Sweet bread made with olive oil and super foods!
Babka is a relatively unknown word in my country, mostly because of another sweet bread called “tsoureki”. Tsoureki is a lot like Challah, but with a distinctive aroma from grounded St Lucie cherry stones (mahleb). And though tsoureki usually has no filling, a lot of different recipes have surfaced during the past few years, using all kinds of fillings such as chocolate, chestnut cream, dried fruits and nuts. But I have to admit that Babka has a certain appeal, a sexiness that comes from those untamed swirls and its raw surface! For my take on the traditional recipe, I used olive oil in the dough and super foods (goji berries, saffron and cinnamon) in the filling to make it healthier. I was a little worried about the tartness of the goji berries at first, but as it turned out they pair amazingly well with the white chocolate creating a delicious and bright filling. The bread itself is not dense, but light and fluffy and scented with vanilla, cardamom and orange zest. When I first tasted it, it rocked my world! I hope it rocks yours too!
I am an unrepentant bread eater. I can live my whole life eating just bread (any kind of bread). Yet, until now, the only bread recipe in this blog is this quick beer and olives bread, which requires almost no kneading and no rising time (after all, that’s exactly the philosophy behind a quick bread recipe). Today’s sweet bread (like most yeast-based bread recipes) has exactly the opposite philosophy, and demands that you follow certain steps to get optimum results. So, if you want to know how to bake a great, soft, elastic and stringy bread, make sure you read and follow my tips at the end of this post! 🙂
In order to get these beautiful swirls, you will roll out your dough, spread the filling all over it and then roll it into a log, just like you’d do with cinnamon rolls. Just remember to roll it from the short side and not the long one like I did! Because I rolled from the long side, I had to fold the log in two, in order to fit it into the pan. The thinner you roll it out, the more swirls it will have, but the more time consuming the whole procedure will be. After you form a log, you can put it inside the baking tin as is (this will create a spiral shaped swirl) or you can cut the log lengthwise in two and form a braid (this is the classic babka shape, as far as I know). The choice is yours!
Let the breads rise until almost doubled in volume and bake them in a preheated oven for 30-40 minutes.
And it all comes down to gluten! Every time you make bread (doesn’t matter the type), you aim for one thing: gluten formation and development. Just think of gluten like little folded strings that need to unfold and create a “net” which will make your bread fluffy, soft, elastic and stringy.
1. The first thing you should is get high-gluten flour. If you can’t find some, at least use bread flour.
Have all your ingredients at room temperature and the milk a little warm.
3. Proof your yeast (mix it first with milk, some sugar and some flour and wait 5 minutes to see little bubbles/foam at the top). This is the only way to check if your yeast is alive!
4. Knead the dough for A LONG time. I suggest using a powerful stand mixer, and let it knead the dough for at least half an hour. Then knead it some more with your hands. In case you want to double the recipe, the load may be too much for a non professional mixer, so you better do it in batches, letting the mixer cool down between each batch). You can do all the kneading by yourself, but you’ll have to sweat a lot to get the dough soft and stretchy enough!
5. Sugar and fat inhibit gluten formation. This is why I suggest adding the olive oil not from the beginning, but after the dough has been worked on and gained some elasticity.
6. Let the dough rest for a long time (or overnight). This is another step which helps with gluten development and at the same time allows the mixture to mature and become more flavorful.
7. Be careful not to overbake it, or it will be dry!
8. For a nice dessert, serve it with some whipped cream and fruits or if you want to go all the way, make some vanilla custard to replace the whipped cream.
- For the bread:
- ½ cup + 2 tablespoons (150 grams) warm milk
- 3 large eggs (you’ll need 2½ eggs (125 grams) for the bread and half egg for the egg wash)
- 3½ cups (500 grams) high-gluten flour/bread flour (unsifted)
- ½ cup (115 grams) sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 3 teaspoons (8 grams) instant dry yeast
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon cardamom
- 1½ teaspoon vanilla
- Zest from half an orange
- 1 full tablespoon (20 grams) honey
- ⅓ cup (80 grams) olive oil (virgin or extra virgin)
- For the filling:
- ⅓ cup (35 grams) dried goji berries
- 1 tablespoon white sugar
- ⅓ cup (80 grams) hot water
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon saffron powder
- 7 oz (200 grams) white (real) chocolate, chopped
- In the bowl of your stand mixture combine 3-4 tablespoons warm milk (not hot, or you’ll kill the yeast!), a pinch of sugar, a tablespoon flour and the yeast. Mix to combine and wait for it to foam (about 5-10 minutes)
- Add the rest of the milk, 2½ eggs (break the third egg into a glass, beat it and pour half of it into the bowl), and the rest of the ingredients except the olive oil.
- Using the dough attachment knead for 15 minutes.
- Let your mixer cool down a little and continue by adding the olive oil, one tablespoon at a time (wait for the oil to be absorbed before you add the next tablespoon). If the dough is too soft, you may need to add 1-2 extra tablespoons of flour.
- Knead for another 15 minutes and let the dough rest in a warm place until double in volume (2-4 hours depending on the temperature mostly).
- At this step you can make the babka or refrigerate overnight for the best texture and flavor.
- In the meantime, make the filling: transfer in a small bowl the goji berries, white sugar and hot water and let stand for 10 minutes. Then blend in a blender until smooth.
- In a double boiler or in the microwaves, melt the white chocolate and add the goji berry mixture, brown sugar, saffron and cinnamon. Mix well and leave to cool.
- Line with baking paper two baking tins, about 9x5 inch (24x12 cm)
- Divide the dough in two and roll out into rectangles with their short side the same length as the length of your baking tins.
- Spread the filling onto the rectangles, roll into logs and cut them lengthwise.
- Form braids and place them inside the tins.
- Cover with a clean towel and put them in a warm place until double in volume (it may take from half an hour to 2 hours)
- Preheat your oven at 350°F (175°C) about 15 minutes before baking them.
- Beat the reserved half egg with one tablespoon milk and a pinch of sugar, and gently brush each babka.
- Bake for 30-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted at the center comes out clean.
- Let them cool for 10 minutes and invert onto a rack to cool completely.
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