Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Pumpkin, Rye + Chocolate Babka

This babka recipe features a golden challah-like dough kissed with rye flour and kabocha squash puree filled with a swirl of spiced chocolate, all topped with a salted maple sugar and rye flour streusel.

I think babka may be the new cinnamon roll. The concept is similar: a yeasted dough, enriched with milk, butter and egg, wrapped around a gooey, spiced filling and baked. Where cinnamon buns are sliced prior to baking, babka is rolled up into a long log, twisted around itself, and baked in a loaf pan. This is advantageous for babka as the filling doesn't leak out onto the bottom of the pan and burn; rather it stays on the inside, adding extra moisture and richness to the dough.

The best babka I've had comes from Wise Sons, a stellar Jewish delicatessen here in San Francisco. Layer upon layer of tender dough separated by nubby bits of chocolate, all crowned with buttery streusel, it is a perfect specimen of chocolaty goodness. I try to reserve my gluten-eating for special occasions, since too much makes my tummy unhappy. Chocolate babka is one of such occasions. I'm thrilled with this version, which is made slightly healthier by using some whole grain rye flour, a scoop of winter squash puree, and minimal amounts of unrefined sweeteners.

But homemade babka eluded me for years. One great-looking recipe made three (three!) large loaves, and was troublesome to divide due to calling for a pesky 5 eggs. Another version I tried used all sorts of fancy flours and took two days to make only to turn out a dense, overly salty bread. I gave up for a while. 

Then I made two ginormous loaves of pumpkin challah for a feast co-hosted with Nik and Phi, and I wondered if it might be the answer to my babka woes. I made a small batch of dough using kabocha squash puree leftover from this pie which I spread with a spiced chocolate paste and topped with a maple sugar streusel sprinkled with coarse sea salt.

It was babka perfection, or it nearly was. A few last tweaks turned out the babka of my dreams; pillowy soft, with many thin layers of dough and a gently spiced, slightly nubby chocolate filling. Jay and I both agree that the streusel is our favorite part. It has a pleasant saltiness, sandy texture, and earthy flavor from maple sugar and rye flour.

I wrapped up a few pieces which I brought to a friend who I met for drinks at our new favorite cocktail bar. We were seated next to the executive chef of several hip, Mission restaurants and when Amelia unveiled the babka he said, "Is that from Wise Sons?"

I felt like a million shekels.

Plus, the golden dough contrasted with dark brown chocolate stripes reminds me of a tiger. Which I consider a pro. (So does Catamus...)

I was recently sent a sample of sea salt from J. Q. Dickinson Salt Works and I've been loving using it in cooking and baking. The salt crystals are coarse enough to use as a finishing salt, but fine enough to use in a baking recipe. It has a nice, clean flavor, and I love that it's harvested and produced in small batches by a family in West Virginia. Highly recommended!

Babka is always best the day of baking, but I've given a bunch of do-ahead options below. Leftover slices can be toasted gently, and I bet they would make killer french toast or bread pudding, too. I wouldn't hesitate to serve it to the most discerning of guests. 

Thanks for reading! For more Bojon Gourmet in your life, follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Bloglovin', or Twitter, subscribe to receive new posts via email, make a donation, or become a sponsor.

Yeasted Sweets:
Rye Flour Pains au Chocolat (Chocolate Croissants)
Chocolate Things
Pumpkin Cinnamon Buns

One year ago:
Cauliflower and Yellow Split Pea Soup with Turmeric and Curried Ghee
Two years ago:
Buckwheat Cacao Nib Snowballs 
Three years ago:

Pumpkin, Rye + Chocolate Babka with Salted Maple Sugar Streusel

I like to use maple sugar in the dough and topping to keep them light in color, and unrefined muscobado sugar in the filling for some molasses-y richness, but you can use granulated sugar in place of the maple and light or (preferably) dark brown sugar in the filling if it's what you have on hand. Feel free to trade the rye flour for another gluten-containing whole-grain flour if you like, such as whole wheat, spelt, kamut, or barley. I've made this recipe with both fine sea salt and with a semi-coarse variety from J. Q. Dickinson Salt Works. I love the texture that the J.Q.D. salt adds, but you can also use a fine sea salt in the babka components and top the babka with a flaky salt such as Maldon. (Just don't use iodized table salt as it has a harsh flavor and will produce an overly-salty babka.)

