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Author Notes: Babka is an Eastern European yeast based cake, usually made with dried fruit and cinnamon or chocolate. The ingredients usually make it feel like an autumn or winter baking project. Thinking that with a bit of tweaking babka can also reflect the best of the summer I wanted to try something more seasonal, using fresh blueberries and peaches. I started making babka using the recipe guide in "Inside the Jewish Bakery," by Gingsberg and Berg, 2011 (Camino Books, Philadelphia). This cake is prepared in two baking sessions. You can break up some of the preparation by freezing the finished dough and baking at another time. Don't be intimidated!! There are many steps, but each step flows into the next and the cake is so delicious and so much fun to make that it's worth a try. —Ann Goldman
Makes 3 medium loaves
Creating the "sponge" starter
- 8 ounces bread flour
- 2 tablespoons instant yeast
- 8 ounces warm water (approximately 100 degrees F)
- Combine flour and yeast. Pour warm water over the dry ingredients.
- Beat on low-medium speed until ingredients are well blended. The mixture will begin to bubble.
- Cover and place in a draft free area (an oven that has not been heated is a good choice). Allow to rest/rise for about 30 minutes. The mixture will have risen and look spongy.
Creating the dough
- 1 the entire sponge
- 12 ounces bread flour
- 4 ounces white whole wheat flour
- 5 ounces granulated sugar
- 1.5 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 teaspoons lemon extract
- 2 teaspoons lemon zest
- 4 extra large eggs (about 8 oz)
- 8 ounces unsalted butter or unsalted margarine (2 - quarter lb sticks)
- 2 cups blueberries
- 4 medium, peeled, and diced under-ripe peaches
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 3/4 blueberry syrup (1/2 x will be used for assembly, 1/4 cup for glaze)
- 1/4 cup unflavored, fine breadcrumbs
- The dough preparation is done in two sessions: incorporating remaining ingredients into the sponge, providing an extended cool-rise/rest and then assembling/baking the cake. You can freeze the dough before assembling the cake and bake at another time. The fruit filling can be mixed up to four hours before the final assembly begins.
- Preparing the yeast dough: Heat the butter or margarine in a heat-proof measuring cup until just melted (but not hot). Set aside.
- Combine the salt, extract and zest to the eggs. Mix slightly.
- To the sponge, add flours, 5 oz sugar, egg mixture and melted butter or margarine. Mix at medium speed until the mixture comes together as a thick, stringy dough that does not cling to the side of the bowl. This takes about 20 minutes.
- The dough will be very stretchy and shiney. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest/rise in the refrigerator for 8-24 hours. The dough will expand quite a bit.
- After resting/rising, gently deflate the dough. It will be stringy, with strong gluten strands but will also be quite sticky. Flour your hands and work surface. Divide the dough into three parts. At this time you can wrap each portion in parchment paper, place in a zip lock bag and freeze for later use. When you want to proceed with baking, the frozen dough will take approximately 4-5 hours to come to room temperature and reactivate.
- Before assembling the dough, prepare the filling.
- Plunge under-ripe peaches into boiling water, allow to heat for 2-4 minutes. Remove from hot water and plunge into cold water. Peel and dice.
- Combine sugar and cornstarch. Toss with the diced peaches and blueberries in a medium sized non-reactive bowl. Set aside. The fruit mixture can be made several hours before baking. Cover well to prevent the peaches from discoloring.
- Grease 3 medium loaf pans (the size to bake a 1-lb loaf, approximately 8x4x3). Dust your work space and rolling pin with flour. The dough will be springy but have strong gluten strands, if it begins to stiffen up, be patient, allow it to rest for 10 minutes or so and then proceed. The less you work this dough the easier it will be to shape.
- Take one portion of the divided dough, shape into a rectangle, about 6" x 4" , cut down the length of the center, forming 2 approximately equal parts.
- Gently shape the portion into a short log and roll out along the edge, stretching the dough into a narrow rectangle. Work lightly with your rolling pin, this is a high-gluten dough and will be springy. Form into a rectangle, approximately 6" x 4".
- Brush the rolled-out rectangle with blueberry syrup. Sprinkle lightly with breadcrumbs.
- Spread a small amount of fruit filling along the top 1/3 length of the rectangle. The filling will be used to fill six portions, adjust the amount so that you will have enough. Too much fruit will break through the dough while it rises, so there is no need to over-fill the portions.
- Gently roll the dough around the fruit to form a fruit filled log. Repeat with the remaining portion.
- Line up the two logs next to each other, attach each log at one end and gently twist the two logs around each other. Attach the ends as you finish. You should have at 4-6 twists, the twists will help the baked cake to hold it's shape and keep the fruit from settling to the bottom of the cake as it bakes.
- Place the twisted dough in the prepared pan. Repeat the process to make 2 more loaves.
- Brush the unbaked assembled babkas very lightly with blueberry syrup.
- Allow to rise in a draft free location for approximately 40 minutes.
- About 10 minutes before the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 360 degrees F.
- Place the three unbaked cakes into the preheated oven and bake for 40-50 minutes. The cake will be golden, but look slighly underdone. Leaving the cake in the oven, shut off the oven, close the door and allow to cook for another 10 minutes.
- Remove cake from the oven, it should have a fabulous golden color, with a slight sheen from the syrup. Using any remaining syrup, you can lightly brush the hot cakes while they remain in the pans.
- The babkas must remain in the pan until entirely cooled. I often leave them overnight. Remove gently from pan. A completely cooked babka will retain its shape.
- Babka can be double wrapped and frozen at this point. The well-wrapped baked cake will hold in the freezer for 3-4 weeks. I keep this cake covered for up to 2-3 days in the refrigerator.