Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Winter Squash Polenta

As winter begins to recede and spring slowly emerges, thought I'd give one last hoorah to the winter squash. Am so grateful to the winter squash, such as butternut, kabocha, delicata, hubbard, Queensland Blue, kuri, etc. Winter squash, one of the few vegetables to withstand the cold temperatures and to consistently make its presence felt throughout even the coldest of the winter months. By this time of the year, I've eaten my fair share of winter squash (in sweet and savory dishes alike). But, there's always room for one (or two) more.

Polenta or "Italian grits", a humble dish with humble beginnings (formerly thought of as peasant food); it's now as ubiquitous as pasta. Polenta is made from corn meal (preferably GMO-free). You can find it in different grinds, coarse or fine; the more finely ground, the softer and creamier your polenta will be. I personally like a smoother polenta, but that's entirely up to you. It doesn't get much more basic than this: polenta, butternut squash, stock, sage, a little Parmesan cheese, butter, and olive oil. You begin with the stock and whisk in the polenta, continually stirring, adding more stock, sage, cheese, salt and pepper as needed (and finally the squash puree), to slowly build up the flavors, until it reaches just the right creamy, smooth consistency. I topped the polenta with some cremini and shiitake mushrooms (sauteed in a little butter and olive oil), but you can change it up depending on your likes; for instance, you could top with braised meats or grilled shrimp.

In addition to serving as a smooth and creamy porridge, you can chill the polenta in the refrigerator for a few hours and then make polenta "fries", or you can cut into cubes and make "croutons" to garnish a mixed green salad. It's really very versatile, which speaks volumes to its appeal.

Am already thinking ahead to a summer version (minus the squash) topped with a fresh salsa of heirloom tomatoes.

Winter Squash Polenta
3 pounds butternut (or other varietal) squash, halved lengthwise, seeded
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3/4 teaspoon fresh sage, chopped
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups *polenta
2 3/4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 3/4 cups water plus more as needed
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon minced fresh sage
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

*You can also use instant polenta, which will be done in a fraction of the amount of time.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Arrange the squash, cut side up, in large a roasting pan. Drizzle olive oil over the top. Sprinkle with sage, salt and pepper. Cover with foil and bake until the squash is fork tender, about 1hour. Cool slightly. Scoop the squash into a food processor or blender and puree until smooth.

Combine the broth, water and salt in heavy large saucepan. Bring to a boil. Gradually whisk in the polenta. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, adding more water as needed, until the mixture is very thick and creamy, stirring often, about 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in the fresh sage and squash puree.

Cook until heated through, about 2 minutes. Stir in the cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Herbed Polenta "Fries" 
Extra virgin olive oil
3 1/4
cups cold water 
1 cup *polenta
teaspoon chopped fresh sage
teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits

*You can also use instant polenta.

Brush an 8-inch square baking dish with oil.

Combine the water, polenta, herbs, and salt in a heavy medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring constantly with a long-handled wooden spoon, until polenta begins to pull away from side of pan, about 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in the cheese and butter until incorporated, then transfer the polenta to the baking dish, spreading evenly with a rubber spatula. Chill, uncovered, until set, about 45 minutes.

Preheat the broiler. Line a baking sheet with foil and brush with oil. Unmold the polenta, and cut into sticks. Brush the tops with oil and space evenly on the baking sheet. Broil about 4 inches from the heat until golden, about 20 minutes (flip halfway through). Serve hot.

Just needs a little dipping sauce, perhaps some homemade spicy tomato sauce or garlic aioli...

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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Framboise Lambic and Goat Cheese Ice Cream Float

This frozen dessert can best be described as raspberry cheesecake in a glass. As an alternative to your traditional root beer float, this version uses Framboise Lambic, a Belgian beer that is fermented with raspberries (they also make a cherry, peach, and black currant version).  This lambic has a rather low alcohol content, coming in at around 4 to 5%. This is not the type of beer I usually go for, a bit too sweet for my taste. However, the combination of the tart, sour notes from the goat cheese ice cream marry well with the sweet raspberry effervescence of the lambic. I've typically seen this made with vanilla ice cream, but am really diggin' the goat cheese addition. I chose a creamy chevre and the goat cheese flavor really comes through.

This may not strike you as a typical winter dessert; although there's not been much of a winter this year (at least not here in Washington, DC). Having spent ten, long, cold winters in Chicago (and many a day in which it was so bitterly cold that you were reluctant to emerge from under the covers), on the few days when it has been coldish [here in DC] such that I needed a light jacket, I quietly chuckled to myself as I overheard a few people commenting about the "cold" weather.

