway, every single time. Decades of practice and experience was on their side, something I lacked. So I just gave up on yeast. Funny how I made soufflés, crème brûlées or pâte à choux over the years without ever doubting myself, but a dough that needs rising? Not me.

Besides something snapping around Easter, there was also an impulse purchase that gave me a push in the right direction by insisting yeast dough is not rocket science (news flash: it really isn’t), and that was the cookbook Limara Péksége (Limara’s Bakery) by Tóthné Libor Mária.

limara peksege cookbook cover

Public Service Announcement: Although it is not available in English, I believe non-Hungarian readers would also enjoy the review of this book.

Marcsi is a wife and mother of two who „… was an average housewife with an average kitchen” until her mother gave her a bread machine one Christmas. She says she’s obsessed with homemade breads and pastries ever since, and that was when she found her real passion.

Starting her blog in 2008, she simply wanted to create a platform for her recipes and was shocked to see it become so widely popular in such short time. And while Limara Péksége might not be the shiniest blog out there design and visuals-wise, each and every recipe is guaranteed to work.

With her immense knowledge acquired over the years, Limara is creating genuine content for us time after time. She gets loads of feedback in her comments, is invited to every major gastro-themed event in the country, does tons of interviews and workshops and is a judge for numerous baking contests.

The idea of a book was originally suggested by her readers. Her first volume, published in 2014, (2 more came out since) is a collection of her best, foolproof bread and pastry recipes she has perfected over time, a compilation of her favorites.

In the beautifully styled and photographed hardcover (credit to Réka Kövesdi), you’ll learn about ingredients, the 12-steps of bread baking, and get a guide of the essential equipment along the recipes. Marcsi also included her tips, plus detailed photos and graphics to help you with the trickier parts of the process.

limara peksege cookbook quickview

After you’ve learnt the basics, it’s time to start baking. You’ll find Marcsi’s mouthwatering, tried and true recipes for breads, challahs and doughnuts, crescents and buns, sweet and savory fortified doughs, puff pastry with yeast and last but not least, scones and pretzels.

I love how straightforward the book’s style is, encouraging you to forget your reservations and just do it. It’s all about showing you how simple baking really is, without unnecessarily overcomplicating anything. When I make something from Limara’s Bakery, I feel like Marcsi is reassuringly holding my hand along the steps.

You can get a sneak peek of the book on the publisher’s website here.

My copy has become the Nr. 1 on my shelf for home baking and is now full of post-its with my notes. Watching dough come to life is magic in itself, and when the smell from the oven makes the fam gather in the kitchen, well that is true bliss.

Looks like I needed to turn 30 to fall head over heals for yeast dough, but it was well worth the wait. No stopping me now.

Love,

Fruzsi

*Disclaimer: The aforementioned publication was featured on My Chest Of Wonders with the author’s permission. The review of the book represents my genuine and unbiased opinion, I do not earn a commission after purchases, nor am I being compensated in any other way.*

“Making dessert dough” photo featured in title image © freepik

Friday Finds

The first Sunday of Advent is already upon us. I wish you a candle-lit next two days filled with peace, love and the smell of baking cookies.

Contemporary holiday decor with eucaliptus (via Sheerluxe):

contemporary christmas decor

Don’t forget:

confucius quote motivation

A pile of comfort in grey hues (via Pinterest, source unknown):

grey knits

The magic of baking (photo by Renée Kemps):

baking process

Time to put the bird feeders out (robin in snow, photo by Ross Hoddinott):

robin in snow

Happy weekend!

Fruzsi

Culinary Basics: Intoducing a New Blog Series

culinary basics title

Let me start with an acknowledgement: I am thankful to have a family as a source of unvarnished truth when it comes to my blogging. If it weren’t for them, I may have not recognized that in several of my previous posts I used culinary terms without realizing there might be some of you who are probably not familiar with the vocabulary. Major bummer!