Do ahead: You can make the dough a day or two ahead and let it rise in the fridge. Let it come to room temperature before shaping it. The streusel can be made up to a few days ahead and stored airtight in the fridge. The filling can be made a day or two ahead and stored airtight at room temperature. The filled + shaped babka can probably be refrigerated overnight, allowed to finish rising at room temperature, then egg washed, streuseled and baked the next morning.

All ounce measurements here are by weight.

Ps. As you make the dough, you will think that the ratios won't make a proper dough. But don't worry, they will. 

Makes 1 large loaf, about 10 servings

For the pumpkin dough:
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (3 ounces / 85 grams) milk (I use whole, but any fat content should be fine)
1 packet (2.5 teaspoons / .24 ounces / 7 grams) active dry yeast
1/2 cup (4.5 ounces / 130 grams) pumpkin or winter squash puree (I use kabocha)
1 large egg (preferably room temperature)
2 tablespoons (1 ounce / 30 grams) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
3 tablespoons (.75 ounces / 25 grams) maple sugar (or granulated)
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup (4 ounces / 115 grams) dark rye flour
about 1 cup (5 ounces / 140 grams) bread flour, plus more for kneading

For the streusel:
1/2 cup (2 ounces / 55 grams) dark rye flour
1/4 cup (1.25 ounces / 40 grams) maple sugar (or light brown sugar)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup (2 ounces / 55 grams) cold butter, cubed

For the chocolate cinnamon filling:
2 1/4 cups (10.5 ounces / 280 grams) chocolate wafers or coarsely chopped chocolate
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup (1.5 ounces / 40 grams) unrefined muscobado sugar (I use Eco Goods brand; maple sugar or brown sugar are fine, too)
1/4 cup (2 ounces / 55 grams) cold butter, sliced

For finishing the babka:
1 egg, beaten well
coarse or flaky salt (such as J.Q. Dickinson or Maldon)

Make the dough:
Warm the milk in a small saucepan until it's just warmer than body temperature, around 100ºF (no hotter, or it could kill the yeast). Pour into a large bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the top, and let sit to dissolve the yeast, 10 minutes. Stir in the pumpkin puree, egg, butter, sugar, salt, and rye flour. Stir in the bread flour in quarter-cup increments until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and becomes difficult to stir. Scrape it out onto a floured surface and, with clean, dry hands, knead for 10 minutes, until the dough is smoother and springy, adding as little flour as possible as you work to keep the dough from sticking to your hands and the work surface. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a damp cloth, plastic wrap, or a large plate. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Make the streusel:
In the bowl of a food processor (or in a medium bowl), combine the rye flour, maple sugar, salt and cold butter. Pulse (or rub) the butter into the dough until the butter is incorporated and the streusel forms hazelnut-sized clumps. Cover and keep at cool room temperature until needed.

Make the filling:
In a food processor, combine the chocolate, cinnamon, salt, and muscobado sugar. Pulse until the chocolate is ground to the size of peas. Add the cold butter and process until it clumps into a coarse paste.

Shape the babka:
On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out into a large rectangle that measures roughly 14 x 20 inches and about 1/8" thick, turning and flipping the dough, dusting with more flour, as needed to prevent sticking. Smear the chocolate goo as best you can all over the dough, trying to get it as even as possible and taking care not to tear the dough. The more evenly you spread it, the more defined your babka's layers will be.

Starting on a long side, roll up the dough into a fairly tight log. Pinch the bottom seam closed and roll the log along your work surface to elongate it. Fold the dough in half, twisting the two ends over each other three times. Place the babka in a 9x5" or 10x5" loaf pan that has been lined on all sides with parchment 
paper. Slide the whole thing into a clean, plastic garbage bag, inflate the bag, and tie or clamp it shut. 

