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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35. Merry Christmas! Stollen – Germany

Ok, ok, this may have been a long time coming (or perhaps I’m just ultra organised for this coming  prepared for Christmas)  BUT now it’s Summer it makes perfect sense to stop by Germany for a spot of Christmas Stollen. My wonderful baking friend Julie over at Sweetgum Bakery sent me a copy of her Patisserie course workbook (all the way from Australia I may add) which had this delicious recipe. I love this  book. It teaches you the techniques to create beautiful ‘bakery products for Patissiers’ including pastries and breads. I have already had a good go at a few things like  pretty dinner rolls pretending to be a real Patissier. This Stollen recipe  encompasses everything that I love about Christmas. Marzipan, spice, RUM and dried fruit. What’s not to love??

Stollen is for life, not just for Christmas

A stollen is a sweet, rich yeast dough laced with almond paste (or marzipan) and studded with dried fruit. Perfect for your Christmas celebrations (or any tea table al year round! Why deny yourself something so gorgeous just because it’s not December?!)  I may start just eating this all year round. I bet you could also make smaller Stollen buns or a Stollen Crown loaf, or a Stollen plait, or Stollen cupcakes! I might be getting carried away but the possibilities are endless.

Stollen is a traditional European dish which originated in Germany. You can vary the filling depending on your mood (or what’s in your cupboards) with flaked almonds, poppyseeds, or sultanas and candied peel. Whatever you prefer! Apparently you can also purchase Stollen tins to help keep the traditional shape during baking, but I am yet to find one. Although I’m sure it would be a wise investment indeed as I think mine spread a little on the baking sheet, but this didn’t stop it tasting lovely.

It’s always a good idea to pre soak your sultanas in a generous slosh of rum overnight to plump them up and enhance their flavour. It also adds to the festivities.

As with any yeast based dough it requires some proving time so make sure you have some time to spend with your Stollen. The recipe calls for compressed yeast. I was using instant dried yeast so adapted the method to suit.

Yeasty flour

Mix the 20g of  flour, 7g instant yeast (normally when I make a loaf of bread 500g of flour requires 7g of instant yeast so I used 1 sachet of Hovis instant yeast) and milk (200g)  together. Mix together then leave to prove for 20 mins in a warm place.

Yeasty batter

Add the rest of the flour (380g) to the mix along with an egg, lemon zest, lemon extract and sugar (100g). Mix all of the ingredients together in a large mixing bowl and cover with a tea towel or cling film. Leave in a warm place to prove until it’s doubled in size

Buttery yeasty batter

Add the butter and mix it in until it becomes clear.

Proving time

Cover and leave the dough to prove again in a warm place, for an hour or so until it has doubled in size.

Dough has definitely doubled in size!

Knock back the dough and mix the sultanas, mixed peel (and optional nuts) in carefully, so as to not break the skins of the dried fruit.

Mixed Fruit

I used sultanas and cranberries (what I had in the cupboard!)

Fold in the fruit

Leave the dough to prove again for another half an hour, whilst you prepare the marzipan filling.

Making Marzipan Filling

Taking shop bought marzipan (120g) add the lemon zest and  an egg yolk and mix together to create a firm paste.

Marzipan paste

Divide the marzipan into 3 and roll into 3 long ‘logs’ (about 30cms long). I found my marzipan was a bit on the sticky side at this point so arranged it onto a sheet of cling film and rolled it inside the clingfilm. This made it a bit easier to move into the fridge to let it firm up a bit more.

Marzipan logs

Chilled Marzipan Logs

Take the dough and roll it out lightly with a rolling pin, into a rectangular shape. Aproximately 30cm long and 15 cms wide.

Flattened sticky fruity dough

Arrange the chilled marzipan logs in the centre of the flattened dough and fold the edges of the dough over to enclose the marzipan. Seal the edges of the dough.

Arranged Marzipan Logs

Place the dough, sealed edge down, onto a baking sheet greased and lined with greaseproof paper. Allow the dough to prove for the final time. Then bake for 25 minutes at 200 degrees C.

Sealed and shaped stollen

Once it’s baked place on a wire rack to cool. While it’s still warm pour the melted butter over the top of the loaf. This step may feel a bit on the odd side, as when pouring a cup of melted over the Herman the German Friendship Cake  but believe me it’s utterly delicious.

Straight out the oven Stollen

After a day the butter seeps into all  of the available sweet dough crevices and infuses the Stollen with a gorgeous buttery moisture. It also helps to stop it from going stale so it can keep for a week (if you can bear to hang on to it for that long).

Soaked in butter Stollen

When it has cooled completely dust the Stollen with a generous dose of icing sugar, for added Christmas magic and sweetness. (It also helps to keep your fingers from getting all buttery and greasy.

Snowy Stollen

One of my friends told me this was her favourite bake so far in the aroundtheworldin80bakes challenge. I have to agree. I love the gooey marzipan layer sandwiched into the dough and I love the plump and juicy sultanas.

Snowy sliced Stollen

Although I think my dough didn’t rise quite as much as it should have, as it spread out on the baking sheet, it was most definitely worth the effort. To help spread the Stollen love and festive cheer I chopped it up into Stollen bites and took a batch to work and it quickly disappeared. A good sign indeed!

Stollen Bites

Does it feel like Christmas yet??

Extreme Stollen Close Up

yum yum yum

Just in case you would like to have a go here’s what I used to create this German Stollen

To make the initial yeast paste

  • Strong plain flour (20g) –
  • Instant yeast (7g)
  • Milk at 30 degrees C (200g)

Yeast Dough (add the yeast paste to)

  • Sugar (100g)
  • Lemon zest (1/4 tsp)
  • Lemon extract (1g)
  • Butter (100g)
  • Strong Plain Flour (380g)
  • 1 egg
  • salt 3g

The Fruity Filling

  • Sultanas (pre soaked in a slosh of rum) (120g)
  • Mixed peel (25g)

The Marzipan Filling

  • Marzipan (120g)
  • 1/2 egg yolk
  • Lemon zest (1/4 tsp)

The Final Topping

  • Butter (melted) 40g
  • Icing Sugar (40g)