Tuesday, February 1, 2011

I swear I still cook

I'm sorry, but I'm a little rusty. It's like going back to the gym after months of laying on the couch. Or going back to school after years of using a lesser portion of your brain. I don't really have a good excuse. I moved, changed jobs, experienced a major (but happy!) transition in my relationship. And I caught writer's block. I'm sorry I haven't written. But you should know that I've cooked.

Goodness, have I cooked. When you live in a new place with significantly less friends and obligations, you turn to what comforts you. I was reminded that for me, cooking equals comfort.
It's good to be back.

Speaking of comfort...

Immedietly prior to leaving DC I was the guest at a fabulous party hosted by my friends at Social Epicurean in honor of Chef Joan Nathan and to benefit Martha's Table, a DC-based non-profit with the mission of breaking the cycle of poverty by providing family-strengthening programs. What a party! I bought Joan's new book "Quiches, Kugels and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France" and sampled food from the book. I fell head over heels for Babka a la Francaise (a rich brioche-type bread stuffed with olive tapenade) and had to make them as soon as possible.

This was the first thing I baked in our new kitchen in Richmond. It's beyond fragrant and delicious slathered with butter and when the two of us couldn't finish all that bread we turned them into really gorgeous croutons.

Babka a la Francaise
This is taken directly from Joan Nathan's book, but I've made a few parenthetic notes where I made some intuitive changes. I really had a hard time incorporating the butter into the dough like they describe in the recipe in my Kitchen-aid. In the end, I took it out of the mixer and kneaded it by (greasy, messy) hand.

2.5 to 3 cups all purpose flour (I used closer to 2.5)
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 cup sugar
2 1/2 tsp yeast
1/2 cup whole milk, room temperature
1 large egg plus 3 to 4 yolks- enough to make 1/2 cup egg mixture total
1/2 cup unsalted butter cut in small chunks plus 2 tbsp melted butter
1 1/4 cups pitted black pincholine olives ( I don't know what pincholine is: I used a mixture of kalamata and oil cured)
2 canned anchovies, drained ( I used 1 tsp anchovy paste)
1 tablespoon fennel seeds, pulverized ( I would have reduced this to 1/2 tbsp)
1 to 2 tablespoon olive oil

Put 2.5 cups flour, salt, and all but 1 tbsp sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with dough hook attachment.

Put yeast and 1 tablespoon warm water (110-115 degrees) and the reserved sugar in a small bowl and let dissolve. With the mixer, using the dough hook on low speed, pour the yeast mix the milk and egg mixture in and mix into the bowl and mix on low speed. Knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 min, adding more flour if needed.

Add the pieces of butter one at a time until incorporated, then knead on low speed about 5 minutes until silken and rich ( I couldn't get there in the mixer and used my hands).

Transfer to a clean, greased bowl, cover with plastic and let rise about 2 hours. When doubled in size, punch down and press into plastice and refrigerate 2 hours or overnight.

To make filling: put olives, half anchovies and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a food processor (a mini one works best). Process until smooth and taste to correct for salt.

To assemble: grease two 9 inch round pans (HA! I didn't trust this part of the recipe and I should have. I used one 10" round pan which is why my photographs look like Dr. Suess Whoville Babkas- they were really overcrowded).

Take dough from refrigerator and divide in half. On a lightly floured surface, roll out each piece into 12x16 inch rectangle. Spread half of the filling over the dough leaving a 1/2 inch border. Tuck in the ends of the long side and roll it on up tightly. Cut, or use dental floss to divide into 12 equal pieces and place with cut sides up in each pan. There will be lots of extra room...that's ok.

Let them rise again while you pre-heat to 350. When they're ready for the oven, brush them with the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until golden. When cool, pull apart into babkas. PS: they are even better with more butter if you can believe it!

Even if you don't like anchovies, I'd suggest giving this a try.

So I hope you're ready: I've a few months of pent up postings. In the meantime, check out my baby brother's blog! www.krupskicookbook.blogspot.com He's taking after his big sis with his own blog and is doing some impressive writing about some of our down-home family recipes from Buffalo while he learns the traditions for himself. I was going to write about our family tradition of Wigilia, but he beat me to it.

And ladies: he's single.


  1. First of all, this looks amazing! I'm totally getting into the presentation of food just as much as the smell and taste!

    I'm not sure why, but all I could think about reading this was the Seinfeld episode where Elaine buys the "Chocolate Babka." If you can't remember the episode, ask dad! And thanks for the link! It'll be very tough to live up to you though!