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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66. Finnish Apricot Cardamom and Pistachio Pulla

Braided Pulla infused with cardamom, orange, apricot and pistachio

Braided Pulla infused with cardamom, orange, apricot and pistachio

I realise that I’ve slowed down on the old blogging front in recent months sorry! Partly due to it being Summer and not feeling the need to have an extra cake layer to keep me warm and also due to breaking my phone (and camera) which meant I’ve lost quite a bit of data and worked my way through 5 faulty handsets in 2 months… Anyways I’ve salvaged enough to bring you my braided Pulla.

Apricot Cardamom  and Almond Pulla  recipe

Apricot Cardamom and Almond Pulla

I felt the urge to bake something delicious and not too sweet. This cardamom infused apricot and almond pulla braid is just what the phone doctor ordered.

Fluffy, fragrant, light and slightly sweet Pulla is an enriched dough that compliments a good strong coffee perfectly. Gently scented with cardamom and studded with dried apricots for extra pops of flavour. If you were in need of additional luxuriousness ribbons of water icing would transform this into an excellent iced bun too.

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Traditionally Pulla is served with coffee in thin slices or as individual buns. Leftover Pulla (if you ever get that far!) can be twice baked to create a crisp biscotti type biscuit to dunk in your coffee.

Prove the dough until doubled in size

Prove the dough until doubled in size

As with all other yeasted doughs bring the ingredients together and knead for 10 minutes to allow the gluten to develop. Once the dough is shiny, stretchy and springs back when pressed it’s ready to place in a greased bowl, cover with greased cling film and prove.

pulla recipe

Proven pulla dough awaiting it’s cardamom and orange zest

Enriched Dough proves best in the fridge overnight, allowing the freshly kneaded supple dough, permeated with butter, sugar and an egg to slowly rise and firm up. Making it much easier to shape the following day. But if you’re in a rush to get it in your face feel free to prove at room temperature for an hour then shape and prove it again.

pulla recipe Now to knead in the pistachios and dried apricots

Now to knead in the pistachios and dried apricots

Once you’ve kneaded in the finely chopped nuts, and apricots along with the grated orange zest and ground cardamom into the dough so the flavours are fully incorporated, split the dough into 3 equally sized pieces.

3 little dough balls pulla plaiting bread dough

3 little dough balls

Roll the 3 pieces into long thin sausages (making sure you pop any little air bubbles that sneak there way in) and gather the strands together at one end.

The beginning of a plait

The beginning of a plait

Push the strands together so that they stick to each other and plait them together to form a braid. Once you reach the end, carefully join the two ends of the plait together to form a braided ring. Squish the ends together to form a join and tuck any loose bits underneath (no one will ever know after it rises.)

Plaiting the pulla

Plaiting the pulla

Place your braided Pulla crown into a semolina sprinkled baking sheet or dish. Cover with greased cling film and leave to prove a room temperature for an hour or two until doubled in size.

Ready to prove it's worth

Ready to prove it’s worth

Bake it at 190 degrees c for 30 minutes until it’s golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped underneath. Whilst still warm glaze your Pulla generously with runny honey. Whilst the honey is sticky sprinkle with flaked almonds to decorate. Or if you’re feeling extra indulgent feel free to use water/glace icing to make an extra rich white icing that would look oh so pretty against the plait.

The final baked Pulla braided Crown

The final baked Pulla braided Crown

This is such a gorgeous sweet treat. It’s fluffy and tender with an wonderful spicy warmth from the cardamom. Balanced against a chewy nugget of apricot and a crisp morsel of pistachio. I love this bake and enjoyed it au natural with coffee to bring out the exotic notes and subtle sweetness. Delicious! And perfect for a special breakfast.


