Chocolate Hazelnut Babka

Chocolate Babka1

One of the many joys of attending a Shabbat morning service is the Oneg Shabbat that follows (literally “Sabbath delight”). This can be as small as a few cookies or slices of poppy seed cake or can encompass an entire luncheon. There are usually songs and blessings and sometimes a lecture or discussion as well. It’s a nice time to catch up with people and it’s especially nice if you attended an entire service, which in the Conservative and Orthodox traditions will have lasted for several hours. My personal favorite of all the possible Oneg offerings, though, is a really good chocolate babka or krantz cake. This is a yeast cake with swirls and swirls of chocolate running through it. There is nothing like eating it still warm from the oven when the chocolate is a bit oozy, but since observant Jews do not do any cooking on the Sabbath, it is usually eaten at room temperature.

This is a cake that takes some time to make and involves a number of steps. If I were living in Israel – or in a community with a really good Kosher bakery – I probably would simply go out and buy my babka. But since I live in downtown Chicago and my current synagogue doesn’t go in for this treat, I have to make it myself if I am going to indulge in all of its chocolaty, yeasty goodness. I originally made the version by Yotam Ottolenghi in his cookbook Jerusalem. I thought this time I might try a different recipe that I found online for a Nutella Babka. It killed me to do it, but the dough got thrown out. I just knew that it was simply NEVER going to rise. It was like lead. So I went back to Ottolenghi. I made just a couple of adjustments, including adding a chocolate hazelnut spread which caught my eye in the other recipe. If you don’t mind a bit of a project, this is really worth making. Otherwise, get yourself to synagogue and hope for a great Oneg!

Chocolate Hazelnut Babka

Yield: Two 9 x 5 inch loaves

Ingredients

 Dough
4 1/4 cups (530 grams) all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
2 teaspoons active dried yeast
Grated zest of 1 small lemon
4 large eggs
1/2 cup tap water
Rounded 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
2/3 cup unsalted butter (150 grams or 5.3 ounces) at room temperature
Canola or other neutral oil, for greasing the pan

Filling
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
About 19 ounces of a good quality chocolate hazelnut spread like Nutella

Syrup
2/3 cup water
1.25 cups granulated sugar

Make the dough: Combine the flour, sugar, yeast and zest in the bottom of the bowl of a stand mixer. Add eggs and 1/2 cup water, mixing with the dough hook on low speed until it comes together; this may take a couple of minutes. With the mixer on low, add the salt, then the butter, a bit at a time, mixing until it’s incorporated into the dough. Then, mix on medium speed for 10 minutes until dough is completely smooth; you might need to scrape the bowl down a few times. I added a Tablespoon or 2 of flour to the sides of the bowl to make sure that all of the dough came together and pulled away from the sides.

Coat a large bowl with oil and place dough inside, cover with plastic and refrigerate. Since it is the middle of winter and rather cold here, I simply left my dough on the windowsill next to the cold glass. Leave in fridge (or by the windowsill) for at least half a day, preferably overnight. [Dough will not fully double, so don’t fret if it doesn’t look like it grew by more than half. It should, however, be puffy.]

Assemble loaves: Coat two 9-by-5-inch loaf pans with oil or butter, and line the bottom of each with a rectangle of parchment paper, which is also then oiled. Take half of the dough, leaving the other half chilled. Roll out on a lightly floured counter to about a 10 by 15 inches. The long side should be facing you. Trim the dough to be an even rectangle.

Spread half of the hazelnut chocolate spread evenly over the dough, leaving about a 1/2-inch border all around. Scatter half of the chocolate chips over the spread. Brush the end farthest away from you with tap water. Roll the dough up tightly with the filling into a long, tight cigar. Trim the last 1/2-inch off each end of log so that they are even.

