Chocolate Babka

Those who know me know I need little excuse to bake…but blizzards and snow days are as good as any!  With growing concern in Boston over reports of record snow fall and winds, I headed to my local Whole Foods (along with everyone else in a 5 mile radius) to stock up…on butter, flour, sugar, and eggs!

I decided to take advantage of this forced hibernation by baking things I’d had on my “to do” list for a long time.  First up was the chocolate babka I’d seen on Food52.com (Does anyone else think of that Seinfeld episode whenever they hear “chocolate babka”?).

Chocolate babka is a slighty sweet yeast bread swirled with a spiced chocolate nut mixture.  I made this recipe almost exactly as written except I substituted toasted pecans for almonds.  It was the perfect breakfast to wake up to while snowed in!  And I have a feeling it will be even better tomorrow as french toast!  Next up for today….Alton Brown’s macaroni and cheese followed by Milk Bar’s cornflake, marshmallow, and chocolate chip cookies.

Chocolate Babka (from Food52)

Dough

2 1/4 tsp or 1 packet active dry yeast
3/4 cup milk at 110ºF
6 tbs unsalted butter at room temperature
6 tbs sugar
2 tbs vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
egg yolks
3 1/3 cups all purpose flour
1 tspsal

Stir the yeast into the milk to dissolve. Let sit until foamy.

While the yeast proofs cream the butter and sugar together in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the oil and vanilla extract and mix well to combine. Then add the egg yolks one at a time, mixing until each yolk is incorporated before adding the next. Increase the mixer speed to high and beat the mixture for about 2 minutes.

Turn the mixer to low and add the flour and salt, followed by the milk and yeast mixture. Switch to the dough hook attachment and mix the dough until a soft, tacky dough forms. Transfer the dough to a floured surface and knead by hand for two more minutes. The dough should feel soft, supple and smooth. Move the dough to a clean, oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise at a moderate room temperature for about 2 hours or until almost doubled in size. Alternately, you can let the dough rise overnight in the refrigerator and shape it the next day.

Filling and Streusel

Filling

3/4 cup finely chopped bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
cup sliced almonds (or pecans), toasted and finely chopped
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 cup cold unsalted butter

Streusel

2 tbs soft unsalted butter
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
pinch salt
egg for egg wash

Prepare the filling while the dough is rising. Put all of the ingredient into a large bowl and use a pastry blender or bench scraper to cut the ingredients together into a streusel-like crumble.

To shape the bread: Roll the risen dough on a lightly floured surface into a roughly 15×18 inch rectangle. Gently lift the dough to make sure that it will easily release from the work surface. Sprinkle the filling mixture evenly over the top of the dough leaving a 1/4-inch border around the edges then roll the dough from the long end into a tight log about 20 inches long. Gently bend the dough into a U-Shape and twist the arms of the dough two or three times around each other to form the loaf, then pinch the seams together. Place the dough into a greased 9-inch by 5-inch loaf pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room until the babka fills the pan, 1-2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Prepare the streusel: Combine all of the streusel ingredients in a bowl and mix until crumbly. When the loaf has risen completely, brush with egg wash made from 1 egg + 1T water and sprinkle the streusel mixture over the top. Use a toothpick to poke a few holes in the top of the loaf which will release any air pockets trapped between the folds of the dough and filling.

Put the loaf pan on a baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes, then rotate the pan and bake for 20-30 more minutes. The loaf will be deep golden brown on top and sound hollow when the bottom is tapped when finished. You can also use a thermometer to check the internal temperature which will be 185º when the loaf is finished. Let the babka cool to room temperature before slicing.

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Black Bottom Banana Cream Pie

I grew up in a pretty traditional American family eating traditional American foods. We had spaghetti night, taco night, chicken, hot dogs and hamburgers, occasionally homemade pizza, chocolate chip cookies, etc, etc.  But one thing we almost never had in the house was bananas!

My mom hates them (and will probably hate this post!).  I swear she has some sort of banana 6th sense- if there is a banana within a 5 mile radius she can smell it and will make it her mission to destroy it!  So needless to say, I was often deprived of this healthy, delicious, potassium rich fruit as a child (along with cable TV).

Luckily, now that I live on my own (and beyond the 5 mile banana radius) I can eat all the bananas I want- and what better way to eat bananas than in a pie with pudding and crust and whipped cream!

The idea for this pie was actually born this summer and is a combination of several different recipes.  Banana cream pies generally have a flaky, butter crust but I decided to swap it out for a chocolate coated graham cracker crust.  It is then filled with sliced bananas and homemade vanilla pudding before being topped with whipped cream and more chocolate (you really can never have enough chocolate).

The key element that really brings this all together is the 1/2 tsp of salt in the whipped cream.  Don’t leave it out!  I promise that it is a game changer. (You should generally add some salt to all desserts to bring out the sweetness.)

Enjoy (and sorry Mom!).