Things I used to make my Apricot and Cardamom Pulla

Enriched dough

  • 350g strong white flour
  • 5g salt
  • 40g sugar
  • 7g yeast
  • 45g margarine/butter
  • 175ml milk

Flavours to infuse the dough with after the first prove

  • 31 cardamom pods (seeds taken out and ground to fine powder)
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 8 chopped dried apricots chopped into small chunks
  • 20g pistachios chopped roughly

Topping/decoration

  • A handful of flaked almonds for sprinkling on top
  • Honey to glaze the top whilst still warm
  • You could also whip up a thick sticky water icing with the juice of the orange and icing sugar to pipe on top of the pulla if you would prefer a sticky bun effect.

Method

  1. Knead the flour, yeast, salt, butter, sugar and milk together for 10 minutes to create a sticky dough
  2. Leave to prove overnight in the fridge (or until double din size at room temp)
  3. Knead in the flavours; ground cardamom, orange zest, chopped apricots and pistachios
  4. Split the dough into 3 equal pieces and roll out to long strands
  5. Join one end of the 3 strands together and plait it into a braid
  6. Join the two ends of the braid together to form a circle
  7. Cover with greased cling film and prove on a semolina lined baking tray/dish until doubled in size
  8. Bake at 190 degrees c for 30 minutes until it’s golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped underneath
  9. Whilst still warm glaze with runny honey and sprinkle with flaked almonds

Running Wild With Raw Almond Butter

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Apparently it’s very easy to make your own Raw Almond Butter and it’s supposed to be really good for you. (Especially, if like me, you’re training to run half marathons.) I had to give it a whirl.

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Perserverance is the key to making your own almond butter. It should only take 10 minutes of whizzing up almonds in a food processor to produce wholesome wonderment… However an hour later my head and ears were buzzing from the incessant food processor screeches and I was getting a bit annoyed.

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You may remember that in my wisdom this year, I have decided to run The Great North Run (all 13.1 miles of it) to raise money for Oxfam.I am trying my best to train as much as possible to gradually reach my target distance, but a few niggles have made the path to fitness nirvana rather steep.

So far I’ve;

  •  Been chased and bitten by an overly excited dog

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  • Been pursued by cows (Please note cows seem to like red running tops)
  • Bruised my spine running with my haversack on after work (Note: do not attempt to run home wearing a pair of cowboy boots and a jar of jam on your back)
  • Bought and broke 2 running haversacks
  • Cut my collarbones (see the previous statement)
  • Developed shinsplints and rhinitis
  • Endured 4 ice baths to ease the shinsplints! (For those unfamiliar with the extreme pleasure of an ice bath they are best enjoyed with your pants ON, a cup of tea, almond butter toast and wearing a hoodie)
  • Entered (and completed) 3 competitive races!
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with more races still to come… Gateshead 10k

  • Cut my toes and didn’t even notice (perhaps this is what people mean when they talk about ‘getting into the zone’?!)
  • Purchased a running wardrobe. (There’s a lot of fluorescent pink in there now.)
  • Eaten an inordinate amount of cake (running makes me hungry!)
  • Developed muscles I didn’t know I owned
  • Practiced a lot of yoga to stretch out those weary muscles…
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Carpet Yoga (note Super Hans’helping’ in the background)

Yet I’m undeterred! In fact I’ve even threw myself in at the deep end. Running in the UK monsoon conditions, which others may call ‘the Summer’, with my eyes closed as it’s too difficult to keep them open (perhaps this is a talent that I didn’t know I possessed?) and an all terrain 10k trail run.

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A spot of flash flooding up North to keep us on our toes

Almond Butter, promised me a miracle. It’s a high protein food that is full of Vitamin E and supposed to help prevent sore muscles and ease my aching legs! Hurrah! AND I had a bag of almonds already in the cupboard. It had to be made.

I threw a 200g bag of almonds (with their skins on) into the food processor and turned it up high. It wasn’t particuarly happy with this challenge, but with a little encouragement it ploughed through the almonds.

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Looking like ground almonds

About 4 minutes in (and a bit a scrapping down the sides of the bowl)the almonds looked like ground almonds, the kind you would use in macaroons. So you could make your own ground almonds from scratch too if you wished.

The instructions said to keep going and blitz them up as much as possible. About 10minutes in the almonds should ‘release’ their oils. This means that the almonds should then ball up in to a nice big lump of almond butter.