Using a serrated knife, gently cut the log in half lengthwise and lay the strips next to each other on the counter, cut sides up. Pinch the top ends gently together. Lift one side over the next, forming a twist and trying to keep the cut sides facing out (because they’re pretty). Don’t worry if this step makes a mess, just transfer the twist as best as you can into the prepared loaf pan folding extra underneath to fit. Repeat process with second loaf.

Cover with a damp tea towel and leave to rise another 1.5 hours at warm room temperature. Since I tend to keep my house on the cool side, I heated my oven to the lowest setting (in my case, 170 degrees F.) and when the oven came to temperature I turned it off, while I finished forming the second loaf. I then placed the loaves in the warm oven to rise for 1 hour. After an hour, I removed the loaves to the counter to preheat the oven for baking.

Bake and finish cakes: Heat oven to 375°F (190°C). Remove towels, place each loaf on the middle rack of your oven. Bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the dough comes out clean. Because of all of the chocolate, this is not a perfect process so also use your nose and eyes to tell if the babka is fully baked. If your babka needs more time, put it back, 5 minutes at a time then re-test. If it browns too quickly, you can cover it with foil. Chocolate Babka22

Preparing the syrup: While babkas are baking, make the syrup. Bring sugar and water to a boil and mix until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool somewhat. As soon as the babkas leave the oven, brush ALL of the syrup over each loaf.

It will seem like too much, but it will all absorb into the warm loaf and will leave the babka glossy and moist. Let the loaves cool in their pans until just warm and then transfer the loaves to a cooling rack to cool the rest of the way before eating (this is a suggestion from Ottolenghi but I defy you to not eat it when it is still warm!) Cut with a serrated bread knife and prepare to be amazed.

Do ahead: Babkas keep for a few days at room temperature. They also freeze well.

Chocolate Amaretti Torte

Chocolate Amaretti Cake

I was going through some old recipes and came across this one on a sheet of yellowing newsprint. It was from a December 1991 New York Times Magazine. The article was titled “True Confections.” The one that caught my eye and which seems perfect for Valentine’s Day is by Dorie Greenspan from her cookbook Sweet Times. Nothing says Valentine’s Day like chocolate, and this one is ready to eat in about an hour. Of course you don’t have to wait for Valentine’s Day to serve this little slice of chocolate heaven.

Chocolate Amaretti Torte

Yield: One 8-inch cake

Ingredients  Chocolate Amaretti Cake8

1 ounce of high quality unsweetened chocolate

3 ounces high quality bittersweet chocolate (about 64% cacao)

6 large, crisp double amaretti cookies

3/4 cup sliced or julienned blanched almonds

1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature

1/2 cup of granulated sugar

3 large eggs at room temperature

Pinch of either Kosher or fine sea salt

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Butter an 8-inch round cake pan and line the bottom with waxed paper. Butter that and dust the inside of the pan with flour, tapping out any excess. Alternatively use one of the baking sprays with flour.
  3. Melt the chocolates over a double boiler set over hot water or in the microwave and set aside. Chocolate Amaretti Cake5
  4. Place the amaretti cookies and almonds in a food processor and pulse until the mixture is evenly ground. Set aside. Chocolate Amaretti Cake6
  5. Place the butter, sugar, salt and eggs in the food processor bowl and process until the mixture is satiny smooth – about 3 minutes. Scrape the bowl as necessary.Chocolate Amaretti Cake4Chocolate Amaretti Cake3
  6. Now add the amaretti/almond powder and the melted chocolate. Pulse to combine well. Chocolate Amaretti Cake2
  7. Turn the batter into the prepared pan and bake in the oven on the center rack for 25 to 30 minutes. The top will look baked and perhaps a little cracked and the center will still be moist. Chocolate Amaretti Cake1Cool on a rack for 30 minutes. Then run a thin metal spatula or blunt knife around the edge of the pan and carefully turn out the torte. I place a cutting board over the pan and turn it out onto that. The cake is too soft and moist to turn out onto a cooling rack. The indentations will eat right into the cake. You could also use a large plate but I find that the flat cutting board works best. Then peel off the waxed paper and invert the torte onto a serving dish. I do this by placing the serving dish over the torte and then carefully flipping the serving dish over while holding onto the cutting board. Dust with confectioner’s sugar or cocoa. Serve at room temperature with a little vanilla ice cream or freshly whipped cream.Chocolate Amaretti Cake9.

