The past week has been crazy and the best way to put my weary mind at ease, is to dig my hands into a ball of yeast dough and knead, and knead, and knead. You can punch and roll it, letting all your energy out until you’re exhausted; or you can knead it gently to calm down and feel the pale ball softening slowly between your fingers. Yeast dough is forgiving, it accepts whatever mood your in, and it gets better the longer – and harder – you work with it.
The dough for today’s babka had to deal with a lot of energy, I must have looked like a boxer training in my kitchen. And it turned out to be the smoothest, silkiest yeast ball my marble counter tops have ever seen. To make babka, you have to be patient, the dough has to rise overnight in the fridge before it transforms into a braided beauty. But then, if you time it well and start early on the second day, you can enjoy the most fragrant cake on your Sunday breakfast or brunch table. And if you don’t feel like hassling and hurrying, just take your time and bake it for teatime.
I already shared a babka recipe here on Eat In My Kitchen, last year’s Blueberry Lemon Cheese Babka was a hit, not only on my table. This time I wanted to use poppy seeds for the filling to resemble the famous German Mohnstrudel. It used to be one of my childhood’s favourites, preferably generously filled with the dark, black seeds. For my filling, I stirred in a handful of raisins, which is also very common in Germany, they make it a bit fruity. But we’re not done yet, I have another addition: chopped white chocolate; divine! It’s subtle, you can barely taste the little milky bites, but it makes the filling juicier, fudgy in some parts, which is a great contrast to the fluffy cake. For the shiny finish, I used a sticky sugar glaze and I didn’t even wait for it to dry, the first slice of a warm yeast cake is always the best.
Poppy Seed and White Chocolate Babka
Mind that the babka has to rise twice, the first time overnight (for about 8 hours) in the fridge.
Makes 1 loaf cake.
For the dough
plain flour 275g / 2 cups plus 1 tablespoon, plus more if it’s too sticky
granulated sugar 50g / 1/4 cup
fast-acting yeast 1 1/2 teaspoons
fine sea salt 1/4 teaspoon
milk, lukewarm, 60ml / 1/4 cup
organic egg 1
organic egg yolk 1
butter, at room temperature, cut into cubes, 75g / 1/3 cup
oil, for the bowl
For the filling
milk 210ml / 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons
sugar 50g / 1/4 cup
cinnamon 1 teaspoon
orange zest 1 teaspoon
poppy seeds, cracked, 125g / 1 1/4 cup
raisins, soaked in warm water for 5 minutes and squeezed gently, 40g / 1/3 cup
white chocolate, chopped, 100g / 4 ounces
For the glaze
water 60ml / 1/4 cup
granulated sugar 100g / 1/2 cup
Day 1 – in the evening:
For the yeast dough, in a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, yeast, and salt.
Whisk the milk, egg, and egg yolk and add along with the butter to the flour mixture. Knead for about 10 minutes, starting with the dough hooks of a stand mixer and continue kneading and punching with your hands for a few minutes until you have a soft and silky ball of dough. If the dough is too sticky, add a little more flour, but mind that it stays soft. Transfer to a clean, oiled bowl, cover with cling film and put in the fridge overnight.
Day 2 – in the morning:
Take the dough out of the fridge and let at sit at room temperature for about 1-2 hours.
For the filling, in a medium saucepan, bring the milk, sugar, cinnamon, and orange zest to the boil. Take the pan off the heat, stir in the poppy seeds, and let it soak for 5 minutes. Stir in the soaked raisins and let it cool.
Butter an 11 x 24cm / 4 x 9″ loaf pan and line the bottom with a piece of parchment paper.
Punch the dough down, take it out of the bowl, and knead for about 30 seconds. On a floured counter top, roll out the dough with a rolling pin into a 28 x 40cm / 11 x 16″ rectangle. Spread the filling over the dough, leaving a 2cm / 3/4″ rim, and sprinkle with the white chocolate. Starting from one long side, roll up the dough tightly into a log. Pull and press to seal the end onto the roll and place the seam at the bottom. Using a sharp long knife, cut the roll in half lengthwise (see 5th picture). The cut sides facing up, press together two ends and lay one half of the log over the other, continue until you end up with a twisted plait (2nd picture). Push the end together. Tuck the ends underneath the babka and, using the large blade of a knife, lift the loaf and transfer quickly to the prepared pan. Cover with a tea towel and let it rise in a warm place (I keep it on the heater) for about 60-90 minutes or until puffy.
Preheat the oven to 190°C / 375°F (conventional oven). For the glaze, in a small saucepan, bring the water and sugar to the boil and let it cook for 2 minutes, take the pan off the heat and set aside.
Bake the babka in the oven for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown. Check with a skewer, it should come out clean. Mind that depending on where you push it in, there will be melted chocolate on the skewer. Take the pan out of the oven and brush the top immediately with the syrup (use all the syrup). Let the cake cool for about 10-15 minutes before you remove it from the pan. Enjoy slightly warm or cold.