Anyway, I came across this combination of lambic and ice cream while surfing around online. I opted to change things up a bit by using fresh goat cheese from my local farmers' market (to accompany milk and eggs I picked up as well).

I already have plans to make this again in the spring -- garnished with a few fresh raspberries on top (can't wait to see you spring). Or, forgo the lambic and make a nice raspberry sauce to drizzle over the goat cheese ice cream.

To be continued in spring 2012...

Lambic and Goat Cheese Ice Cream Float
Raspberry Framboise Lambic
goat cheese ice cream

Scoop the ice cream into a tall glass. Pour the Lambic over the ice cream. Eat immediately.

Goat Cheese Ice Cream
from David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop (makes about 3 cups)
1 1/2 cups whole milk
2/3 cup sugar
8 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
6 egg yolks

Warm the milk and sugar in a medium sauce pan. Place the goat cheese in a large bowl with a mesh strainer on top. In a separate bowl whisk the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm milk-sugar mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Scrape the egg yolk mixture back into the sauce pan. Stir over medium heat, until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a wooden spoon. Pour the custard through the strainer and stir it into the goat cheese. Whisk until well incorporated. Chill in the refrigerator and freeze in your ice cream maker.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Smoked Mackerel "Brandade" with Rye Seed Crackers

Brandade is traditionally made with rehydrated salt cod. Unfortunately, I recently learned that cod is overfished.  As I like cod and don't want to see it become extinct any time soon, I opted for a more sustainable alternative. Good news, there are other fish in the sea. I decided to go with one of my favorite oily fish, (Norwegian or Boston) mackerel. Given that I used mackerel in lieu of cod, not sure you can technically call it a brandade. That's okay, just call it smoked fish spread or salad, or whatever you like.

I smoked the mackerel in my Cameron stovetop smoker, but you can easily substitute with any store bought smoked fish (whitefish, bluefish, trout). I've read that you can create an indoor smoker with a wok and some steamer baskets, but have yet to try this method). Oily fish work best in the smoker (the oiliness pairs well with the smokiness and produces an extremely moist fish). After smoking, I mixed the mackerel with boiled Yukon Gold potatoes, lots of garlic, chopped chives, and olive oil. Finished it under the broiler for a few minutes until the top got nicely browned.   

Smoked whitefish spread screams for a toasty New York bagel, or perhaps a slice of Jewish rye bread. I've made multigrain bagels in the past, so decided to try something a little different -- rye seed crackers (with ground flax, pumpkin, and sunflower seeds)
topped with sesame seeds, coarse sea salt, and nigella seeds (aka charnushka or black onion seeds); nigella seeds are the tiny, black, smoky flavored seeds found atop Jewish rye bread. If you can't find nigella seeds, don't worry, you can use just about any seed, spice, and/or herb to garnish these crackers. I added a sprinkling of fresh chopped rosemary to a few. The key to these crackers is to roll them out as thin as possible. Then, bake in the oven as large sheets, until crispy and golden brown. When the cracker sheets have cooled, break them up into jagged, non-uniform pieces. And of course, top with some of the warm, smoked fish "brandade" spread.

Smoked Mackerel "Brandade"
12 ounces smoked mackerel (about two 1-pound whole Boston mackerel)
8 ounces Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into cubes
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus extra to drizzle
6 cloves garlic
1 1/2 tablespoons chives, chopped
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Smoke each mackerel for 22 to 25 minutes (about 22 minutes for 11 to13 ounces of mackerel; about 25 minutes for 14-16 ounces of mackerel). When cool enough to handle, separate the meat from the bones (being careful to remove all the little bones). Boil the potatoes until fork tender. Drain. Place half of the shredded mackerel in a food processor with the potatoes. Slowly drizzle in 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Puree until smooth. Place the mackerel-potato mixture in a large bowl.

With a fork, mash in the remaining shredded mackerel, chopped chives, and enough olive oil (~1 to 2 tablespoons) to form a smooth spread. Season with salt and pepper. Place the fish spread in a small oven proof cocotte or ramekin, drizzle with a little olive oil, and place under the broil for about 5 minutes until the top is crispy and browned. Serve warm, atop some crusty french bread, a toasty bagel, or homemade rye crackers. 