Plum Kuchen (Butter cake)

Plum Kuchen2

If you have been following my blog then you know that I get REALLY excited when for a brief time each year Italian prune plums are available at the market. Check out the Caramelized Plum and Rosemary Polenta Pound Cake or my Italian Prune Plum Cake. I have been making this particular Plum Kuchen (basically a butter cake) for probably 50 years. YIKES! It is simple and wonderful and can easily be adapted to use apples or other stone fruits. It takes no time to whip up and is actually better the next day. It also can successfully be frozen, thawed and gently reheated just to freshen it up. Just leave off the powdered sugar until you are actually ready to serve it. But act fast – prune plums are only available for about 3 weeks and this year they came early.

Plum Kuchen (Butter Cake) 

Plum Kuchen4

Yield: One 9-inch cake

Ingredients

10 – 12 Italian Prune Plums

1 scant cup of granulated sugar

1/2 cup of unsalted butter at room temperature

Zest of one small lemon

1.5 cups of unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch of Kosher or sea salt

2 large eggs

2 Tablespoons milk or cream

1 generous teaspoon vanilla extract

2-3 Tablespoons of sliced raw almonds (optional)

About 1 Tablespoon of granulated sugar for sprinkling on top

1-2 Tablespoons of unsalted butter

Powdered Sugar for garnish (optional)

Directions

  1. Butter and lightly flour (or better yet, use one of those sprays that already has flour in it) a 9-inch spring-form pan. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. This can be done by hand, but unless you have powerful arms, you will achieve a better result with a standing mixer. Add the lemon zest and mix through.
  3. Add the eggs, one at a time and mix well after each addition, scraping down the bowl as necessary.
  4. Add the baking powder, flour, salt and milk or cream and beat until fluffy. There is not tons of batter, but it is enough. Spread the batter into the prepared pan.
  5. Cut the plums in half lengthwise and remove the pits. Sometimes this is very easy and other times the pits really are stuck in there. The irony is that the tastier and juicier the plum, the harder it is to nicely remove the pit. Work with a small sharp knife and make as clean a job of it as you can. (You can always sprinkle the almonds across where it isn’t so perfect.) 
  6. Place the plums, cut side up in concentric circles across the top of the batter. Get as many plum halves on top as you can manage and nibble any disasters! Sprinkle with sugar and scatter with the sliced almonds. Dot with butter.
  7. Bake for 60-75 minutes (In large part it depends on the fruit you use and the quirks of your particular oven) or until the fruit is bubbling and the parts of the cake you can see are nicely browned. It is really difficult to over-bake this when using the prune plums since the cake only gets moister over time. Remove the cake to a cooling rack and allow it to sit for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, loosen the latch on the spring-form and carefully remove the ring. Finish cooling the cake completely on the rack. At this point you can either wrap the cake carefully for freezing or get it ready to serve. Plum Kuchen3
  8. When you are ready to serve the cake, remove it from the bottom of the spring-form and place on a cake plate. Dust with powdered sugar just before serving. The sugar will absorb into the fruit the longer it sits.

Italian Walnut and Raisin Coffee Cake

Raisin walnut cake1

My husband really loves raisins in his sweets – so much so that we have had a running joke for over 30 years that whenever I ask him how he likes a dessert I have just made, he says the only thing that could make it better would be if I added some raisins. So, I thought I would finally surprise him with a cake where raisins are the star, instead of a grace note to the apples that they are generally paired with. I looked through many recipes but none seemed quite right, and then I came across this unpretentious cake by the noted cookbook author and journalist, Carol Field. It’s simple and delicious with raisins spiked with rum or Marsala and toasted walnuts. Try some with your morning or afternoon coffee or after dinner, accompanied by a glass of dessert wine. And a bonus is that this makes the house smell AMAZING!

