Monday, July 22, 2013

Blueberry-Peach Summertime Babka

 A babka that tastes like summer......



In my mind's eye babka doesn't bring summer to mind, although a slice of any babka with coffee or tea- iced or hot- would never be unwelcome. This version, however, takes advantage of two of our favorite summer fruits - blueberries and peaches. The blueberry syrup wash on the outside gives the cake a not-too-sweet finish.


I must admit that when I bake babka, I think of that "Seinfeld" episode.....the babka you know and love is always the best..... this one really is delicious. Although not a typical Eastern European babka, the testers at our house gave it a thumbs up just the same.

The dough is a combination of white whole wheat and bread flour. White whole wheat, a less assertive whole wheat flour is available at either King Arthur Flour or at Trader Joe's. The addition of lemon extract and zest gives the cake a lemony undertone, a perfect compliment to both the blueberries and the peaches. 

If you are new to working with sweet yeast dough and need some guidance, check out my post "Some things to know about measuring flour and working with yeast." .  The finished dough will have the feel of a high gluten challah - strong and stretchy, but a bit sticky and shiny.

Choreography: 

  • Babka needs a long slow rise, thus you need to plan to complete this cake in two sessions. Peaches tend to oxidize and turn brownish, so I do not recommend that you prepare the fruit until you are ready to use it. I prefer under-ripe peaches; they will be less juicy and not affect the texture of the yeast cake. 
  • The dough starts out with a "sponge," a small starter dough that ferments in the bowl. Sponge starters are used to modify the texture of the final product and DO make a difference in your finished product, so don't skip this step. This sponge ferments for a short time - about 30 minutes. 
  • The remaining dough ingredients are added to the sponge and the dough is then allowed to rest/rise in the refrigerator overnight (8- 24 hours).  
  • The fruit filling is prepared just before you start to work on the babka assembly - after the refrigerator rising. 
  • Once assembled you will brush the unbaked cake with blueberry syrup. This step is repeated at the end, after the cake bakes.  Once brushed with syrup, the cakes must COMPLETELY cool in the pans; you'll run the risk of their collapsing if you remove them while they are warm. 

Equipment
  • stand mixer or electric mixer (I wouldn't attempt this by hand kneading, read through the procedure and you'll see why)
  • large mixing bowl 
  • measuring cups, spoons, silicone spatula
  • 3 medium loaf pans (measuring approximately 8x4x3, the kind that will bake a 1lb loaf of bread)
Ingredients: 

For the sponge:

  • 8 oz bread flour (don't use all purpose)
  • 2 Tbsp instant yeast (I use SAF gold for sweet breads)
  • 8 oz warm water (about 100 degrees F) 
For the cake dough:
  • The sponge 
  • 12 oz bread flour
  • 4 oz white whole wheat flour
  • 5 oz granulated sugar
  • 1.5 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp lemon extract (or lemon oil)
  • 2 tsp lemon zest (or lemon oil)
  • 4 extra large eggs (about  8 oz)
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter or margarine (8 oz)
  • a small amount of  bread flour or all purpose flour for the work surface when you roll out the dough
For the fruit filling:
  • 2 c blueberries (about 15 oz)
  • 4 medium slightly under-ripe peaches, peeled and diced (about 15 oz)
  • 1/4 granulated sugar
  • 2 heaping Tbsp cornstarch
  • 1/4 c fine unflavored bread crumbs
Glaze: 
  • 3/4c blueberry syrup (1/2 c will be used for assembly, 1/4 for brushing the outside of the unbaked and then baked cakes)
Procedure: 
1. In the bowl of a mixer, using the flat paddle, mix the sponge ingredients together. Beat at low speed until everything is hydrated. Use a silicone spatula to remove any dough that sticks to the paddle. Cover with a damp towel and allow to rest for 30-40 minutes. The finished sponge will look puffy and might have tiny bubbles just below the surface