Rye Seed Crackers
4 tablespoons sunflower seeds 
4 tablespoon pumpkin seeds
3 tablespoons flax seeds
6 tablespoons sesame seeds
8 ounces rye flour
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
6 fluid ounces water, room temperature
egg wash (1 egg white plus 2 tablespoons water)

Suggested garnishes
sesame seeds
nigella seeds
coarse sea salt
fresh chopped herbs (rosemary, thyme, oregano)
ground spices (cumin, garlic salt, chile powder)

Grind the sunflower and pumpkin seeds to a fine powder in a spice grinder. Place in a small bowl. Grind the flax seeds to a fine powder in a spice grinder. Combine the seed powders, sesame seeds, rye flour, salt, olive oil, and water. Transfer to a lightly floured work surface and kneed for a few minutes until well incorporated (slightly tacky but not sticky).

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Divide the dough into quarters (keeping the rest covered with plastic wrap). Roll out the first piece of dough to ~ 1/16-inch thick. Brush the surface with egg wash and sprinkle with the garnishes. Repeat with the remaining dough. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until slightly browned and crispy. Break into pieces.

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Friday, February 17, 2012

Thai Red Seafood Curry with Garlicky Greens

This dish is the epitome of fast food (or at least what most other parts of the world call fast food). Took about 5 minutes of cooking time in a hot wok from start to finish (how's that for fast?). Although, there is a huge difference between this dish and what we traditionally think of as "fast food"; that is, this dish contains real food (as nature intended), absent of unnecessary chemicals, fillers, and a laundry list of unpronounceable, mystery ingredients (that have no right to be there in the first place, but to make the product shelf-stable for eternity). With a side of sauteed garlicky greens and some rice, you have yourself one quick, healthy, and oh so tasty meal. Beats a frozen dinner or trip through the drive-thru any day.

The basis for this quick and easy dish is Thai red chile paste. You can make the paste ahead of time and store in the refrigerator for a few weeks; one batch of paste is enough for several servings. Then when you're in the mood for a mid-week curry, it's there waiting for you. Just heat up a wok (or skillet), add the red chile paste, seafood, stock, fish sauce, a little sugar, and fresh basil. Within minutes, the flavors come together to produce a nicely balanced sauce, with good depth of flavor, and just the right amount of heat (that you'll want to slurp up with a big soup spoon). I'm a big fan of squid, but if you don't share the same enthusiasm for these cephalopods, you can substitute with any combination of seafood (shrimp, mussels, clams, scallops, etc.), or even a firm white fish (salmon as well); it's so versatile. I've recently discovered smoked tofu (who knew there was such a thing), which may be a nice addition as well (seared a few minutes per side until crispy and browned).

Thai Red Seafood Curry
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 tablespoons Thai red chile paste (recipe below)
1/2 pound squid (body and tentacles), cleaned, cut into ~1/2-inch rings
1/2 pound shrimp, cleaned and deviened
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
2 teaspoons fish sauce
1 teaspoon palm (or brown) sugar
large handful basil leaves, thinly sliced

Heat the oil in a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat. When (smoking) hot add the Thai curry paste and saute a minute or two, until fragrant. Add the shrimp and squid and saute about 2 minutes. Add the stock, fish sauce, and sugar. Saute another minute or two, until the shrimp and squid are cooked through. Add the basil leaves and stir. Serve hot with a side of (brown) rice.

Thai Red Chile Paste
15 dried red (long or bird's eye) Thai chiles
1 teaspoon shrimp paste
2 tablespoons lemongrass, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon fresh galangal (or ginger, if you can't find galangal), minced
2 tablespoons cilantro roots/stems, chopped
3 tablespoons shallots, diced
1/4 cup garlic, roughly chopped
*fresh Thai red chiles to taste (2 for medium heat and 3-4 for hot)
lime zest, 5 large strips (used a vegetable peeler)
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
3 tablespoons vegetable oil

*Note: mother nature is unpredictable and spice levels may vary (start with less chile, you can always add more).

Remove the stems and seeds from the dried chiles and rehydrate in hot water for about 30 minutes. Drain and set the chiles aside, reserving the soaking liquid.

Wrap the shrimp paste in foil and toast in a dry skillet over low heat, about 4-5 minutes (makes the shrimp paste more fragrant). Set aside.