Italian Walnut and Raisin Coffee Cake by Carol Field, Italy in Small Bites, Harper Collins, 2004 

Yield: One 10-inch tube cake

INGREDIENTS

1/2 cup raisins

6 tablespoons Marsala or rum

10 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons unsalted butter, room temperature

3/4 cup sugar

4 large eggs, separated

1/3 cup milk

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon walnuts or blanched almonds, toasted and roughly chopped

1 1/2 tablespoons turbinado or demerara sugar

DIRECTIONS

1. Soak the raisins in the Marsala or rum for 30 minutes. Drain, reserving the liquid. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).

2. Cream the butter and sugar together well. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, incorporating each one well before adding the next. (I used a standing mixer, but you could do this by hand if you prefer.)

2a. Mix together the milk, reserved Marsala or rum, and vanilla.

3. Sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder. If using a standing mixer, on low speed beat the milk mixture into the butter mixture in three additions alternating with the dry ingredients. If doing by hand, use a rubber spatula to accomplish the same thing.

4. Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks. With the rubber spatula, stir one quarter of them into the batter to lighten it, then fold in the nuts and raisins. Once these have been incorporated, fold in the remaining egg whites with the spatula just until there are no more white streaks.

5. Turn the batter into a buttered and lightly floured 10-inch, straight-sided tube pan, sprinkle the top with the turbinado or demerara sugar, and bake for about 45 minutes, until the top is golden and a tester comes out clean. (This is what I used.)

6. If you prefer to use a 9- X 5-inch loaf pan, bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes. Cool the cake in the pan for 5 to 10 minutes, then invert onto a rack, and cool to room temperature. This is even better the next day after the flavors have a chance to really permeate the cake.

Raisin walnut cake3

VARIATION

Ciambella al Anice: Use 1 tablespoon anise seeds instead of the raisins and nuts. Substitute Sambuca for the Marsala or rum, or omit it altogether and increase the milk to 1/2 cup.

 

Sour Cream Coffee Cake

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I have been making this uber-rich, super simple coffee cake for almost 50 years. Yikes! And it is still one of THE best coffee cakes I have ever had. I recently thought I had lost the recipe and went trolling the internet for it. While I found recipes with the same ingredients, the proportions were entirely different. I wish that I could say that I recall where it originated but in checking, I couldn’t find this exact recipe anywhere. Fortunately, I found the recipe in one of my hand-written cook book collections that I had made years ago. So my apologies in advance to the creator of this wonderful cake.

Because the ingredients are few, it is essential that you use only the best quality unsalted butter and sour cream that isn’t filled with guar gum or other thickeners. And please don’t substitute margarine or light sour cream or even thick yogurt. They might make a decent cake, but it won’t be THIS cake. Yes, it is rich. No, it will not be on the approved heart healthy diet. But it is sooooooooooo good that if you are going to splurge once in a while, do it right. And this cake can easily be frozen. It also lasts a long time on its own when properly wrapped. And because it is so rich, even small slivers are incredibly satisfying. This cake is the real deal.

Sour Cream Coffee Cake  IMG_2996

Yield: 1 bundt cake

Ingredients

1 cup (2 sticks) of unsalted butter, at room temperature – I used Kerry Gold

2 cups granulated sugar

2 large eggs

1 cup, full-fat sour cream

1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or extract

2 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt

1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (I used walnuts this time but have also used pecans other times)

