I feel every person should have at least one hobby. An activity or pastime that brings happiness, allows for creative/artistic expression, or provides an opportunity to put hidden talents on display. One of my personal favorite hobbies is acting and, for the past three weeks, I have had the distinct pleasure of performing in a play with a wonderful group of people. This particular play tells the story of a proudly Polish and slightly dysfunctional family full of memorable characters. So, for the cast party after our final performance this past Saturday, I decided to bake Babka, a traditional Polish delight.
This recipe, first and foremost, illustrates the saint-like patience that is required when baking homemade breads and pastries. Patience that I, as a non-saint-like person, woefully lack. The total time from start to completion was a whopping three hours. That does not mean that the steps were difficult, however, just that there were long periods of waiting between executing them.
This was also the first recipe that called for a piece of specialized kitchen equipment. A spring pan. Now I had, of course, heard of a spring pan before. But, I only had a vague notion of how it worked. In fact, if I were asked to write down everything that I knew about spring pans, the result would most likely have been a poorly drawn picture, in crayon, of two people eating cheesecake. I knew that you needed a spring pan to make cheesecake. But, since I have never made a cheesecake nor had any desire to make one, I’ve never owned one. After a quick tutorial from one of my friends who also happens to be a chef, I now knew that I needed to look for a pan with a buckle on the side. This buckle releases, or springs, the sides off the pan. I also learned that it didn’t have to be an expensive purchase; a cheap pan was ok. So, armed with this knowledge, I headed to the nearest discount superstore and got a set of not one, not two, but three spring pans. Small, medium, and large. They could not be purchased individually. Now, I have three more spring pans than I ever thought I would own. Yet, the label on the set clearly stated that these were “Essential Everyday” items. Apparently, people all over the world are using these pans on a daily basis. Baffling.
Babka is basically a sweetened yeast cake with raisins and coffee cake crumble topping. Immediately, I made one change to the ingredient list. I substituted chocolate chips for raisins. Raisins are lies. I cannot tell you how many times in my life I have bitten into a baked good expecting chocolate chips and gotten raisins instead. No one deserves that disappointment. That’s the kind of thing that can ruin your whole day.
The first step was activating the yeast. This, for me, was the most intimidating. The recipe said that the water had to be precisely 105 degrees to properly activate the yeast. I didn’t know how to accomplish this level of accuracy, since I had no type of kitchen thermometer. Apparently, this was one more piece of everyday, essential equipment absent from my kitchen. So, I improvised and washed and sterilized my daughter’s digital thermometer. Don’t judge. The first reading simply stated “High” and made a sort of screeching beep that I have never heard before. I guess if a human temperature were this high, medical attention should be sought immediately. Eventually, the thermometer read 104.5 and, although the thermometer still chimed in that sad way it does when a fever is present, to me it sounded like victory. I decided that 104.5 degrees was close enough to 105, so I added the yeast, along with the rest of the ingredients to start the Babka dough. After it was mixed, I covered it with a kitchen towel and set it aside to rise…for one hour. Thus began the first of three, hour-long waiting periods.
After an hour, the dough had indeed doubled in size, just as the recipe claimed it would, so then it was transferred into the greased and floured spring pan. Then, waiting period number two began.
At the end of the second hour, I was surprised and slightly unsettled to find that the dough had risen above the top of the spring pan. A quick re-reading of the recipe reassured me that this was, in fact, supposed to happen. One quick egg wash over the top and a sprinkling of buttery, cinnamon-sugary crumbles later, and the Babka was placed in the oven to bake for the third and final hour.
The resulting Babka had a beautifully glossy top and the crumbles made the whole kitchen smell of cinnamon. It was definitely an interesting cake/bread. It had just a hint of sweetness and the texture was dense and slightly crumbly. I, however, like my cakes/breads a bit on the sweeter side, lighter and slightly less crumbly, so Babka is not going to become a favorite around the homestead. Since this was the first recipe I served to an unsuspecting public, I was pleased that the reviews from those who tried it at the party were positive. But, it could have been that they were just too kind to say otherwise. Nevertheless, I am confident that they appreciated the chocolate chip substitution. Because, not raisins.