Add all of the ingredients to a blender jar (except for the vegetable oil). If not using the shrimp paste, substitute 1 teaspoon salt. Process until smooth. If needed, add some of the reserved chile soaking liquid until you have a smooth paste. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the paste and stir for 2-3 minutes, until the oil incorporates into the paste. Let cool and store in an air tight container in the refrigerator. Will last about 2 weeks.

Garlicky Greens
olive oil
4-5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 Thai chile, thinly sliced
1 bunch of broccolini, Chinese broccoli, or your favorite greens
salt and pepper to taste
sesame seeds for garnish (optional)

Heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil in a wok over medium heat. Add the garlic and thai chile and saute a few minutes until soft but not browned. Remove the garlic and chiles and set aside. Add the broccolini and a little more olive oil if needed, season with salt and pepper to taste, and saute, until the broccolini is tender. Sprinkle the reserved garlic and chile over the broccolini, and some sesame seeds, if you like. Serve hot.

Note: I drizzled a little bit of the broth from the curry over the finished broccolini; a tasty addition.

I like a good dose of garlic with my greens; feel free to add more or less according to your taste. Ditto for the chiles.

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Sunday, February 12, 2012

Chicken Liver Pasta

Fear not chicken liver...

They're exceptionally good in pasta, with cippolini onions, fresh sage, and Parmesan --- earthy goodness...

There's a great wine shop near my house that I frequent from time to time (okay, quite a bit). If you ever find yourself in a wine shop that doesn't carry bottles you are familiar with, selecting good wine can be an adventure in the absence of a concise written review from the store's staff. That's when knowledgeable and friendly staff are key. Even better is when you've become a regular and the staff already have a bottle or two in mind for you. "There's a funky, dirty wine that I think you'll like," I can hear one of the staff yelling over to me a few aisles away. That may not sound like something to look for in a bottle of wine, but what it equates to, at least in my mind, is an earthy, terroir-driven, old-world style wine -- that's what I like (none of that uber ripe, overextracted, overly-oaked stuff that tends to predominate).

Likewise, that's how I feel about liver (and most other organ meats). You really get the earthy, minerally qualities from these parts of the animal. These chicken livers come from Eco-friendly Foods, whose philosophy is as follows: "To create sustainable networks of enlightened farmers who raise eco-friendly livestock and food crops that nourish people and the land." Gotta love that!

Have grown to really appreciate offal (and snout-to-tail cooking) in recent years. This particular dish was inspired by a recent meal at Osteria in Philadelphia. Osteria has a chicken liver pasta dish on their menu that exemplifies Italian comfort food -- earthy and rich, with an undoubtedly good amount of butter and Parmesan cheese. Chef Mark Vetri writes:

"That chicken liver pasta was on our menu at Osteria for two months. Then one day I walked into the restaurant and it wasn’t on the menu anymore. I asked Jeff [his chef] about it and he said he wanted to change things up. I screamed, 'Are you out of your mind??!!!?? It is the perfect, most innovative, most unexpected dish. It should be on the menu forever!' That’s an argument that I won pretty easily."

Enough said.

Chicken Liver Pasta
1/2 pound pasta, such as rigatoni
1 tablespoon olive oil plus more for drizzling
2 tablespoons butter
4 cippolini onions, peeled, thickly sliced
1/2 pound chicken livers, trimmed
10-12 fresh sage leaves
~2 tablespoons cooked beans, such as cannellini or borlotti (optional)
1/4 cup dry white wine or dry sherry
3 (canned) tomatoes, roughly chopped
Parmesan cheese for grating
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

In a large pot of generously salted boiling water, cook the pasta until just al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving 3/4 cup of the cooking water.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon each of olive olive and butter. Add the onions and saute 4 to 5 minutes until soft and translucent. Add the chicken livers, season with salt and pepper, and cook about 2 minutes until lightly browned on the bottom. Turn the livers over. Add the wine and cook, scraping up any bits on the bottom of the pan, until the liquid is evaporated and the livers are cooked through, about 2 minutes. Break up large pieces of liver with a spoon. Add the sage leaves, beans (mash a few with a spoon), tomatoes, the remaining 1 tablespoon butter, and the reserved pasta water. Season with salt and pepper. Continue cooking until most of the water has evaporated. Add the pasta, toss with the sauce and cook until warmed through. Sprinkle with a couple tablespoons of Parmesan cheese. Finish with a drizzle of good olive oil and a few grinds of black pepper. Serve immediately. 