1 generous teaspoon ground cinnamon

4 teaspoons granulated sugar

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. (This can be done by hand, but is much easier if you use a standing mixer on low speed.) Beat in eggs one at a time.
  3. Add sour cream and vanilla and beat on low speed just until mixed.
  4. Slowly add the flour, baking powder and salt, scraping down the bowl as you go.
  5. Combine the 4 teaspoons sugar, cinnamon and chopped nuts in a small bowl and set aside.
  6. Grease and sugar a bundt pan or use one of the sprays like PAM or Baker’s Joy that has flour in it. (I recently discovered these and I am never going back to anything else. Nothing sticks.) Sprinkle the bottom of the pan with a few tablespoons of the nut mixture. Add about 1/3 of the batter and spread it evenly. Sprinkle about half of the nut mixture over the batter. Cover with another third of the batter and cover that with the nut mixture. End with batter. Give the pan a tap on the counter to settle things.
  7. Bake about an hour or until golden brown and a tester comes out clean. My oven needs to be calibrated so it actually took me 1.25 hours this time.
  8. Remove to a cooling rack and wait 10 minutes before turning out of the pan. IMG_3001

Pear and Walnut Cake

I’m always intrigued by dessert recipes that sound hearty and rustic, so when Matt found this recipe in the Financial Times one weekend, it was a no brainer to try it out.  Of note, I had no idea which pears to use, and was surprised to find five different varietals at the store.

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I went with my gut of getting a crisper pear (Bosc pears) and it seemed to turn out fine. In fact the little bit of crunch went very nicely with the texture of the walnuts in the cake.

For the topping
(which starts as the base)

4 small pears (I used Bosc, and I think only about 3.5 ended up fitting)
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
2 tbsp unsalted butter cut into six pieces

For the cake batter

2 sticks and 2 tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature
1 2/3 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup ground almonds
1 cup ground walnuts
1/2 tsp ground nutmet
1 tsp ground cinnamon
4 large eggs
zest and juice of an orange
3/4 cup easy cook polenta
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt

Directions

  1. Heat your oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Line your 9″ cake tin with paper, and then wrap the outside with foil (in case it leaks, don’t want it leaking into the oven which makes a mess)
  3. Peel the pears and halve them. Use a teaspoon to remove the seeds. Sprinkle the sugar on the base of the tin. Cut the butter into eight small pieces and place them in the pear cavity you created by removing the seeds. Place the pear on to the bottom of the tin in a flower formation so the butter touches the sugar and the flat part of the pear also touches the sugar. It should look like seven petals around and one in the middle. You may need to trim the pears so they fit snugly.
  4. Cream the butter and sugar, using a mixer with a paddle attachment or by hand with a large spatula, until they are well-combined but not too fluffy. Add two of the eggs and mix well, then add the remaining ingredients including the last two eggs and beat together until you have a smooth mix. Spoon the mix over the pears to cover entirely and use the back of a spoon to smooth it out as much as possible.
  5. Place in the centre of the oven and bake for 30 minutes before rotating to assure an even bake, and continue for a further 20-25 minutes. This cake is a little tricky; the texture will feel rather soft when it comes out but it will settle and firm up after 20 minutes. Check the cake after the provided times — the centre of the cake should feel like the outer rim. The best way to tell if it’s ready is to poke the sides, then poke the centre — they should feel the same. If your finger sinks immediately, add another 10 minutes to the baking time.
  6. Remove from the oven and leave the cake in the tin. If you try and turn it out straight away, it will collapse. Set a timer for 20 minutes, then take a serving plate and place it on the baking tin, flip the cake and ease it out, peel away the baking paper and serve. It is lovely warm but will also keep well at room temperature.

Adapted from The Financial Times, Pear and Walnut cake

Vegan Apple Raisin Cake with Applejack Sauce

vegan-apple-cake6My niece and nephew hosted Friday night dinner and I agreed to help by making dessert. Because of dietary restrictions, the dessert needed to be vegan. I decided to use this as an opportunity to come up with a new apple cake recipe that would be good enough for Thanksgiving or anytime you wanted something special for a crowd. I am using the Smitten Kitchen Apple Cake and my own Vegan “Honey” Cake as the source for this inspiration. This cake will not only feed a crowd, but is actually better made ahead so the flavors can fully develop. I find when I am preparing for a big holiday dinner, I like things that I can make ahead so I am not exhausted on the day when everyone descends. This cake could even be frozen without the Applejack sauce which could then be made the morning of or the night before you are going to serve it. Just defrost the cake fully before serving. And if you don’t want the Applejack sauce, you could simply dust this with confectioner’s sugar when you get ready to serve it. After a day, the center of this cake takes on an almost bread pudding-like consistency, fragrant with apples, raisins and spice.

