Chocolate-Cinnamon Babka

how do you make gifs
how do you make gifs

From what I can tell, Jewish delicatessens are the new “fancy ice cream”. Hipsters may not be throwing out their olive oil and sea salt sundaes just yet, but they are making room for pastrami, smoked trout and bialys. Simran and I have tried to eat at SF hot spot Wise Sons Delicatessen, on a couple of occasions only to have been foiled at every turn. Hipsters be damned!

Naturally as my mouth was watering and my mind was contemplating Wise Son’s house-cured pastrami on double baked rye bread it also meandered over to chocolate babka. Decadent, chocolatey, cinnamony babka…. And somehow it was easier to imagine baking up a loaf of that sweet, swirly bread than curing our own pastrami, so before your know it we had a dozen babka recipes tagged, and my favorite 4 year old chocoholic urging me on from the sidelines.

It was tough to chose among the contenders, but ultimately we settled in with this Peter Reinhart recipe via the Purple Foodie website. (I just could not bring myself dive with in the 3.5 sticks of butter called for in Martha Stewart’s version. OK it does make 3 loaves, but still….). The Reinhart recipe seems a little complicated at first with its 2 rises, but after making it, I assure you that none of it is hard to do and nearly all of it is suitable for little helpers. Dough projects might be messy, but they are fabulous tactile fun for youngsters and working with yeast offers a chance to do a little kitchen science. I wouldn’t be able to stop Luca from getting into the act even if I wanted to — you’ll find him pulling up a chair next to the counter anytime he sees me getting out tubs of flour or pulling out the stand mixer. Gooey gobs of chocolate don’t hurt either.

Sometimes you wonder if your final product will look as good as the beautifully styled, professional-looking photo that inspired it. This babka was one of the most impressive looking things to come out of our oven in quite sometime. And luckily for us it tasted as good as it looked.

I’ll let the Purple Foodie give you the full details on Peter Reinhart’s recipe and instead I’ll share this little pictorial to give you a sense of how this recipe comes together. I’ll also mention that we liked slightly more chocolate filling than called for in the recipe. We also painted the babka with a little egg wash and sprinkled it with cinnamon sugar before baking. The full recipe makes two large loaves and as much as we love Babka, it’s pretty decadent so I think a half recipe (1 loaf) is sufficient to satisfy the craving. If you’re feeling nice you may consider making the full recipe and sharing a loaf with a friend, or you could portion your dough and make mini babkas to share with lots of friends if you’re feeling really, really nice.

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West Indies-Inspired Marinade

We love this West Indies-inspired spice mix for it’s ability to transform hum drum everyday broiled chicken into something juicy and intensely spiced (but not spicy!). The warm, zesty aroma always picks me up after a busy day on the run and it gets my mind thinking about lazy barbeques, the beach and summer vacations. Anything that can accomplish that  gets a big gold star in my book and the fact that both my little guys happily scarf up these flavors is like the icing on the cake.

Anything you might be inspired to grill up with this mix will make a great filling for a taco or a sandwich, and is guaranteed to kick up a boring plate of rice and beans (or Orlando Cepeda’s famous Caribbean Cha Cha Bowls). I  can also recommend this spice mix as a fun mini cooking project to do with little hands. Kids will enjoy seeing the whole spices (and smelling everything of course) as well as getting into the act with measuring, grinding and marinating.

West Indies-Inspired Marinade

To save time, you could use all pre-ground spices or make up a big jar of the mix, but the flavors will be extra special if you start from whole and grind them when you need them.

In a coffee or spice grinder, grind to a fine powder:

  • 1.5 tsp whole allspice
  • 1 tsp whole coriander
  • 1 tsp whole cumin
  • 1/2 tsp peppercorns
  • fresh thyme (leaves from about 2 sprigs), or 1 tsp ground
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 Tbl ground paprika (sweet, smoked or a combination)
  • 1.5 tsp ground ginger
  • 3/4 tsp kosher salt
  • Optional: If you’re a chile-head like Simran, add cayenne, crushed red pepper flakes or chili powder to taste.

To the ground spices add:

  • Juice of 1 lemon or lime
  • 3 TBL of olive oil
  • 1 TBL of brown sugar or honey

This little guy hasn't mastered utensils yet, but he gives a wee thumbs up for this marinade.

You might also like: Vij’s Ground Fennel Seed Curry, Spiced-Up Orange Baby Foods, Spice Up Your Meals for Good Health, Indonesian Chilli Sambal, Teriyaki on Everything, Caribbean Cha Cha Bowls

Quince: Where Have You Been All My Life?