Let the babka rise 30 minutes, until it fills the bottom of the pan. Remove the bag and brush the top with the beaten egg. Sprinkle the streusel all over the top, and sprinkle with a few pinches of flaky salt. Let the babka rise until it reaches the top of the pan and is spongy to the touch, another 15 -30 minutes. 

Meanwhile, position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 350ºF.

Bake the babka:
Remove the babka from the bag, slip in the oven, and bake until the top is deeply bronzed, the bread sounds hollow when rapped, and an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center registers 180ºF, 50-60 minutes. (Decrease the oven temperature to 325 or 300º if the top is browning too quickly within the first half hour.)

Let the babka cool completely, 2 hours; it is still cooking from residual heat. 

Slice with a large, serrated knife and serve. The babka is best the day of baking, but leftover slices can be gently toasted.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Spiced Cocoa Polvorones {Gluten-Free}

Snowball cookies, Russian Tea Cakes, Mexican Wedding cakes – call them what you like. These are essentially nutty balls of gluten-free shortbread rolled in frosting-esque powdered sugar, kissed with a Mexican chocolate-inspired mixture of cocoa powder, cinnamon, and a little cayenne for kick.

When Karen of Honestly Yum asked me to take part in a virtual cookie swap with some of my blogging idols, the answer was an emphatic yes! Check out their lovely cookies by clicking the images below. 

I wish I could get more excited about the holidays. So far, the most festive thing I've done was to attend a holiday-themed burlesque show that featured a stripping Santa, a Grinch-green Marilyn Monroe in diamond pasties, and can-can dancing reindeer.

You might say, "why, a virtual cookie exchange seems pretty festive!" And indeed, it would have been... had I not put off the recipe testing and shooting until the last minute. Sunday saw me frantically bandying butter and sugar around the kitchen, wishing I were at Hog Island eating oysters and drinking champers with my friends.

Earlier that day, I'd visited the co-op for ingredients and saw a Santa-clad homeless man waltz in saying "Ho ho ho, merry Christmas!" Also potentially festive... until I turned the corner and found him embroiled in a shouting match with a cheese monger. Santa left in a rage. 

Laden with bags of sugar and flour, I hiked home, dodging the paths of psychotic drivers who seemed to be under the influence of the "holicraze" as I'm now calling this time of year. (Is it just me or does "the holicraze" sound suspiciously like another unfortunate historical event?)

Back at home, I had a much needed glass of wine (let's face it, daytime drinking is really the best thing the holidays have going for them) and got down to baking. My first two tries were less than stellar and I wasn't sure how to fix either one of them. Luckily, Sarah kindly interrupted her dissertation writing to answer my frantic texts and talk me down. (Oh, you should check out her awesome cookies, too. And this gift guide. Yeah, she pretty much rocks at this holiday thing.) Thanks to her advice, I switched tracks. When I pulled this batch out of the oven, they were the clear winner. 

Gently spiced and deeply chocolatey, these little cookies feature a frosting-like coating of powdered sugar that gives way to buttery shortbread kissed with toasty pecans and plenty of salt. Molassey muscobado sugar and vanilla add depth, and cinnamon and cayenne slowly emerge in the finish, leaving a warmth in the back of your throat. I replaced the wheat flour typically used here with almond flour and a bit of tapioca starch, which makes these cookies extra-tender.

They're just the thing to have with afternoon tea, or for dessert, or, because it's the holicraze, for breakfast! With whiskey!

Ok, maybe hold off on the whiskey until noon. 

Polvorones (a.k.a. Snowballs / Mexican Wedding Cakes / Russian Tea Cakes) are my favorite holiday cookie. Jay's mom makes the best ones – hand-chopped walnuts barely held together in a matrix of buttery, not-too-sweet dough. I made a gluten-full version a couple of years ago featuring buckwheat flour, cacao nibs and almonds, complete with tips and tricks on how to get the best snowballs.

This gluten-free version is a favorite iteration, and their gluten-freeness makes them extra melty-in-your-mouthy. Though nothing really compares to Mary's originals. I'll be greatly looking forward to getting a box of those in a few weeks when we have our annual Dungeness crab and wine feast on the deck where I'll be in good company regarding my lack of holiday cheer.