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Looks like the oils are being ‘released’ -scrambled nuts

However mine did not. It just kept looking like scrambled eggs made out of almonds and sticking infuriatingly to the bottom of the bowl. I religiously scraped the bowl with my spatula to ensure all of the almonds were getting an even blitzing, so much so my spatula got a bit sliced up on the blade and had to go to spatula Heaven. RIP trusty spatula.

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Adding coconut oil and honey – starting to come together….

Apparently you probably don’t need to add any oil to the mix as the almonds have enough oil to suffice. However I couldn’t get mine to stick together so I gradually added coconut oil, another super running food full of energy and good stuff (I clearly known my science stuff here) to help with those extra miles, until I got it to more of a paste like consistency. I also added a good slosh of honey to sweeten the mix, tasting it as I went to make sure it was to my liking.

Eventually I realised that I wasn’t going to get a peanut butter smoothness or glossy texture so I declared my Almond Butter done and popped the lot into a jam jar, ready for my pre run toast.

It is a little on the dry side and almost savoury (maybe I didn’t add enough honey or oil?!) but I quite like it. It doesn’t have any preservatives in it and it almost tastes healthy. You could use rapeseed oil or any other oil that you prefer too.

As it contains no preservatives, it needs to be stored in the fridge as the almond oil may go rancid. However the honey may help to preserve it as it’s the only natural substance that does not go off!

I’m going to see if I can incorporate my Almond Butter into some international baking too, but for now I’m going to just enjoy it on toast and spread on various fruits and vegetables too. Or if I’m feeling particularly lazy (or in a hurry) I might save myself the effort and chew on a handful of almonds instead…

The Final Product! Raw Almond Butter

Things I used to make my Raw Almond Butter

  • 200g of whole almonds with their skins on
  • A liberal splash of coconut oil (any oil would suffice)
  • Runny honey ( 1 to 2 tbsp)
  • A Strong Food Processor

22. Blood, Sweat and Baklava – Greece

This is without doubt the most epic bake that I have ever attempted. I’ve eaten Baklava in Greece, Turkey and Morocco. It is divine and very moreish with its honey soaked pastry. It’s one of my favourite sweet treats. I’ve been planning on attempting it for a while but was a bit hesitant to attempt Filo pastry from scratch as every book, including my Greek cookery book, said to buy it ready made pastry!

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Baklava

Undeterred I asked my foodie friends for some advice on Twitter and was very kindly assisted by @bakingelements who sent me a Michel Roux Filo recipe from his ‘Pastry’ book. Thank you so much for your help. Without those photos I couldn’t have done it!!

Filo requires a lot of time and patience. It’s really not for the faint hearted. The dough itself is quite a basic concoction, flour, water, salt mixed in the food processor with a dough hook. Seems simple enough…

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Then pour in oil while its mixing and wait until its all combined.

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It becomes rather sticky and stringy at this point.

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My new food processor was thoroughly christened in sticky dough in the process too… Cotton buds to the rescue!

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Then it required about 5 minutes of extra working on a cornfloured board. I had to add a lot of extra flour as it was SO incredibly sticky

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When it was worked sufficiently I measured it precisely (can you believe it? With scales and everything!) into 60g chunks. They had to rest in a cool place for 2hours on a floured tray covered in cling film so it didn’t dry out.

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Pain in the pistachios

This gave me enough time to de shell and husk a whole bag of pistachio nuts. (Note to self. Please buy nuts without their shells in the future.) This is 45minutes of my life I will never, EVER get back. I broke a couple of nails and showered the kitchen in shells when in desperation I smashed the nuts with the stick bit of the pestle and mortar. Not to mention the nips and cuts the little blighters gave me.

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Mixed Nuts

Into the food processor 1lb of mixed nuts I threw, the damn pistachios, whole almonds and walnuts. A quick whizz to chop them up and I added sugar, cloves, cinnamon and some pre chopped almonds.

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To help speed up the chilling process I popped the pastry into the fridge for a bit whilst prepping the pastry board and a vast supply of cornflour.

