Dazed and confused? Not me. I’m just Lost in the Cheese Aisle.

Monday, March 12, 2012


Chocolate Babka
My first attempt at making a chocolate babka. Not exactly pretty, but damned tasty nevertheless.

Not just Bab. Babka.

Babka? you say. WTF is babka?

Babka is an Eastern European confection that reaches its apotheosis in the version created by Ashkenazic Jews. Some people think of it as a cake, but it’s not a cake, exactly. Like Danish pastry, it’s yeast-raised, a sort of sweet bread. But “a sort of sweet bread” is a woefully inadequate description... like describing Angela Jolie as “a sort of cute girl.”

Babka is what happens to cinnamon bread after having lived an exemplary Bread-Life. It moves on to the next plane of existence, being reincarnated (reimpanated?) as a loaf packed with almond paste, cinnamon, and/or chocolate.

In the World o’ Babka, there are two main species: cinnamon and chocolate. Each has its partisans, and the divisions between them are comparable to those between Norman Thomas-style socialists and Tea Party Republicans. This exchange from “The Dinner Party,” an episode of Seinfeld, illustrates the bitter divisiveness between Chocolatarians and Cinnamonians:

[The bakery has just sold their last chocolate babka as Elaine and Jerry arrive...]

ELAINE: What’s this one?

CLERK: That’s cinnamon babka.

JERRY: Another babka?

CLERK: There’s chocolate and there’s cinnamon.

JERRY: Well, we’ve got to get the cinnamon.

ELAINE: No, but they got the chocolate. We’ll be going in with a lesser babka.

JERRY: I beg your pardon? Cinnamon takes a back seat to no babka. People love cinnamon. It should be on tables at restaurants along with salt and pepper. Anytime anyone says, “Oh, this is so good! What’s in it?” the answer invariably comes back, cinnamon. Cinnamon. Again and again. Lesser babka - I think not.

CLERK: 49?

ELAINE: I’ll have the cinnamon babka.

I’m going to respectfully disagree with my old homeboy here: When it comes to babka, I am a confirmed Chocolatarian.

Some of my Esteemed Readers are already aware of the deep and abiding love I have for the chocolate babka... a love so intense, I actually took one and French-toastified it. (Is that an actual verb? It is now.)

Chocolate Babka French Toast on the griddle
Chocolate Babka French Toast. Steve “Eat What You Want and Die Like a Man” Graham would be proud.

The idea of actually baking my own chocolate babka, however, never entered my mind... until recently, that is. But after having had reasonable success with challah, I figured it was time to expand my repertoire.

The results were - in my opinion, at least - equivocal.

Oh, the damn thing tasted good enough. Ridiculously good, in fact. Babkarrific! But I was not pleased with the way the filling was distributed in the loaf, no doubt a result of the dough being sticky and difficult to shape... a little like wrestling the bastard child of a Russian bear and the Tar-Baby. More flour on the parchment paper and a finer chop on the chocolate should solve that problem - if I ever make another one, that is.

The Challah of March 9, 2012
This week’s challah. The inscription on the cutting board reads ha-motzi lechem min ha-aretz (He who brings forth bread from the earth), the concluding words of the blessing said prior to eating bread.

In case you’re wondering, there was a challah, too. And while it may not have been the prettiest one I’ve made lately, it sure as hell was delicious... the coda to yet another week.


mostly cajun said...

What?!?!?! No recipe, passed down from the dear old ladies in your family?


Elisson said...

@mostly cajun - Aw, the dear old ladies in my family couldn't bake a babka if their lives depended on it. This one came from the latest Food Network magazine - the chocolate issue - and the only reason I don't share it is that pesky matter of copyright.