On the evening following the frenetic cookie-making, a few friends from out of town (two of whom happen to be award-winning bakers) came by for dinner. I laid out a cookie platter with the three different tester cookies and some of these which I'd made for a mini bakesale over the weekend. Sipping whiskey with old friends as we munched our way through cookies, sharing baking techniques and recipes, I felt a bit of holiday cheer creeping into my cold (albeit drunk) heart.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'd better have another drink. 

And another cookie.

Thanks for reading! For more Bojon Gourmet in your life, follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Bloglovin', or Twitter, subscribe to receive new posts via email, make a donation, or become a sponsor.

Me want cookie!:

One year ago:
Two years ago:
Three years ago:

Spiced Cocoa Polvorones {Gluten-Free}

Adapted liberally from Jay's mom Mary's awesome snowball cookie recipe

Since these cookies are a tad fussy, be sure to use the dip and sweep method if measuring by volume, or, better yet, use the weight measurements if you've got a kitchen scale. All ounce measurements are by weight.

Makes about 32 (1.5-inch) cookies

For the cookies:
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (3.5 ounces / 100 grams) blanched almond flour (I used Bob's Red Mill)
1/2 cup (1.75 ounces / 50 grams) cocoa powder (I used dutch-process by Valrhona, but any unsweetened cocoa should work)
2 tablespoons (.5 ounces / 15 grams) tapioca starch
6 tablespoons (2 ounces / 60 grams) unrefined muscobado sugar (I used Eco Goods brand, but any unrefined or brown sugar should work)
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne (or more for spicier cookies)
1 cup (4 ounces / 115 grams) raw pecan halves, chopped semi-fine (1/8-1/4" pieces)
1 stick (4 ounces / 115 grams) unsalted, cold butter, in 1/2" pieces
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
~3/4 cup (3 ounces / 90 grams) powdered sugar

Let's make cookies!:
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350ºF. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper (or grease lightly).

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the almond flour, cocoa powder, tapioca starch, sugar, cinnamon, salt and cayenne. Add the pecans, scatter the butter pieces over the top, and sprinkle over the vanilla. Mix on low until the butter is incorporated and the dough forms large clumps, 1-2 minutes. (If you don't have a stand mixer, use a pastry cutter to blend the butter into the dough.) Cover the dough and chill for 30 minutes (or up to several days).

Sift the powdered sugar into a shallow bowl. Form tablespoon-sized 1" balls of dough and roll them in the powdered sugar, knocking off any large clumps, and place the balls on the baking sheet an inch or two apart (I was able to fit all of mine on one sheet).

Bake the cookies until puffed and cracked, 18-22 minutes. It's a bit hard to tell when these are done so I recommend setting a timer and using an oven thermometer if you've got one. The cookies will be soft at first but should crisp up when cool. (If they're still soft when cool, return them to the oven to bake them a bit longer).

Let the cookies cool, then roll each one a second time in the powdered sugar. I like these best the first day of baking when the spices are bright and the cookies are crisp, but they can be layered with parchment paper and stored airtight for up to several days. If they start looking bald, give them another coat of powdered sugar.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Smoky Brussels Sprout Pizza with Lemon + Chile {Gluten-Free}

A thin crust supports a gooey topping of crisp-tender brussels sprouts, smoky mozzarella, creamy goat cheese, and bright lemon. Gluten-free pizza at its best.

I'm in the throes of preparing for a dance performance, so I'll keep this pizza post short and sweet. (If you're in the San Francisco bay area and are interested, I've included show details below...and there's a bake sale, too!) 

I made a couple of these pizzas earlier this week, and we've been living off of the leftovers. (In hindsight, maybe pizza wasn't the best choice considering I have to fit into a slinky black dress on Saturday, but oh well. That's what Spanx are for, right?) 

Leftover pizza slices are even better now that I know the secret to reheating them. When you reheat pizza in an oven, the cheese gets dried out and hard before the crust has a chance to crisp. But throw those slices in a cast iron skillet and place them over a low flame, and the crust slowly crisps up, gently warming the cheese up top until perfectly gooey. Et voilà – leftovers that are better than the real deal.