Now for the tricky and even more time consuming bit. Michel Roux had sensibly instructed me to prepare 60g balls of dough so I had manageable chunks to roll out. However I was also working with 2 separate Baklava recipes which suggested working with a round cake tin and a rectangular tray. Whilst trying to stretch this delicate pastry out I realised there was no way on earth I was ever going to get it to the length and width needed to fit such a long tray and of course roll it to the required 0.5mm thinness!!

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Still a bit too thick...

I decided to use a smaller square tin and ad lib from all 3 recipes that I was following. I greased and lined the tin in preparation.

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The first piece of rolling was lovely, dusting it with flour and gently rolling it out. I can’t believe I actually thought ‘brilliant this is going to be fun’. I lost count of how many sheets of Filo I rolled but as soon as you kind of get it to the right size and try to pick it up, it stretches, so its too big for the tin! Then it tears! And somehow your supposed to brush it with butter evenly too whilst it crinkles up and become more of a patchwork quilt. I had to trim bit here and there and add extra bits to cover the holes but I got there in the end.

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The first fantastically even and smooth layer. Look it reaches the edges (almost)!

I realised that 60g was too much per layer so had to divide each chunk into 4 to get the right thinness and to ensure I had enough layers to go round. I have feeling you’re supposed to let the pastry rest after rolling it but I didn’t have the time. I also had to stretch each piece to fit inside the tin so it was really practicable either.

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The actual amount of dough per layer pre rolling

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Post rolling (not quite a square...)

I also missed the step in the recipe that said you’re supposed to start with 8 layers of pastry on the bottom before you add any layers of nuts and sugar. I had 2 bottom layers and there was no going back. I was in Baklava lasagna mania and only had 2 hours to finish the whole thing.

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So so thin

I’m not sure how much butter I used but I had to refill the pan 3 times along the way.

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Excuse the messy Filo jigsaw

My theory was 2 layers of pastry then a layer of nuts. I attempted to butter both sides of the Filo that was to sit on top of the nuts, which is probably totally unnecessary but the paranoia of dry Filo was setting in. Each time I added a layer I had to cover the pan in cling film too to stop it drying out too.

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The top layer with 8 layers of Filo and a generous butter coating!!

Before cooking it I took my sharpest knife and cut it into cubes

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Precarious cutting through many layers.

I popped it in the fridge (but forgot the cling film!!) then set about simmering the syrup of honey, lemon juice, sugar, water and cinnamon. I added some rose water too.

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Start of syrup.

The Baklava needed 35mins of baking while the pan simmered. I almost burnt the syrup as I wanted to reduce it further and salvaged it by dunking the hot pan into cold water to stop it cooking.

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Nicely caramalised... Definitely not burnt.

Once the Baklava was crisp and golden it was ready to be drown in thick syrup.

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Crisp and golden Baklava

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Syrup soaked

I added a garnish of chopped nuts (I still have a bag left over so probably wouldn’t make as much next time) and some more syrup to top it off. Apparently it needs 4 hours to cool so I wrapped it in a towel and carried it to my friends house for our pudding. It definitely didn’t last long enough to cool for 4 hours!!

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Toppings

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Baklava Heaven

I was hoping after all the time and effort it would be ok and it really really was. The syrup soaked into every layer making a gorgeously sticky delight! Even with less pastry on the bottom it held together and cooked all the way through!

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Piles and piles of Baklava

I’m happy with my Filo experiment. I generally hate making pastry and this almost killed me. There was a lot of energy spent in making this so I don’t feel guilty in the slightest that I ate 2 massive pieces in one go. It did take an entire day to make but what an achievement! Now I’ve made Filo once I know I can do it but perhaps I might buy some ready made if I was going to attempt it again.

I’m now going for a lie down 🙂

*Recipes taken from:

Filo Pastry Michel Roux – Pastry Requires: 400g plain flour; 6g fine salt; 330ml water heated to 50 degrees C; 30ml olive oil; cornflour to dust

Baklava Recipe  Requires: 1 quantity of Filo Pastry; 1lb chopped nuts, cloves, cinnamon, 1 cup of butter, 1/3 cup of sugar

Syrup: 1 cup water; 1 cup sugar; 1/2 cup honey; 1 cinnamon stick; (I added an extra sprinkle of ground cinnamon); 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and I added 1 tablespoon of essence of rose water too.