Black Bottom Banana Cream Pie

Vanilla Pudding (adapted from Bon Appetit):

4 large eggs
cup sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
4 cups whole milk
2 Tbs unsalted butter
2 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch of kosher salt

Crust (adapted from Bon Appetit):

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
7 whole graham crackers, coarsely broken
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
2 Tbs sugar
1 1/3 cups bittersweet chocolate chips (about 8 ounces)
2/3 cup chilled whipping cream
2 Tbs light corn syrup

3 ripe bananas, sliced thinly

Whipped cream topping:

1 1/3 cup chilled whipping cream
3 Tbs confectioners’ sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp kosher salt

To make the pudding:  Lightly whisk eggs in a large bowl just to blend. Whisk sugar and cornstarch in a medium saucepan. Gradually whisk milk into sugar mixture and heat over medium heat, whisking often, until very warm to the touch. Gradually whisk half of hot milk mixture into eggs, then whisk egg mixture back into milk mixture in saucepan.

Cook, whisking constantly, until thickened and whisk leaves a trail in pudding (it should be the consistency of mayonnaise), about 4 minutes. Remove from heat, add butter, vanilla, and salt and whisk until butter is melted and mixture is smooth.

Strain pudding through a fine-mesh sieve into another large bowl. Cover pudding with plastic wrap, pressing directly onto the surface. Chill until cool, about 2 hours.

For the crust:  While the pudding chills, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray 9-inch-diameter glass pie dish with nonstick spray. Blend graham crackers, melted butter, and 2 tablespoons sugar in processor until moist clumps form. Press crumb mixture over bottom and up sides of prepared pie dish. Bake crust until lightly browned, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine chocolate chips, 2/3 cup cream, corn syrup, and 1 teaspoon vanilla in microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on medium heat until chocolate softens, about 3 minutes. Whisk until melted and smooth. Spread about 2/3 of chocolate mixture over bottom of crust. Freeze 10 minutes.  Reserve the rest of the chocolate to drizzle on top of the finished pie.

To assembly the pie: Spread a thin layer of the chilled pudding over the chocolate.  Arrange the banana slices over the pudding in about 2 layers and then top with the remaining pudding until the pie dish is filled (you may have some extra left over).  Chill for at least 4 hours.

It’s best to top pie with whipped cream just prior to serving.  To make whipped cream, combine all ingredients in a stand mixer fit with a whip attachment and beat on high until stiff peaks form.  Spread on top of pie.  Drizzle with remaining chocolate (you may need to rewarm in microwave for about 20 seconds).

Roasted Cauliflower Soup with Truffle Oil

Cauliflower is the new kale! You heard it here first!  Actually, it’s been proclaimed the new kale for about a year now but it’s still really really really good.  My favorite preparation is to simply roast it with olive oil, salt and pepper to bring out the delicious nutty, caramel flavors (and then maybe add some pomegranate seeds, parsley, hazelnuts…).  However, given that winter has finally decided to grace us with its below freezing temperatures and gale force winds, I decided to take the roasted cauliflower one step further by turning it into a soup.

This humble soup of roasted cauliflower, onion, garlic, water and milk is delicious served as is.  But, finishing with sautéed mushrooms and truffle oil really elevates the dish and lends an earthy flavor and aroma.  Serve it as an appetizer or turn it into the main attraction by adding some crusty bread and a small side salad.

Roasted Cauliflower Soup with Truffle Oil
(serves 4-6)

1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
3 Tbs olive oil, divided
salt and pepper
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups water
2 cups milk
1/2 Tbs sugar
4 oz wild mushrooms sautéed in 1 Tbs butter
sour cream (or greek yogurt or creme fraiche) (optional)
truffle oil (not optional…)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Toss cauliflower in 2 Tbs olive oil, salt and pepper.  Roast for 30-40 minutes, until browned.   Set aside.

Heat a large pot or dutch oven on the stove over medium-high heat with the remaining 1 Tbs olive oil.  Add the chopped onions and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute before adding the roasted cauliflower.

Add the water, milk and sugar and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes.  Allow to cool for 10-15 minutes (or risk burning yourself while pureeing).  Puree with immersion blender or in batches in a food processor until smooth.  Return soup to dutch oven, reheat and add salt and pepper to taste.

Garnish with mushrooms, truffle oil, and a dollop of sour cream (or greek yogurt/creme fraiche) if desired.

 

 

Happy 2015!

2014 has been good to me:  I finished my third year of residency, started a research fellowship, and reclaimed by social life!  I picked up a new and exciting hobby (photography).  My little brother got engaged (and now I’m being FORCED to go to Paris for the wedding!) I made some new friends and rekindled relationships with old ones.  I cooked and baked A LOT of amazing food (and photographed the sh-t out of it!).

But now it is time to look forward to, hopefully, an even better 2015.

2015 will be the year I finally travel to Hawaii and return to Paris.  2015 will be the year I try to reduce my own food waste while also trying to cook more at home and eat out less (already failing this one).  2015 will be the year I finally gain some patience (maybe? I have a feeling this one will be a forever goal).  2015 will be the year I master Lightroom and improve my photography.  I could go on and on because there is always room for improvement, as doctors, daughters, sisters, bloggers, photographers, researchers, friends and people.  Happy and healthy new year to all of my readers!  Scroll below for a few of my favorite creations and photographs from last year.