Apricot-Cinnamon Babka Ring

Back to the basics of this blog: yeast risen cake.  
This pareve (non-dairy) babka recipe is adapted from
 Inside the Jewish Bakery by Ginsberg and Berg 

I wouldn't recommend that this babka be the first yeast cake you try to bake, it takes some skill and patience. The recipe is not for those times you want to start and finish in one evening, although you can break down the component parts and make the project manageable over a couple of days. The completed, unrolled dough can be frozen for later use. So...for the novice yeast baker, try a traditional bread first (take a look at my challah recipe), then at some later point, challenge yourself and make this absolutely delicious babka.

Some notes about babka that I did not make on the Chocolate Babka post:
Babka refers to an Eastern European pastry which is leavened with yeast and  is usually rich and sweet, although savory versions also exist, some which also include meat. Jewish babka is sweet, often filled with either chocolate or cinnamon/raisin combinations. In some Eastern European countries, such as the Ukraine, the pastry is closely associated with Easter; the cake is often baked in coffee cans, causing the baked cake to be tall - reminiscent of the theme of "rising." Jewish babka is baked in variously shaped cake pans; however, it most often resembles a coffee-cake type pastry.

In Polish the word babka is a diminutive for "grandmother." I am making the assumption it is also related to the Yiddish word for grandmother as well: Bubbie/Bubbe. Babka is ubiquitous in the Ashkenazic Jewish world and since you can find variations of it throughout Israel and Deal NJ, it's found its way into Sephardic homes as well.  Our youngest son (the one who left for college) has endorsed this babka as delicious, but not his favorite, as he remains a fan of chocolate babka. 

A long rise time will yield a great babka- so don't try to skip this step. The long rise helps the gluten develop; however, unlike bread baking where the long rise will help form a great crust, with babka dough the gluten and fat develop a lighter, airy, yet very rich baked product.

This dough is made in several steps. Some understanding and expectation of how dough behaves is helpful. This dough is started with a "sponge," a starter that includes the yeast and an initial amount of flour and water. Sponges are shaggy and give a boost to the subsequent ingredients that are added to complete the dough. In the completed dough the yeast to flour ratio is high, you'll notice the difference when you divide the finished dough and roll it out.  The bread flour, with its high gluten content, will cause it to be a bit harder to stretch and the high yeast ratio will cause it to be "springy." 

There are several filling items that are spread onto the rolled-out babka dough. These fillings can be made a day or two before the baking process begins. If you want, some of the items can be made ahead and frozen. 

The fillings are:
1. syrup (which stays well in the fridge for several days)
2. chopped nuts
3. cinnamon filling
4. chopped apricots 
5. crumb topping (not actually a filling, but can be made at the same time as #1-4 and subsequently frozen if you like to keep these kinds of items on hand)

The dough is rich : a high gluten flour mixed with fat (shortening and eggs) and sugar. It's very yummy, but there is a caution: it has many Weight Watcher points attached to each piece. It will leave you with a smile on your face.

Equipment you will need: 
Measuring cups, measuring spoons, silicone spatula, small bowls, clean jars
Electric mixer (a must for this particular recipe)
Ring cake pan (the cakes in the photo were baked in disposable paper pans, which you can find on-line at a number of sources including:  King Arthur Flour or  Plastic Container City.com.
If you use paper pans, you will need to support them on a metal cookie sheet or jelly roll pan
Dough scraper /bench knife
Work surface where dough can be rolled out and cut

Choreography: this is a multi-session project, the dough yields three 1 lb babkas:
STEP 1: about 1 hour of prep and packaging, creating the fillings will require constant attention -
*make the syrup (store in the refrigerator)
*chop the nuts (I used a mixture of walnuts and hazelnuts, but any tree nut you like will work)
*make the cinnamon filling (you can keep this on hand for other uses)
*crumb topping (chilling it will make it easier to work with) 

STEP 2: about 3 hours of prep overall, requiring intermittent attention. Activity includes
mixing the dough, allowing for two risings, chilling overnight in the refrigerator. Details are outlined in the procedure. 

STEP 3 (10-12 hours after STEP 2 - about 90 minutes of prep and rising time and an additional 30 minutes for baking. This step requires intermittent attention, details are outlined in the procedure. 

I made these babka over 3 sessions, although the process can be compressed into 2 sessions by combining Step 1 and Step 2 together.

To freeze (and bake at a later point): divide the finished dough into 3 parts, roughly 16 oz each, double wrap each piece and freeze.  To defrost: uncover, set on a surface to defrost, spray with a bit of oil, cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow to defrost for about six hours. Proceed with rolling, filling and arranging in the baking pan as outlined in the procedure. 

Filling Ingredients:    

Syrup:  3.8 oz (1/2c) granulated sugar, mixed with 3 oz (weighed) water and 2 tsp apricot jam. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 2-3 minutes until the sugar is dissolved and the jam is melted. Cool, pour into a jar, cover and chill until you are ready to use it. 

Chopped Nuts: 4 oz nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts,pecans, almonds). Toast them if you'd like. Cool and store in a closed container or jar.

Cinnamon Filling: 7 oz granulated sugar, 1 Tbsp vanilla sugar, 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon, 1 c unflavored bread crumbs.  Mix well, store in a jar in a dry place, you will have enough for 2 complete recipes, the mixture is a good baking staple to keep on hand.

Diced Apricots: finely dice 5 oz of dried apricots. Cover and store at room temperature or chill if you will not be using them within a day or so. 

