Brooding’s a bitch.
A confluence of unfortunate events has me reeling. At one point, I’ve banished myself to my room choosing not to come out lest I bite the heads off of everyone who dares cross my path. At least in the protective cocoon I barricade myself in, I imagine that I’m safe from any more blows from fate’s hammer.
But solitude has its limits, especially the self-imposed type. When dwelling is misery and brooding becomes a drag, I head to my kitchen. It’s here where I am queen.
A babka (I’ve also seen it called ”˜baba’) is nothing but a yeasted coffeecake. More than “just cake,” it’s in a class all its own. An enriched dough — meaning a (bread) dough to which eggs, butter, etc. are added, it’s then filled with whatever one’s heart (or soul) desires. Because the dough is so rich, it’s a dream to knead, something I do by hand after incorporating everything together in my stand mixer.
Kneading is a punch-fold-turn affair for me. As I work the dough with my fingers, I feel something click in my head. Like the dough that’s slowly waking up and coming together in my hands, I feel my despondent spirit awaken as well. I punch the dough.
My heart swells.
I punch the dough again.
My head clears.
Amazed at this unexpected picker-upper, I notice that the dough has become soft and pliant ”“ time to let it proof. I punch it one more time.
I feel a smile coming on and my soul soars.
I want to smother my soul with the fragrance of this bread
I usually make two fillings for my babka: cinnamon-nut and chocolate, simply because the dough is enough to make two medium babkas, and also because Boo is averse to nuts, like so many other 6 year olds I know. Today, I make a chocolate smear made with a bar of Swiss chocolate that I break into shards mixing it in with sugar, butter to bind, as well as powdered cinnamon and cocoa powder for more complexity. I have a bag of cashews I want to finish up so I roast ’em and throw those into my food processor, butter again to bind, sugar, and a drizzle of corn syrup.
Baking engages my senses. As I lay the now-proofed dough onto my Silpat mat, I feel the nubby textures of the fillings as I spread them onto this yeasted white sheet. Smells of cinnamon and chocolate and sugar intermingle. Later, as the babkas bake, the house is filled with heady scents, prompting stomachs (mine especially) to growl. There is nothing — nothing — that smells better than baking bread. If you’ve baked bread before, you understand this.
Once done, my babkas are a display of never-ending spirals pocked with chocolate, the other with cinnamon. I want to smother my soul with the fragrance of this bread and smear my melancholy spirit with the delicate pillow that is the dough. But I’ll settle for eating babka instead.
I used the babka recipe in the book, Jewish Holiday Baking by Marcy Goldman. Here’s a similar recipe.