Maple Apple Walnut Babka

Rosh Hashanah,  5774  (2013) begins on the evening of Wednesday, September 4th. Many Jews will tell you that it's "early" this year - 2 days after Labor Day! In fact, all of the fall Jewish holidays are "early" this year; Hanukkah will begin on Wednesday evening, November 27 - which happens to be Thanksgiving weekend.  Early....late....the Jewish holidays are tied to seasons, but also are juxtaposed to American seasonal holidays (Labor Day....Thanksgiving....Christmas...New Years...) . With R'H coming "so early" this year I thought that I should try to experiment with a seasonally appropriate babka early as well; something with apples (a common food eaten to symbolize a sweet new year) with tree nuts and maple (reminiscent of fall in the North Eastern states). I'm planning to use this babka instead of the more typical apple cake at our R'H table. Most of my taste testers have approved the recipe already, so I've decided to post it before all of the results are in. 

This recipe makes 4 medium size babka loaves. It's a nice size to bring along as a gift if you're invited over to someone's house for Sukkot (another fall holiday.....) or failing an invitation to be an "ushpazin" or Sukkah guest, it's perfectly suited for Thanksgiving, which rumor has it, was modeled after Sukkot. 

A note about the equipment and less common ingredients in this recipe:
  • I used paper disposable baking pans, purchased on-line from King Arthur Flour and Plastic Container City .  
  • I use SAF Gold yeast for sweet yeast breads, it handles the sweet doughs a bit better than regular 
  • This recipe uses maple cream as well as maple syrup. There are numerous sources on line or in specialty shops. We had a very nice on-line shopping experience purchasing the maple cream from Joe Russo at The Green Mountain Maple Sugar Refining Company .  Joe has a small operation, I placed the order on his website and he called our home to take the credit card. The price included shipping. 
  • There are two flavorings added to the dough. Vanilla extract - use real vanilla if you can, I don't find a noticeable difference between the various types of real vanilla extract. I also used Buttery Sweet Dough Bakery Emulsion , which is available from a number of sources on-line including King Arthur Flour and directly from the producer, LorAnn Oils and Flavors.  The emulsions are kosher-certified (Star-K).
Choreography notes:
Making most babka, including this one,  is a 2 baking session project. There is nothing like home-made babka, if you like working with yeast dough you will likely find it worth your time. There is a "wow" factor to bringing a home-made babka as a gift. 
  • Babka is a sweet dough with a high proportion of fat (this was not meant to deter you from baking or eating babka- it's a description for what you need to expect when you bake cake rather than bread). The sugar and fat inhibit the activity of the yeast, thus slowing down rising of the dough. You will need to use bread flour (with a higher gluten content) and have patience for a slow refrigerator rise (8-24 hours) for the best results. 
  • The filling has three ingredients- chopped walnuts, maple cream and chopped dry apples.  Prep and weigh out the nuts and fruit before you start to assemble the cakes.
  • Assembly of four babkas takes about an hour, the 2nd rise (in the pans) and baking are another 90 minutes. Once you assemble them in the pans they do not require constant attention. Begin by rolling/filling the dough, the dough is very stretchy, but sticky, your work surface must remain lightly dusted with flour. For home ovens, with poor air circulation, you'll need to rotate the baking pan halfway through the baking time. 
  • The cooled cake can be double wrapped and frozen.  Babka keeps well for several weeks in the freezer. Unwrap when you defrost it- this will keep the cake from getting soggy. Once baked and cooled, this babka slices beautifully. 

For sponge:
8 oz bread flour
8 oz (1c) warm water- around 100-105 degrees
2 Tbsp instant yeast (I use "SAF Gold" for most yeast cakes , but any good quality instant yeast will yield a delicious baked product). 

For the full dough: 
the entire sponge 
14 oz bread flour
5 oz granulated or organic sugar
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
4 large eggs 
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp Buttery Sweet Dough Emulsion
8 oz margarine or butter (don't use oil for this recipe)

Approximately 1/2 cup flour for dusting your work surface 

8 oz chopped walnuts (divided into four portions)
4 oz chopped dry apples (divided into four portions)
maple cream (3-4 Tbsp for each cake)

Drizzle for top:
maple syrup (2 Tbsp for each cake) 

4 medium loaf pans (metal or disposable paper)
stand mixer (preferable) or a hand mixer
measuring spoons, cups, silicone spatulas 
parchment paper for lining a baking sheet
a large baking sheet (to support the disposable pans) 
kitchen scale, small bowls 

The sponge will be puffy after 30 minutes
1. In the bowl of a stand mixer or a large mixing bowl mix the sponge ingredients with the flat blade at a low speed until the dough clears the sides of the bowl. This will be about 5- 7 minutes. Babka can certainly be made by hand, but this could be your excuse to buy a good quality electric mixer. The dough will look "raggy."  Let rest for 30 minutes, at this point the dough will look thick and puffy. 