The Traditional Greek Cookery Book Toubis Edition 2006

 

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4. Accidental Breakfast Muffins – America

I had a vision for what I wanted to bake but didn’t have a recipe to achieve it. I’ve attempted American muffins from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook about 5 times now and failed miserably to get them to rise and to look more appetising than a sludgey, sticky, tray bake, rather than lovely risen individual muffins. I give up!

Me in LA with Cary Grant

I’ve been to America quite a few times and they do indulgent food so well. I have quite a few American items on my baking wish list so where better a place to start than the good old fruit muffin.

Accidental Breakfast Muffins

I had over ripe bananas, oats, honey, raisins and rather a lot of apples to use up in the cupboards so I concocted this next baking attempt. I was thinking about how wonderful and creative the contestants on GBBO are and how they invent their own recipes so I found a basic banana muffin recipe and for better or worse, improvised…

Accidental Breakfast Muffins Recipe:

1 cup (115 grams) oats

2 and half  cups (230 grams) plain flour

2 cups (3/4 cup (150 grams) combination of half brown and half granulated white sugar.

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 large eggs lightly beaten

25grams unsalted butter

2 large ripe bananas mashed well (about 1-1/2 cups)

2 large apples diced

1 handful of raisins

2 tablespoons honey

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

sprinkle of honey and oats for the top of the muffins

Chopping the apples up in a hurry before yoga, I left them along with the oats to marinade in the fruity, sugary, cinammony mess that I had made. All that was left to do was to throw the rest of the dry ingredients in and gently mix it all together..

Accidents happen. Somehow, despite bringing my massive laptop into the kitchen and balancing it precariously on the hob, to avoid touch screen phone issues, I still misread the basic recipe!! Mixing up the measurements for the flour and sugar. I realised a little too late that I had added 3 times the amount of sugar (and extra honey that I had taken the initiative to chuck in too) that the recipe needed. Yikes, these were going to be ridiculously sweet muffins!

To balance this out I added more flour and oats. Creating more problems for myself, as per usual. Now I know that oats soak up all the available moisture, wherever they are. If only hadn’t poured away all the sugary apple juice that had seeped out from the fruit. But hey, you bake, you learn.

Pre baking in lovely silicon cases

I keep considering investing in a proper muffin or cupcake baking tray but have yet to commit to it. Undiscouraged by my lack of baking equipment yet again. (I see it as an opportunity to make life interesting…) I improvised. Using a set of silicon cupcake cases set on a flat baking tray. I filled paper muffin cases with the mixture and squashed them in to the silicon cases. I figured they would hold the muffins in the right place.

Extreme Close Up

You may wonder why I didn’t just cook the muffins in the silicon cases. I’ve had some unfortunate silicon cooking experiences; uncooked bottoms, half the cupcake stuck in the case etc. so prefer to use paper cases these days.  Once I ran out of silicon cases I rummaged round for something else ovenproof to hold the paper cases upright (and avoid  muffin sludgage) and landed upon some ramekins. Perfect.

Ramekins and Yorkshire Pudding TIn

Before I popped them in the oven a sprinkled on a few more oats on each muffin and drizzled on some honey to make them look all rustic and pretty.

The End Product

They smelled amazing and tasted really good too.  They were fully cooked and had a proper shape too! Amazing! Maybe paper cases in ramekins and silicon cases are the way forward? No more rivers of muffins for me! The only improvements that could be made would be to add an extra banana and leave in all the fruit juices. Maybe even a slightly bigger dollop of honey on the top too would add a bit more moisture. They were definitely sweet enough though! For my first attempt at full on recipe creation it wasn’t too bad, especially with a good cup of tea.

Now to share them with everyone at work, as I can’t possibly eat all of these myself!

So many muffins