Vegan Apple Raisin Cake with Applejack Sauce

Yield: About 10 servings  vegan-apple-raisin-cake

Ingredients

For the cake

5-6 flavorful baking apples (There are so many varieties out there and they differ locally so choose something other than Granny Smith. It could be McIntosh, Honeycrisp, Jazz, Jonagold, Braeburn, Ambrosia…) I used Jonagold and because they were on the biggish side, I used 5 apples.

1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon

2 cups plus 5 Tablespoons granulated or Demerara sugar

3 cups all-purpose unbleached flour

1 Tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon finely ground sea salt

1 cup Canola or other vegetable oil

Zest of one lemon

1/4 cup apple cider or apple juice, preferably fresh

1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste

3/4 cup raisins soaked for at least 1 hour in 1/4 cup Applejack, Apple Brandy or Apple Cider

Aquafaba from one 15.5 ounce can of chickpeas (This is the liquid from the can that has been strained. Use the chickpeas for a wonderful salad or in homemade hummus.)

For the Applejack Sauce

1.5 cups of confectioner’s sugar

4 Tablespoons Applejack (Hard cider) or apple cider

2 to 3 Tablespoons apple juice or cider OR reserved liquid from apple-raisin mixture

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Directions

For the cake

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Either butter and flour a 10-inch tube pan with straight sides or use one of the cooking sprays with flour (Baker’s Joy or Pam – these have been a revelation for me and have made cake baking so much easier!)
  2. Peel, core and chop the apples into 1/2-inch dice. Toss them with the cinnamon, 5 Tablespoons of sugar and the lemon zest.
  3. Using a large bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together. In a medium bowl, whisk together the oil, apple cider, vanilla and remaining 2 cups of sugar.
  4. Drain the chickpeas, placing the liquid in the bowl of a standing mixer. Using the balloon whisk attachment, whip the aquafaba on high for 10 minutes. You should have soft white peaks.
  5. Stir the oil mixture into the dry ingredients. The result will be quite stiff. Drain the raisins and add them to the apples. Pour the remaining liquid into the batter. Now scrape all of the whipped aquafaba into the stiff batter and mix thoroughly with a heavy spoon until you have a smooth, workable batter. This takes a little elbow grease!
  6. Pour 1/2 of the batter into the prepared pan. Using a spoon or your hands, take 1/2 of the apple-raisin mixture, straining any liquid that may be in the bowl and reserving it and place the apples-raisins over the batter in the pan. The reserved liquid can be added to your Applejack sauce. Cover the apples with the remaining batter and gently smooth it out so the batter is even. Now take the remaining apples-raisins and cover the top of the batter, gently pushing the mixture into the batter.
  7. Place the pan in the hot oven and bake for about 1.5 to 1.75 hours or until a tester comes out clean. Transfer to a rack and cool completely. The top will sink down some but don’t worry – it’s fine. When you are ready to serve, turn out the cake and carefully flip it over onto a serving platter so that the apples are now on top again. Dust with confectioner’s sugar and serve the sauce on the side, if you are using it.

For the Applejack Sauce

  1. Sift the sugar to get rid of any lumps.
  2. Whisk all of the other ingredients together. Taste and adjust the sweetness by adding more confectioner’s sugar, if desired. Just before serving, give it a good stir with a fork or whisk. You can zap it in the microwave briefly, if you like- just enough to warm it without killing off the alcohol.  vegan-apple-cake5