2. About 10 minutes before the sponge is ready: 
  • Melt the butter (or margarine) until just melted, but not hot. I microwave it in a pyrex measuring cup for 30 seconds. Set aside
  • Mix the eggs, sugar, salt, extract and zest (or lemon oil) in a small bowl
3. Uncover the sponge and at the low mixer speed, mix in the flour and egg mixture. The dough will be sticky and unformed

4. Add the melted butter (margarine), at first it will run around the dough while the mixer is moving, but it will begin to blend.  Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat. At first the dough will stick to the sides of the bowl and the eggs or fat will slide around the hydrated flour. After about 10 minutes it will form a soft dough, although it will still stick to the sides of the bowl. After 20-30 minutes the dough will become more glutenous, hold together in strands and ribbons of dough and will come away from the side of the bowl.  

5. Using the silicone spatula, clear any remaining dough along the side of bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator. The dough will be ready in 8 hours, but can be held in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. The finished dough will be well risen and hold a dome shape in the bowl.


6.  When you are ready to assemble: remove the dough from the refrigerator, gently degas (just push it down a bit, don't worry about "punching" it down).  Divide into three roughly equal portions. Each portion will make a cake.  Allow the dough to rest while you prepare the fruit filling.

7. Bring 3 quarts of water to a boil and gently add the peaches. Blanch for a minute or two. Remove with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl of ice water.  They will peel easily. Peel, slice and dice each peach, place in a bowl with the blueberries.


8. Mix the sugar with the cornstarch and toss with the fruit. Set aside.





9. Pour the breadcrumbs into a small bowl and the syrup into a second bowl.

10.  Grease 3 medium sized loaf pans. You're now ready to assemble the first babka.

Steps 11- 15 are demonstrated in the short video that is attached.





11. Take one portion of the divided dough and divide in half. Flour the surface you will be working on as well as the rolling pin. Take one piece of dough, shape it into an elongated piece, about 4-5 inches long and working in the direction you've established, roll the dough out to a length of about 12-15 inches long. By rolling out in the direction you established when you initially formed the elongated piece you are helping the "memory" of the gluten strands and helping them to stretch in the direction they have already been coaxed to follow. If you find you get a lot of resistance, let the dough rest for a few minutes, the gluten will relax and you'll be able to continue.









12. After establishing the length, you will need to widen the rectangle by rolling in the opposite direction; you may find resistance at the point, so again, you want to allow the dough to relax and then you'll be able to continue to form a width of about 8 inches. The dough doesn't need to be a perfect rectangle for this process.

13. Brush the rectangle with blueberry syrup. Add 1/6 of the fruit along the length of the upper third of the rolled out dough and roll up to make a fruit filled log. 













14. Repeat with the other piece of dough.

15. Line the two logs up next to each other, pinch one end together and twist one log over the other (4-5 twists). Seal the end. Gently life an place in the prepared pan. Brush with blueberry syrup.



16. Repeat to make two more babkas and allow the assembled cakes to rest and rise in a draft-free spot for approximately 30 minutes. Toward the end of the rising period, preheat the oven to 360 degrees.

17. Bake the cakes for approximately 40-45 minutes. Check them after 30 minutes, if they are browning too quickly, tent with foil.  The cake will be slightly underdone after 40 minutes. Turn off the oven, keep the door shut and allow the cake to stay in the hot oven for another 10 minutes.  Remove from the oven.  These babkas will have a beautiful golden color.  Brush the warm cakes with more syrup and allow to cool in the pans, on a rack.  This cake MUST be completely cool before removing from the pan (I leave them in the pan overnight).



18. Store loosely covered in the refrigerator (the fresh fruit creates a very moist cake). The cake will stay fresh for several days. It more easily sliced after it has set for 24 hours.  Alternatively, you can double wrap in plastic and freeze for up to a month.

This babka is somewhat like challah or brioche in texture; a colleague of mine enjoys it was sweet butter (or cream cheese) spread on the slice.