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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Blood Orange and Roasted Fennel Salad

I have a thing for bright, vibrant colors. I have a closet full of colorful spring dresses, most of which I accumulated while in Chicago of all places (which is entirely impractical for Chicago weather; should be investing in heavy winter sweaters to keep me warm, but that just seems so dull in comparison).  Time after time, my eyes are immediately lured in the direction of a colorful garment; especially a cute little Diane Von Ferstenberg wrap dress (on sale, of course).

That being said, a colorful plate of food tends to have the same alluring effect. Blood oranges from the outside look rather like your typical naval orange, but when you cut in, you are presented with beautiful shades of orange, red, and crimson...a nice pop of color to brighten up any dreary winter day. Blood oranges are wonderful on their own, as a refreshing glass of freshly squeezed juice, a frozen dessert (such as sorbet or granita, next on my to-do list), or a great addition to liven up a simple salad.

This particular salad is paired with fennel -- orange and fennel -- a classic combination. You can thinly shave the fennel and add it to the salad raw, but I prefer to roast the fennel in the oven until tender and a bit browned and caramelized, bringing out it's inherent sweet anise flavors. I've also made a simple dressing with toasted and ground fennel seeds, and used the fennel fronds as garnish, utilizing fennel three ways. Makes for a nice light, refreshing salad with perhaps a blood orange mimosa (blood orange juice + your favorite bubbly).

Roasted fresh fennel (left); Toasted and crushed fennel seed (right)...

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Baked Broccoli Rabe Ravioli

Pasta making may seem like a daunting task, but, it's not that hard, really. Actually, it's quite fun and rewarding to roll out your own pasta. I recently purchased the pasta attachment for my KitchenAid stand mixer, which makes the process a breeze. Before that, I used a hand crank pasta machine. The hand crank pasta machine takes a little more coordination. You almost need a third hand -- the first to pass the dough, the second to crank the machine, and the third to catch it on the other end. Nonetheless, with a little practice (and patience) you'll get a rhythm down. And in the end, you'll have delicate, tender pasta that vastly exceeds your average dried, store-bought variety.

I came across this interesting preparation for making ravioli -- you boil the pasta sheets, stuff them, and then bake them in the oven until crispy around the edges -- rather rustic in appearance. You can stuff them with just about anything you like. I stuffed this batch with a mixture of broccoli rabe (aka rapini), fresh ricotta, and pecorino cheese. If you've never had broccoli rabe, it has a bit of a bite and is more bitter than broccoli, which it resembles (even though broccoli rabe is more closely related to the turnip than broccoli per se). Cooking helps to tame the bitterness. Lastly, I topped the ravioli with a little basil oil, which adds a light, refreshing touch, and garnished with a few toasted pinenuts.

The filling is skewed in favor of the greens as opposed to the cheese (although there's still enough cheese in there to make its presence known).

Baked Broccoli Rabe Ravioli
Adapted from Food and Wine
1 cup packed basil leaves

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 1/2 pounds broccoli rabe (aka rapini), cut into 2-inch florets

Red pepper flakes to taste
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1/2 cup fresh ricotta

1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons freshly grated pecorino cheese, plus more for serving

1/2 pound fresh lasagna sheets,
cut into 4 by 4 inch squares (recipe below)
Pine nuts, toasted (optional)

Blanch the basil in boiling water for 20 seconds. Drain and rinse under cold water; squeeze dry. In a food processor, puree the basil with 1/2 cup of the olive oil. Season with salt and transfer to a small bowl.

In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the broccoli rabe, 1/2 cup of water, red pepper flakes, and butter, cover and cook over moderately low heat until tender, 6 to 7 minutes. Let cool. Coarsely puree the broccoli in a food processor; transfer to a bowl. Stir in the ricotta and 1/4 cup of the pecorino and season with salt and pepper.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta squares in the water until tender, about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes (I cooked in batches). Drain, pat dry and rub with a little oil to prevent sticking.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Lightly coat a large, shallow baking dish with oil. Place two heaping tablespoons of the filling into the center of each pasta square. Fold the squares into triangles and arrange in the dish in a single layer. Sprinkle with 3 tablespoons of the Pecorino. Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes, until the cheese starts to brown. Drizzle with the basil oil. Top with toasted pine nuts.

Home Made Pasta
9 ounces/255 grams flour (used 6 ounces/170 grams 00 flour and 3 ounces/85 grams white-wheat; can use all-purpose flour)
3 eggs, room temperature

Combine the flour and eggs in a bowl and mix with a fork (or your fingers) to combine. When the dough comes together, knead on a floured work surface, pressing with the heel of your hand, folding it over, until smooth, 5 to 10 minutes.