Crumb Topping: 3 Tbsp granulated sugar, 3 Tbsp margarine, 2 Tbsp honey, 1/3 c flour. Blend the mixture with a fork until the mixture resembles small pebbles.  Cover and chill. The crumb may be double wrapped and frozen for later use. 

Dough Ingredients: 
8 oz bread flour (do not use all purpose flour for this recipe)   
8 oz warm water (about 100 degrees)
2 Tbsp instant yeast (either regular instant yeast or SAF gold for sweet dough)

First set of ingredients added to the sponge:
12 oz bread flour
5 oz granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 extra large eggs 
4 extra large egg yolks 
1 tsp ground cardamon 
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp orange extract  
1 tsp lemon extract 

Last addition to the dough:
1 cup softened margarine 

Rolling out dough: 
1/2 - 1 c flour for dusting the work surface

Dough-making Procedure: 
After 30 minutes, dough will puff

1.If you are using a stand mixer, use the flat beater and not the dough hook. Combine the sponge ingredients in the bowl, beat at low speed for 2-3 minutes, it will look like a raggy wet mixture.  Cover and allow to rise for 30 minutes, it will get puffy and then easily collapse.

2. Measure the remaining ingredients. Combine them in three separate bowls:  the extracts and cardamon, the eggs, yolks, salt and the flour and sugar.

3 Add the ingredients to the bowl with the sponge
and begin to beat at the low-medium speed. The dough will look unformed and very very sticky.  Keep beating, for at least 15-20 minutes. You will see it start to form long strands and come together into a sticky but thick well formed dough. It will come away from the sides of the bowl as the gluten strands form.
 4. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise at room temperature for about an hour. It will puff, but will be too soft to work with at this point.

5. Place the covered bowl in the refrigerator for 8 - 10 hours (another hour or so won't hurt). When you remove the dough it will have risen quite a bit.

Dough after final rising with prepared fillings  & paper pans
6. Remove dough from bowl and "roll" the dough out of the bowl and onto a flat work surface. Make sure the surface is dusted with flour, the dough is soft and sticky. Do not attempt to lift it out of the bowl, use the dough scraper to help prod the dough and turn out of the bowl.  Use the scraper to divide the dough into three portions of approximately 16 oz each, using your hands, pat each portion into a loose ball. You will be assembling the  3 cakes at this point or you can choose to double wrap and freeze each portion to use at a later time.

To continue, spray/grease the baking pan, do not dust with flour or crumbs.

7. Choose one portion of the dough, you will need to keep dusting the dough, work surface and rolling pin. The dough is a bit difficult to work with, its stiff (high gluten) and sticky. With your hands, shape the dough portion into a thick elongated log, 4-6 inches long. You will be helping the gluten to organize itself to stretch in one direction. Begin to roll out the dough, rolling along the length of the log, stretching and pulling it into a elongated rectangle, about 18 inches long. Turn the direction to work on the width of the rectangle by turning the dough over and gently stretching and rolling to form the width. The finished rectangle should be approximately 18" x 8" and 1/4 inch thick. Trim the edges, you can fit it in along indentations and roll into the main piece. If the dough shrinks back, gently pull the dough to correct the edges along the rectangle edge. Work gently and quickly, you'll need to nudge the dough, the gluten strands will be strong and will resist while you roll it out. 

8.  Spread a thin layer of the syrup along the length of the dough, covering 2/3 of the width. You'll be using about 1/4 of the syrup. Then sprinkle 1/2 cup of the cinnamon filling, covering the syrup.  Next sprinkle 1/3 of the chopped nuts and 1/3 of the diced apricots.

9. Begin to roll the dough over the filling. Work carefully, the dough may stick to the surface, you can use the bench knife or dough scraper to help un-stick the dough from the work surface. Move any filling that falls off onto the work surface back onto the dough. Sprinkle with flour as needed.

10. When the dough is rolled you'll have a log about 1 1/2 inches thick. Roll so that the seam side is on the bottom, this will make the next step easier. 

 11. Create 1- 1 1/2 inch slices, turn 90 degrees, place the slices in the pan. You will have about 13-15 slices. They should not overlap, although they can be shifted over to fit in as many slices as you have. Scoop up any filling that has fallen onto the work surface and sprinkle on top of the dough slices.

12. Repeat the process for the other two portions of dough. You should have about 1/4 of the syrup remaining. Drizzle the remaining syrup around the top of each of the three uncooked cakes and follow this with sprinkling the crumb topping, equally dividing it between the three uncooked cakes.

13. Place the cakes in a draft free place (a cold oven works well) and allow to rise for about an hour. They will not double in bulk, but the spaces between the rolls will close and the assembled dough slices will look puffy.

14. After 45- 50 minutes, remove the dough from the cold oven and pre-heat the oven to 370 degrees. When the oven reaches temperature, slide the cakes into the oven. If you are using disposable cake pans, stabilize the three pans on a cookie sheet.  Lower the oven to 360 degrees and bake for approximately 30-35 minutes. If you are baking one cake at a time, lower the temperature to 350 degrees.

15. Remove the cakes from the oven, they will be very puffy and sticky. This may sound silly- but kitchen will have the most delicious smell- reminiscent of a small local Jewish bakery. I believe that the combination of cardamon and vanilla are they key, although I would have never guessed that before I baked these babka.

The cakes will fall a bit as they cool. Cover the cooled cake with plastic wrap or store in a food container; the babka can be stored for a day or two at room temperature or in the refrigerator. The cooled babka can be double wrapped and frozen for up to 4 weeks.   Once cool you can cut slices, although this babka can also be served as a "pull apart."


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