Cherry Babka

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At the beginning of the year I posted about my first attempt at making sourdough bread from my homemade starter aka Julia. Reader, I have a confession to make. Julia may or may not be dead. If she is not dead already she is certainly very close to death. I should probably try and revive her but, to be brutally honest, part of me wants her to die. She is like a pet store pet bought on impulse and I’m tired of taking care of her because I don’t have the time or, apparently, skill to get any use out of her. She is like the fish I flushed down the toilet come back to haunt me. I wish there were a shelter for abandoned sourdough starters. Someone take her please.

That first attempt many months ago proved to be my only attempt. What does that say about me? In order to make myself feel better I’m telling myself that I simply was not ready to handle such a commitment. I needed more practice with that good old envelope of yeast. Instant gratification with little troubleshooting. You know what, I’m just lazy.

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Maybe one day I’ll come back to sourdough but for now I am really enjoying more straightforward bread baking. I hope to one day be the kind of person that bakes sandwich bread on a Sunday or fresh rolls for a mid-week dinner. I can’t remember where I read recently someone talking about bread and how it really clicked for them when they realized that, most of the time, the bread can work around your schedule and not the other way around. That speaks to me. For example, this recipe which is largely based off of Bon Appetit’s Chocolate Babka originally calls for the dough to rise 2 hours, then chilled for 45 minutes, then used. It made more sense for my schedule to just leave it in the refrigerator overnight and so that’s what I did. The next morning the dough was a little sponge-y and weird and I thought I might have messed it up but it worked perfectly! And now I know that I can do this. See? Lots to learn before I go back to sourdough. Babka steps.

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Cherry Babka

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Cherry Babka

For the Dough

  • 1 envelope active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm whole milk
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg + 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups flour
  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature

In a small bowl combine yeast and warm milk + a pinch of sugar and let stand for 5 minutes. In another bowl mix together egg + egg yolk and sugar. Whisk in yeast mixture.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment combine flour and salt. Add egg/yeast/sugar mixture and mix on low until combined. Switch attachment to dough hook and slowly incorporate the butter, tablespoon at a time. Continue to beat on medium speed for 8-10 minutes.

Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface and shape into a smooth ball. Place in a buttered bowl and place in a warm area for 2 hours. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the fridge to chill for at least 45 minutes (I left mine overnight).

For the Cherry Filling

  • 2 tablespoons walnuts
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons cherry jam

To make the cherry filling, combine all of the above ingredients in a food processor and pulse until a smooth paste is achieved. Set aside until ready to use. If making ahead, keep in the refrigerator and just before using warm back up in the microwave until it is spreadable.

For the Streusel

  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • pinch salt
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons chopped walnuts

To make the streusel, combine both sugars, cinnamon, salt and butter in a small bowl. Use your fingers to rub the butter into the sugars until the mixture is sand. Add walnuts and stir to combine. Set aside until ready to use. Refrigerate if making ahead.

Egg Wash

  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon cream (heavy cream or half-and-half)

Preheat oven to 350° and butter a loaf pan. Roll out dough into a 22 x 12″ rectangle. Use an offset spatula to spread the filling thinly and evenly over the dough, leaving just a tiny bit of border at the edges. Roll the dough along its longest edge to form a long roll.

Cut the dough length-wise down the middle with a sharp knife (I used a small serrated knife).  Place each half side-by-side with the filling cross-section side pointed upwards. Take one end and pull it over to the middle of the other end so the dough forms an “X” shape. Take the ends on one side and twist them around each other twice. Repeat on the other side. Place a hand on each end of the roll and quickly and firmly push together so that the loaf is more close to the size of the pan. Quickly lift the dough up and place in the buttered pan. Cover loosely and let rest in a warm place for 30 minutes.

Make an egg wash by whisking together egg and cream. Brush the top of the bread with the egg wash and sprinkle the streusel over the top. Bake for 50-60 minutes. If you have an instant read thermometer the internal temperature should be about 190°. Remove from oven and let cool in the pan for 20 minutes. Run a knife along the edge of the pan and invert loaf onto a cooling rack. Let cool completely before slicing.

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