Some of you may be brussels sprouted-out by now, but since those tiny cabbages were never part of my family's Thanksgiving, these are some of the first I've enjoyed this season. Thinly sliced, they cook up crisp tender in minutes upon contact with the hot oven air. They make this pizza feel a little bit healthy.

Since I still have a bazillion homegrown meyer lemons from Sarah, I've been tossing the sprouts with shavings of lemon zest and a bit of juice, garlic, and olive oil to give them a hit of flavor. I layer them over fresh mozzarella, smoked mozzarella, and goat cheese. Slivered red onion and a few pinches of chile flakes add a burst of color and their flavors layer with the sweetness of the sprouts. Crisp crust, gooey cheese, bright greens... what more could you ask for?

As for the dance show, my group puts together a showcase each fall, with all proceeds going to the Alliance for Lupus Research. 

We've lined up twenty different Bay Area groups to perform an array of dance styles, including modern, hip-hop, ballroom, salsa, tango, and bellydance. Plus, I'm baking cookies. Tickets are available here

I'll be back soon to share more unsuitable food that I made this week that won't help the slinky dress cause. Wish me luck with that... but for the dancing, wish me "merde!"

Thanks for reading! For more Bojon Gourmet in your life, follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Bloglovin', or Twitter, subscribe to receive new posts via email, make a donation, or become a sponsor.

One year ago:
Kale and Cauliflower Enchiladas with Potatoes, Shiitakes, and Goat Cheese
Two years ago:
Maple Bourbon Brown Butter Granola Persimmon Cranberry Crisp 
Three years ago:
Oatmeal Molasses Bread  
Four years ago:
Triple Chocolate Chile Cookies 
Five years ago:
Coconut Cardamom Arroz con Leche

Smoky Brussels Sprout Pizza with Lemon + Chile {Gluten-Free}

The below quantities make one pizza. If you want two pizzas (since the crust recipe makes two crusts), double the recipe below and bake the pizzas one after the other. Leftover pizza is nearly as good as freshly baked if you reheat it as so: place a heavy (preferably cast-iron) skillet over a low flame and add the pizza slices. Cook until the cheese is heated through, 5-10 minutes. Devour.

Makes 1 (10 to 11-inch) pizza, serving 2

For the pizza:
1 (10-inch) par baked gluten-free pizza crust (or par baked crust of your choice)
1 medium clove garlic, crushed
1 T olive oil
thinly sliced zest and juice of 1/2 small (meyer) lemon
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
2.5 ounces / 75 grams trimmed and thinly sliced crosswise sprouts (1 c lightly packed)
4 ounces fresh mozzarella sliced and drained on paper towels
3-4 ounces ounces smoked mozzarella
3 ounces crumbled soft goat's cheese
a handful of thinly sliced red onion
a few pinches red chile flakes
a few pinches flaky salt
a drizzle super good olive oil

Let's make pizza!
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 500ºF. Put a baking stone on the rack if you've got one and allow it to preheat for at least 30 minutes. Place the par baked pizza crust on a piece of parchment paper and place on a pizza peel if using a baking stone; otherwise shape and bake the pizza on a (preferably rimless) baking sheet.

Combine the garlic, olive oil, lemon zest and juice, and salt in a medium-sized bowl. Add the sliced brussels sprouts, tossing to coat them in the goodness. Layer both of the mozzarellas over the par baked crust. Top with the brussels sprouts, goat cheese, red onion, and chile flakes. Use a pizza peel to slip the pizza, parchment and all, into the oven onto the pizza stone (or slide the baking sheet into the oven).

Bake the pizza until the bottom is golden and the cheese is bubbly, 4-8 minutes. Use a pair of tongs to grasp the crust of the pizza and drag it onto the peel. Slide the pizza onto a large cutting board, discarding the parchment. Drizzle with a bit of good olive oil and sprinkle with a few pinches of flaky salt. Use a pizza wheel or large, sharp chef's knife to cut the pizza into sixths. Serve immediately.