2 Grease 4 medium baking pans. Mix the eggs, salt, flavorings and melted margarine (or butter) together in a large mixing cup or small bowl.  Combine the flour and sugar together and add both the dry and wet ingredients to the sponge. Mix on low speed. As the ingredients are hydrated and start to blend, increase the mixer speed. The dough will be a sticky looking mess- don't worry- in about 20-25 minutes it will come together as a dough, begin to look shiny and come away from the sides of the bowl.  
The gluten strands will be strong after about 20-25 minutes. 

3. The dough gluten will be strong, stretchy and hold together well. 
 The dough will be relatively easy to remove from the blade. 
4. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest for 30 minutes or so at room temperature. If you are in a rush at this point you can omit the 30 minute wait and place the covered dough in the fridge.  Allow to rest and rise between 8 and 24 hours. 

5. You can prepare the filling ingredients at this point and chill them until you are ready to assemble the babka. Weigh the chopped nuts and chopped dried apples. Divide the nuts and apples into 4 portions. 

6. After the dough has risen, degas gently by pressing down on the dough in the bowl. Use a spatula or flexible scraper to remove the dough from the bowl and divide into four portions. Flour each portion a bit to prevent sticking. You will be working with one portion at a time. 

7. Lightly roll out a portion of dough on a lightly floured surface. Use your hand and a rolling pin.  You want to create an elongated log, approximately 6-8 inches long. If the dough becomes difficult to work with, allow it to rest for 10-12 minutes, it will relax a bit and you can continue rolling it out. 

 8.The rolled out dough should be thin (no more than 1/4 inch thick), approximately 10-12 inches long and 6-8 inches wide. Keep the work surface lightly floured as you work. 


9.Stir the maple cream, there will be separation of the syrup from the solids. Spread 4-5 Tbsp of cream over the surface of the rolled out dough. 

10. After spreading the maple cream, sprinkle 2 oz nuts and 1 oz dried apples on the dough.  Roll the dough up, making sure that the nuts and cream stay within the roll. 

11. After rolling the dough, make slices of approximately 1 1/2 inches. If the apples slide out, gently push the piece back in. When placing the slices in the greased pan, tuck them back between the dough pieces. 

12, Place the cake pans on a large baking sheet.  Lay the slices cut side up in the pan. The slices should fit snugly. As they expand and rise they will fill the cake pan. When they bake the slices will rise above the sides of the pan, forming a design exposing some of the filling.

13. Drizzle 2 Tbsp maple syrup on the raw dough and let the dough rise in a draft -free place (your cool oven is a good choice) for 45 minutes. The dough will not double in bulk, but will appear puffy. 

14. During the last 10 minutes of the rising, pre-heat the oven to 360 degrees. If you are allowing the dough to rise in the oven - remove the unbaked cake from the oven while you preheat the oven. 
15. Slide the baking sheet into the hot oven and bake for 30-35 minutes. If you are baking in a home oven with poor circulation you should rotate the baking pan 180 degrees halfway through the baking.  Do not overbake, this will dry out your babka. 
16. Cool the cakes. If you used a disposable pan, you can wrap and store the cake in the pan. If you used a metal baking pan, remove the cooled cake from the pan and place on a piece of foil.  You may find that some of the maple syrup is pooled on the bottom of the pan - you can pour this on top of the cooled cake. Wrap well and store at room temperature for a day or two. Place in fridge for longer storage (up to 3-4 days). To freeze: wrap in a double layer of plastic wrap and freeze. 

Four babka, in disposable pans, supported on a lined baking sheet 

Cooled babka in disposable baking pan
The cooled cake can be removed from the pan and sliced (it slices very well) or used as a "pull apart." 
Enjoy the New Year- whichever New Year you celebrate  - bake the babka, share it with a friend! 


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