And it’s not because you guys missed the smart train or something… I totally wasn’t born with the knowledge either, nor were my first words in French culinary lingo. So to take appropriate measures righting my wrong, I’ve decided to start a new blog series that will acquaint you with the vernacular. Not the fine-dining-everyday douchebag expletives, but just enough to find your way around common kitchen jargon. How about that!

Disclaimer: I am not a professional cook by any means. Making and serving a good meal is a crucial part of my love language though. Culinary art is my passion, something I enjoy a great deal. I am an information sponge when it comes to cooking and baking, these things interest me largely. I don’t want to impart wisdom, just would like to infect you all with my enthusiasm and love for food.

That said, here’s the deal. Every now and again I will post about Kitchen 101 exploring the fundamentals of cooking and baking, entries with information covering everything you need to know on a non-professional level. Think cooking methods, principles, techniques and terms, explained with plain and simple descriptions you can refer to whenever in need.

Learning to cook (and/or getting better at it) is a life long process that is both rewarding and challenging. Let’s broaden our knowledge, sharpen our skills and become serious home cooks together. And most importantly: enjoy time spent in the kitchen, be confident, create and eat good!

It’s gonna be so much fun!

Fruzsi

Illustration featured in title image © Freepik

Bake Challah for Easter

braided challah wreath

Time flies and Easter is already around the corner which, wether you are religious or not, means feasting with a capital F around this part of the globe. With my family being no exception, I wanted to bring you a recipe, something traditional for the holiday that you usually buy instead of making yourself: braided challah!

Since we are among friends here, I will confess that I had an inexplicable fear of everything calling for yeast. Why though? I had no bad experience. Furthermore, growing up I watched both my grandmothers make the most amazing raised doughs turning out perfect every time. Than something snapped, and there’s no stopping me since!

I’ve overcome my reservations and now I urge you to be brave too and try your hands at yeast dough. Made from a few simple ingredients, this challah will be the most delicious, sweet-smelling, flaky-soft and savory beauty on your holiday table and you will think twice getting it from the store again.

Yes, yeast dough is not a 30-minute deal but you can think ahead and prepare your challah in advance, it stays fresh for days. Not that it will stand a chance surviving long enough to dry out (but there’s alway the option for French toast at such an unlikely event). I forgot to measure the loaf when it was ready, but this batch will satisfy your average hungry family at the Easter table for sure. I used this very solid, basic master recipe from Origo Táfelspicc (in Hungarian with detailed photos of each step) and altered it just a bit. Here you go:

Basic Challah

Ingredients

500 g AP flour

½ tsp salt

1 packet active dry yeast

3 tbsp sugar

1 cup (250 ml) warm milk

1 egg + 1 yolk + 1 egg for the eggwash

1 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature

Directions

  1. Sift flour, salt and yeast in the bowl of your stand mixer equipped with the dough hook attachment, make a hole in the middle.
  2. Add sugar to warm (never use hot!) milk, stir to dissolve then pour mixture in the hole.
  3. Add egg and yolk, set machine to low. When the ingredients are roughly combined, add butter and continue kneading on medium until a shiny ball of dough is formed, no longer sticking to the bowl (5-10 min).
  4. Place dough in a lightly floured bowl, cover and let  rise at room temperature until doubled in size, about 45 min.
  5. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface, divide to as many balls of equal volume as the number of braids you want and let rest for 15 min.
  6. Roll balls into strands and braid loosely. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lay the challah on it.
  7. Wash with the lightly beaten egg, let rise for an additional 30 min. Wash with egg again and bake in a preheated oven at 175 °C for 30-45 min. until dark golden. Enjoy!

Try with butter, jam, honey, fois gras… and you can thank me later. 🙂

Once you feel comfortable with the dough, braiding challah is great fun and your loved ones will be sooo impressed with your new talent! You will find tons of tutorials on the different braiding patterns out there.

Hope you are feeling more confident about working with yeast and will give homemade challah a shot. I’d love to hear how yours turned out, so let me know!

Happy Holiday!

Fruzsi