69. Ukrainian Sweet Chestnut Babka

Sweet Chestnut Babka recipe

Sweet Chestnut Babka

Seinfeld introduced the idea of the Babka to me. It’s an enriched sweet dough usually flavoured with chocolate popular in Eastern Europe. The episode focuses on Jerry and Elaine’s desperation to get their hands on the last Babka in the bakery. I’ve wanted to find out what all the fuss was about for ages. It was definitely worth the wait.

Sweet Chestnut Babka recipe

Sweet Chestnut Babka

I love how beautiful the Babka looks in all it’s braided glory. Dark brown sweet chestnut stripes peeking through the sweet dough, glistening in their honey glaze. I also love how complicated and impressive it looks too! I’ve plaited bread before, before but this was my first attempt at a braid and it’s not as difficult as you’d think.

Traditionally Babka, which means Grandmother in Polish, is a comforting bread flavoured with chocolate and baked at Easter time. As I like to do things differently (and I had ran out of chocolate) I found a tin of chestnut paste in the cupboard and thought I would put it to good use.

Babka swirls

Babka swirls

It’s absolutely delicious with it’s soft light texture and not too sweet, although you can add more sugar if you wish. I added cocoa powder to my chestnut paste along with poppy seeds to give a nod to the traditional chocolate and nut versions. The cocoa added depth to the chesnut paste and poppy seeds feature heavily in many European bakes and give a lovely crunch.

Having never baked with chestnut before, I was so happy with the result. I bought the tin on an impulse and it’s lay at the back of the cupboard forgotten until now. It’s an unusal flavour, rich nutty and rather savoury. Do check your can to see if it’s sweetened or natural. If unsweetened you’ll need to add sugar to you get your preferred level of sweetness. You could add chocolate chips, or use chocolate spread or nutella (or anything you fancy!) if you prefer.

How I made my Sweet Chestnut Babka

  1. Mix ingredients together til fully incorporated
  2. Knead for 10 mins until the dough is smooth and springs back when pinched
  3. Place in bowl, cover with cling film and leave to prove for 1-2 hours till doubled in size.
  4. Knock back the dough.
  5. Knead lightly on oiled work surface and roll out to a rectangle approx 5mm thick.  30 cm by 20cm.
  6. Spread even layer of chestnut paste over the dough and sprinkle lightly with Poppy seeds and light brown sugar.
  7. Roll dough up from long edge to long edge to form a sausage of dough with a spiral of chestnut running through the centre
  8. Cut the dough sausage with a sharp lightly oiled knife lengthways all the way along the sausage. Cut all the way through the dough to spilt it down the middle and expose the filling.
  9. Seal the strips together at one end
  10. Twist the two halves together,  folding one half of the dough over the other keeping the stripes of filling in the outside
  11. Seal the other two ends together to form a braided ring. You can trim the ends of the Babka with sharp knife to seal the twists together before joining the ends to form a ring
  12. Lift carefully onto a greased and lined baking sheet.
  13. Cover with greased cling film and prove for 1-2 hours till doubled in size
  14. Bake for 25 minutes at 200 degrees Celsius.
  15. Brush all over with honey syrup whilst still hot
  16. Cool and eat!

Things I used to make my Sweet Chestnut Babka

Dough

  • 350g strong white flour (you could use all white strong flour if your prefer)
  • 115g strong wholemeal flour
  • 25g butter
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 1/4 tsp instant yeast
  • 300ml milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • splash of water and vegetable oil if needed to bring the dough together into smooth ball

Sweet Chestnut Paste

  • 300g chestnut puree (unsweetened)
  • 30g cocoa powder
  • 50 g light brown sugar
  • splash of milk to mix the paste together until smooth and spreadable (not too runny or thick)
  • *1 tbs sugar to sprinkle over paste
  • * 2 tsp Poppy seeds to sprinkle over paste

Honey Syrup

  • 2 tbs runny honey
  • 30ml water
    boil gently for 1- 2 minute to thicken syrup
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24. Knished! – Eastern Europe

After watching a Woody Allan film ‘Whatever Works’, I was intrigued to find out exactly what a Knish is , the food that Larry David’s character loves so much.

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It turns out that it's a traditionally Jewish Pastry usually filled with oniony mashed potato. Curious, I signed myself up to the Knish challenge.

All of the recipes online varied massively. One site gave a recipe for 5 dozen or 58 knishes. This would be a bit excessive for me and my 5 friends to eat. I settled for a more basic version and (yes you guessed it) modified it slightly.

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I peeled and boiled 3 large baking potatoes but then proceeded to drop lots of them (and the glass pan lid) into the sink. So after disposing of the sink potatoes I guess I actually had about 2 and a half potatoes mashed up in the end.

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The chopped onions had to be fried in rather a lot of vegetable oil until soft and translucent whilst I messed around with pastry making.

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Its a very simple recipe with flour, oil and water. Again I threw it in the food processor to bring all the ingredients together but you could use a spoon instead 🙂

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needed kneading

It needed kneading until smooth then it needed a rest in the fridge for 30 minutes. Enough time for a cup of tea and to stir the onions.

The pastry seemed a bit dry. This might be because the recipe that didn’t include an egg, where as some of the other put 1 or 2 eggs in the pastry. To remedy this I kneaded a little more water in until I was happy with it.

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Divided

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I chopped the dough into 12 pieces and rolled each piece into a thin circle about 7 inches in diameter.

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Then a quick slick of vegetable oil on the pastry before dolloping a lot of oniony mashed potato in the middle. There is no way I accurately measured this. Perhaps a handful of potato? (I’m sure this is how the professionals do it.)

I tucked up the edges and spread a little egg wash where pastry met pastry to help it seal shut (in theory).

12 Knish balls later and they were ready for a generous egg wash and the oven.

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In hindsight I should have popped a little air vent in the top of each Knish to avoid this Knish mass explosion. There was more mashed potato on the tray rather than in the Knish. This is another danger of making it up as you go along after catching a fleeting glimpse of what it should look like in a film.

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Knish Catastrophe

Nevertheless they tasted pretty good. If I’m being a little critical perhaps a tad on the greasy side, but I bet it would be a  perfect hangover cure!

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If you ignore the mashed potato hanging out the sides of the Knish it looks exactly like how I imagined it would…

There are other flavour variations you can try too if you’re not a mashed potato fan, like meat. I thinkimage its a bit like a pasty so you can have fun with it!

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Sideways Knish

Things I used:

Pastry:
1 and half cups of plain flour
1 top baking powder
Half a cup of water ( and more as needed)
1 tbsp vegetable oil

Filling:
2 and a half large baking potatoes
2 large white onions
Salt
Cracked black pepper (to season)
A cup of vegetable oil

1 egg to seal and wash pastry with