Form the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and rest on the counter for 20 to 30 minutes. Cut the dough into four pieces. Roll the dough through the pasta roller, continually passing the dough through the machine until desired thickness (rolled to setting 6 on my pasta roller). 

I rolled out the pasta a day in advance, dusted them with semolina flour to prevent the sheets from sticking together into one big clump, cut them into squares, wrapped them in plastic wrap, and then refrigerated them over night. The great thing about homemade pasta is that it is so fresh, it takes literally minutes to cook.

Oh, and don't toss the scraps of dough. They make great noodles, albeit a little misshapen, but flavorful nonetheless.

Michael Ruhlman has a nice post on homemade pasta. I used his ratio, but substituted 1/3 white-wheat flour into the mix. Might play around with adding a little more next time or even experimenting with some other types of flours--spelt, amaranth...some fresh herbs mixed into the dough would be nice too. 

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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Chocolate Babka

Babka=sweet yeast cake

Who doesn't like a chocolate babka? It's chocolaty, it's swirly, it's delicious. It's definitely the superior babka, not like cinnamon babka, which is clearly the lesser babka [in the words of Seinfeld]. How can one eat babka without thinking about Seinfeld?

I haven't had babka in years. Grew up in New York, but have long since moved away. Finding a quality babka outside of the Big Apple is a difficult feat. Next best option, bake one yourself. It's a rather simple bread to make. In fact, I melted the chocolate in the microwave, no double boiler method required. The dough, 10 minutes of kneading and about an hour to 90 minute rise, and you're ready to go. 

In my opinion, this bread is best when loaded up with chocolate. In my book, the more chocolate filling the better, and the darker the chocolate, double the goodness. So, I slathered the dough with lots of dark chocolate (8 ounces per loaf of 70-80% cacao), in addition to cocoa powder.

Once you roll up the dough into two long logs, you intertwine them to create one braided loaf (should have snapped a photo of this, but my hands were covered in chocolate and couldn't get to my camera). Next, pop the babka into a loaf pan, brush with egg wash, top with a liberal amount of crumb topping, place in the oven, and wait it done yet? how about now? or now??

When golden brown, take the babka out of the oven and walk away, for at least 20 minutes. I know, how cruel, but babka is best when cooled just a bit, and also much easier to slice. Now that it's cooled, time to dig in.

Looking forward to a slice with my morning coffee.

Chocolate Babka
adapted from Leah's Famous Chocolate Babka

makes 1 large loaf (8-inch pan)
Yeasted sweet dough (recipe below)
Chocolate filling (recipe below)
Crumb topping (recipe below)
Egg wash (1 egg yolk, 1 tablespoon milk)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8-inch loaf pan.

Roll the dough out until about 8 inches wide and 20 inches long (do not flour your work surface). Spread the chocolate filling over the surface of the stretched dough. Lift and roll the dough length wise, so that you have one long roll. Cut the dough into two equal halves. Place the two rolls side by side and intertwine them into one braided loaf.  Place the loaf in the greased pan.

Brush the loaf with egg wash and liberally sprinkle with the crumb topping. Bake for 35 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool.

Yeasted Sweet Dough
1 package active dry yeast (1/4 ounce)
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1/4 cup (4 ounces) butter
2 1/4 to 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Dissolve the yeast in 1/4 cup warm water. Let rest and bubble for a while.

Add the milk, sugar, salt, egg, butter, and half of the flour. Mix with a wooden spoon or beat with a hand mixer.

Add the remaining flour, a little at a time, to form a soft dough (not too sticky and not too stiff). Knead the dough by hook or hand until very smooth about 10 minutes.

Grease a large bowl, add the dough and turn to the oiled side up. Cover with a towel until doubled in bulk (about 60 to 90 minutes).

Chocolate Filling
8 ounces dark (70-80% cacao) chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) butter
2-4 tablespoons sugar, depending on desired sweetness
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place all chocolate filling ingredients in a microwavable safe bowl. Microwave for ~ 1 minute and then whisk to combine all the ingredients until smooth.

Crumb Topping
1/4 stick (2 tablespoons) cold butter, cut into small pieces
2 1/2 tablespoons confectioner's sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons flour

Mash butter, sugar, and flour with a fork, until small crumbs form.

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