I’m not sure why we have missed out on quince all these years. I had a vague notion that they they were like a pithier apple — something that needed to be preserved or cooked for long periods of time. Something about quince seemed old-fashioned and fussy and therefore not on my radar. Funny thing is, we almost always buy boughs of quince blossoms this time of year to decorate our home for the Lunar New Year, but so far we have totally ignored the actual fruit.

So the other day were doing a little produce shopping and Luca saw a great pile of sunny, yellow quince and asked “what’s that, mom?”. I mistook them for papaya at first, but then soon realized these were the elusive quince. I’m not sure I had a notion of what they looked like, and so was surprised at both their color and shape. We took a smell and I was completely taken by how beautiful the aroma is. You could/should make perfume from the stuff. It’s heavenly. We snapped some up and then scoured our cookbooks to find a recipe.

Deborah Madison to the rescue! Simran, Ria and I attended a fabulous potluck last year with Deborah, hosted by 18 Reasons and Onmivore Books (a book tour stop to support her new “Seasonal Fruit Desserts” cookbook). I was lucky enough to sit next to Deborah that night – and nervous that she would be tasting my rendition of her chard and saffron tart! Both Simran and I of course immediately added this dessert book to our respective collections. It’s a great one for anyone who wants to showcase fruit throughout the year and for anyone living with sweet-tooths like my son. The recipes range from simple to elaborate. She gives ideas for fruit and cheese pairings, fruit-based sauces, and condiments as well as cakes, tarts and other deliciousness. The book includes two wonderful quince recipes including “nearly candied quince” that you roast and enjoy on it’s own or in concert with your favorite apples and pear desserts.

I opted for her braised quince with honey, cinnamon and wine. The Atlantic published the recipe, and you can find it here (but do yourself a favor and check out the book, too).  The recipe is ridiculously simple and utterly delicious — so simple that you can make this on even the busiest of nights when you want a little something special to end your meal. Case in point: I was able to pull this one off on a hectic Monday night amidst the distractions of a 2-week old infant and preschooler (while cooking dinner)! You don’t even need to peel or core the quince, just wash and slice the fruit and chuck it in a baking dish with the other ingredients and throw at all in the oven. Even though the fruit is braised with wine, it will appeal to young dessert fans too — anyone who likes the middle of an apple pie.

I’m a believer now. Quince rules!

Slow Cooker Apple-Pear Butter

This apple-pear butter is tangy, spicy and sweet. It’s great on toast, in oatmeal, on pancakes or French toast. A nice change of pace from the usual breakfast spreads and so easy to make! Applesauce is a great substitute for vegetable oil in muffin recipes or pancake mixes (substitute one for one), which is another great reason to have this on hand.
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We’ve made a similar apple butter on the stovetop in the past, but this slow cooker version, adapted from a recipe from Thomas Keller’s “Ad Hoc at Home”, is a nice twist. You can chuck everything into the slow cooker and let it go overnight, with just minimal hands-on time. No peeling or coring required. We tweaked things — adding pears to the mix as well as fresh ginger and adjusting the sugar and spices a bit to suit my son’s tastes. If your little ones are just so-so on spices, just add a little cinnamon or no spices at all. Here’s our version (this made about 2 pints):
  • 3 Pounds Mixed Apples and Pears (a mix of sweeter and more tart varieties is nice)
  • Fresh Ginger (a couple of inch-long pieces)
  • 1/2 Cup Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1.5 cups Brown Sugar (or to taste) — I’m sure you could substitute apple cider, agave syrup, maple syrup or other sweeteners you like.
  • 3/4 Tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 Tsp Ground Cloves
  • 1/2 Tsp Allspice
  • Zest & Juice from 1 Lemon
  1. Cut the fruit into big chunks (including  skins, cores and seeds).
  2. Toss the fruit into a slow cooker with the water, ginger and apple cider vinegar.
  3. Cover and cook on high for 3 hours stirring occasionally.
  4. Pass the fruit through a food mill to remove the skins, seeds and stems and return to the slow cooker.
  5. Add sugar, spices, lemon juice and zest. Taste and adjust the seasonings to your taste.
  6. Cook on low for 8 hours (or overnight). Taste and adjust again if you need to. If it’s not thick enough for your liking at this point, continue cooking uncovered.
  7. Whatever you aren’t going to use in the next couple of weeks, you can freeze or can.

We happened upon “Ad Hoc at Home” at the library. Thomas Keller’s idea of simple, home cooking might be more involved than the way most us cook in real life, but there are a lot of great techniques well explained throughout that you really can incorporate into everyday cooking like how to cut up a chicken (8 and 10 piece versions), stocking your pantry and a whole section on “Becoming a Better Cook”. Check it out, you’re sure to find some inspiration in this one.