Sunday, September 7, 2014

Chocolate Cinnamon Babka

I have been sleep deprived for the last 5 weeks. My works piled up high, which is good because it means people trust me to handle their scripts. Now that I finished them, I have to reward myself with something before I crawl to my cave and stay there like a hermit to study for the finals at November. Dang! So little time so many friggin text books. Not to mention I have to help Amiko with her school works. She's homeschooled, but that means lots and lots of subjects must be taught by her teacher at home, which is me, so her grades would be good, if not stellar. I do think 24 hours a day is not enough. That is why I have zero tolerance for bad coffee.

Now about my reward, I have the house all by myself today to concentrate on baking something so sinfully delicious; Babka. Babka is a very popular Ukrainian dessert bread. It is very rich and commonly appears around Easter. I guess each country in Europe has their own Easter bread; British Hot Cross Buns, Bulgarian Kozunak, Italian Pane di Pasqua, Russian Kulich,Croatian Sirnica, Spanish Hornazo, and many more. The word Babka derives from the word Grandmother, or Babka. Perhaps in the old times, grandmothers were the ones usually baked Babka.

Now, even though I am far from being a grandmother myself and this is not easter, I crave for something indulging because I am celebrating. What am I celebrating? I could say because I survived that monstrous creature called deadline. But no, I am celebrating the act of celebration, by baking a bread worthy enough to be celebrated. Chocolate Cinnamon Babka.

The recipe I always use is from the book Artisan Bread Everyday by Peter Reinhart. I have tried many recipes in that book because it was one of my first baking books. This particular one is a gem. I have tried many Babka recipes but if you have ever heard a term 'lesser Babka', most of other ones I tried are indeed lesser Babka. They're not yeasty enough and somehow lack of character. Anyhow, I cut down some butter and yolk and also incorporate whole wheat flour and wheat bran to make me feel less guilty. But if you carefully read the recipe, I am still guilty. Just not THAT guilty.

2 tbs instant yeast*
200gr lukewarm milk**
70 gr unsalted butter, room temperature
85 gr sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 egg yolks
200 gr all-purpose flour
225 gr wheat flour***
3 tbs wheat bran, optional****
1 tsp salt

*This will taste very yeasty, if you do not like the yeasty taste, do reduce it to  only 1/2tbs-1 tbs instant yeast.
**Use only 170 gr of water if you're using only all-purpose flour
***You can substitute the wheat flour with all-purpose flour, vice versa
****Adding wheat bran means you need to incorporate more liquid into the dough

250 gr dark chocolate
1 tsp ground cinnamon

50 gr unsalted butter

MAKE THE DOUGH              
-Cream the butter and sugar together until smooth.
-Add the vanilla to the egg yolks and whisk lightly to break up the yolks, then add the yolks to the sugar mixture. Keep whisking until it's creamy.
-Add the mixture of flour, yeast, salt, then pour in the milk mixture.
-Transfer the dough onto a work surface and knead, adding more water/flour needed to make the dough pliable. The dough should be a beautiful golden color and feel soft and supple. Form the dough into a ball.
-Place the dough in a clean, lightly oiled bowl. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and leave at room temperature for about 1 1/2hours. If it rises significantly in less time, you can move to the shaping step or place it in the refrigerator overnight if you plan to bake it the next day.

-Using the bain marie, melt the chocolate and the butter. You do not need to melt it until silky smooth. Barely is enough.
-After you melt it, take it off the stove, then stir the cinnamon in.
-Spread the barely-melted mixture on a sheet of parchment paper or silicone baking mat, then refrigerate it until firm.

-Roll the dough into a rectangle  and cover the rolled out dough with the chocolate. 

-Roll the dough into a log. You will need to hit it until it cracks into pieces so it will be easy to roll.
-Using a metal pastry blade, cut the log down the middle lengthwise.

-Cross one piece over the other, then continue to crisscross the pieces in both directions to form a braid. Sprinkle with more cinnamon if you wish.

-Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let the dough rise at room temperature for about 2 hours or less, depending on how warm yor kitchen is, until the dough size has increased to about 1 1/2 times from its original size.
-Preheat the oven to 175C and bake for 35-45 minutes.
-The babka will begin to brown quickly because of the sugar content but it won’t burn.

Don't forget to let it cool for at least 90 minutes before serving (yeah RIGHT)

This recipe made a HUGE bread. It's not a problem though because this is out of this world delicious.

Let's see the crumb shot, shall we?


It's yeasty, chocolatey, soft, there's a hint of butter, of cinnamon, but subtle. This is the ultimate comfort bread, must I say. I mean, I've made brioche filled with chocolate, it's wonderful. But in brioche, the star is the butter. Here, every ingredient goes harmoniously together. Of course the chocolate stands out more than the other ingredients, but just a bit. It does not overpower though it looks dominant. 

Now off I go make coffee. Lovely Indonesian coffee. 


PS: This is a cure from Haruki Murakami's aftertaste.

Submitted to YeastSpotting

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Saturday, August 23, 2014

Szechuan Chili Oil

If there is one condiment my generous husband would never share with me, it is chili oil.

Perhaps it is the reason why he loves to go to Duck King so much, simply because the chili oil is great, if not wonderful. The best one we've had so far was at a small restaurant we used to go to when we were still dating. Heck it was a long time ago I already forget the name of the place and sadly it was replaced by Starbucks. Anyhow, my husband would refuse to go to a Chinese restaurant with average chili oil even when the dish is so stellar compared to Duck King. Chili oil makes a simple dish heavenly, he said.

I actually never bother to make my own chili oil because Duck King is only 10 minutes away from home. Not until yesterday.

My friend sent me a bunch of Szechuan peppercorn. It is quite hard to find it where I live. I have never cooked with it before, but I love the dishes that incorporate those particular peppercorns in. Having so much in my disposal, I immediately think of Mapo Tofu, Bon Bon Chicken, vegetable stir-fries, and many other Szechuan inspired dishes. But no, they have to wait far in line because Baby I am gonna make you sweat! With chili oil.

Adapted from
Infused Oil:
1 1/4 litre vegetable oil
2-3 cinnamon sticks
1 whole garlic
3 inch ginger, the fatter the better
3 tbs coriander seeds
6 star anise
1 tbs green cardamom
2 tbs white cardamom

Ground Chili:
200 gr dried chili
1/4-1/2 cup Szechuan peppercorns
3 tsp salt
3 tbs soy sauce

-Bruise all the spices for the infused oil
-In a heavy bottomed pot, pour the oil, put the bruised ingredients in, then simmer on low heat for at least two hours.
**You want the garlic and the ginger just to fizz, not burn, not even brown.

-Place the dried chili on a pan and bake it in the oven for around 10 minutes on 150C. 

**This step is actually optional but definitely sane. If you buy your dried chili in a traditional market, chances are they do not keep it in tight container. So you wanna get rid of any ants or whatever living being lives there. It adds extra smokiness as well.
-Grind the chili and peppercorns. You don't want it to be too coarse or too fine it turns into powder.

-Place your ground chili in a big bowl, use either glass or stainless bowl, Mix the salt and soy sauce in.

After two hours.....
-Prepare a sieve
-Crank the heat up and let the ginger and the garlic furiously fizz.
-Pour the infused oil through the sieve. Be careful, it sizzles. 

Stir and let cool..

I am out of words.

It looks.. Demonic.. and judging from the time it took me to infuse the oil with that amount of spices, I'm not surprised that it is tantalizingly addictive. It is chili oil not like the one I've ever had. It has depth and character. It can even turn a humble instant noodle to a five star noodle dish. Toss it on your dumplings, on dim sum, on meat, on veggies, oh the endless possibilities!

If you're feeling crafty for the next holiday season, buy small mason jars and fill them with your own homemade Szechuan Chili Oil. Lovely gifts they would make. 

Okay, off we go now tossing some oil on poached eggs.

Have fun making it,

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