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Saturday
Apr092011

Cherry Almond Babka

When I decided a few weeks ago to bake a babka, I did not realize what I was getting myself into. In hindsight, I think that my mother did; she even volunteered to pick one up for me at the Polish bakery. But being me, I didn't get the subtle hint.

Just to be clear, the problem was not making the babka.  The problem was finding a babka recipe. Or should I say finding a babka recipe that actually produced an edible babka.

Before I settled on a recipe, it was very clear to me that the recipes I found on the internet were all over the map in terms of their formula (i.e ratio of ingredients).  In hind sight, I think that this wild variation stems from a basic misunderstanding of what Polish Babka is.  Polish Babka is an enriched bread, like Brioche and Challah, which traditionally contains dried fruit. (More modern versions are made with cheese or chocolate filling.)  It is not a cake.

The recipe I eventually made was originally published in Country Living Magazine (of all places). Like a traditional brioche, this babka is enriched with a small amount of sugar, several eggs and butter.  It also contains a small amount of sour cream for added richness.

The recipe recommends dissolving the yeast in warm milk, with an additional teaspoon of sugar. This made me very skeptical at first, but my skepticism quickly waned as I witnessed a feeding frenzy before my eyes. As you can see from the picture on the right, the yeast devoured the sucrose (from the sugar) and the lactose (from the milk) in no time flat.

I followed the recipe as written, which produced a silky and smooth dough. It took my dough approximately 90 minutes to double in bulk (but you should start checking after 60 minutes).

The punched down dough was extremely easy to roll out, fill and re-roll.


However, after the second rise (in my very sunny dining room), I realized that this dough should have been divided in half and rolled into 2 crescent shaped babkas.  This became even more apparent after I baked the babka.  As you can see below, my crescent shaped babka officially morphed into a circle after baking!

Despite it's ungainly appearance, the finished babka was absolutely delicious.  The dough was rich and moist, and the almond paste/cherry filling was to die for. I will definitely make this recipe again.

Here is the printable recipe.

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Sunday
Apr032011

Quick Bite: Golden Couscous

Are you looking for a side dish that wows, and is quick and easy to prepare?  If the answer is yes, then look no further.  This couscous dish is amazing.  

This recipe was originally published in Bon Appetite Magazine in 2003.  Over the years, I have added a variety of dried fruits and nuts to the basic recipe.  Tonight's version featured chopped apricots and pine nuts.  This dish goes particularly well with lamb. But truth be told, it goes well with everything.

I hope that you enjoy it.  The printable recipe is here.

Sunday
Apr032011

Coconut Cream Tart

It seems like lately, there is always an extra tart shell floating around my kitchen. So faced with this dilemma a few weeks ago, I pulled out Martha Stewart's Pies & Tarts for some inspiration.

Martha published Pies & Tarts in 1985, and hands down, it is one of my favorite cook books of all times. Over the intervening 26 years, I have tried most of the tarts in this book, with a few exceptions. This recipe is one of the exceptions. 

If you are intimidated by the thought of baking a tart, this is a great recipe to try. The filling is basically a coconut custard, which is cooked on the stove top and poured into a baked and cooled tart shell. The "cream" referrs to whipped cream, which can be served on the side, or piped onto the tart before serving.

I was generally pleased with the way that the tart came out, but I felt that the custard needed some additional sweetness. The obvious fix: use sweetened coconut flakes, in lieu of the unsweetened flakes that the original recipe calls for. 

This tart would be a lovely dessert for Easter.  The printable recipe is here.

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Saturday
Mar192011

Green Food (Sort of)

St Patrick's Day came and went on Thursday, and nary one green thing was whipped up in my kitchen. So today, in lieu of baking humatashen for Purim, I baked a belated key lime tart for St Patrick. (Actually, St Pat requested a key lime cheesecake, but we will not even go there.)

Key limes are cute. They are much smaller than Persian limes and typically have a yellow rind when fully ripe.  Most commercial growers tend to pick them on the green side, when the fruit is less mature and more tart.

My bag contained quite a few yellow limes, but the juice was still extremely tart. As a result, I added an additional 1/4 cup of sugar to my basic curd recipe.

I forgot to take a picture of the curd! But as you can see below, the curd is (sort of) green, despite all the egg yolks that are added. 

For a change of pace, I decided to put a meringue on top of the tart. I used the meringue recipe from Martha Stewart's "Mile-High Lemon Meringue Pie".

The recipe calls for 8-12 egg whites and 6 Tbsp sugar*.  I realized, in hindsight, that this ratio is off. David Lebovitz recommends 5 Tbsp of sugar to 2 egg whites.  I will need to consult with my mother, the meringue guru, to see what she does.

Despite my misgivings about the meringue recipe, the tart come out fine. I apologize for the over exposed picture.  Sunshine was pouring into the kitchen and my camera battery died just as I was about to reshoot the picture!  

*I just looked up Martha's recipe online, and it has been significantly modified from her 1985 "Pies and Tarts" Cookbook (which I used).  The online version recommends 3/4 cup sugar to 7 egg whites.

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