vínarterta

Vínarterta is a classic Icelandic Christmas cake that was brought to North America along with a wave of Icelandic immigrants around the late 18th to early 20th century. It was a thin cake that could be cooked over a hearth, and as prunes were très cher, it was very “en vogue”! The vínarterta still is en vogue, or at least in North America.

It’s like the founder effect (maybe?) but with cake. The vínarterta remains a popular and iconic Christmas cake in the Icelandic population of North America, but has become an obscurity in Iceland itself. It’s been described a “culinary time capsule.” I imagine what happens is that when you’re further from home, the traditions brought with you are treasured even more highly and can become even more resistant to change. As Natascha mentioned in her post on the lane cake Canada and the US do have their own food traditions and culture. While the Lane Cake was more of a “made in the USA” sort of situation, many, understandably, are derived from other places. They’ve then become unique because they have changed, or like the vínarterta, have been preserved.

I have a soft spot for desserts that can be preserved, and improve with time–such as fruitcake. This is what immediately drew my attention when I was looking up suggested cakes for Lina’s Recipe Challenge. The cake apparently lasts for months, and should be allowed to age just a little bit. Furthermore, it uses prunes. I adore prunes as one of my favourite dried fruits, so what could be better?The cake is made out of 6 to 7 layers of thin cookie-like cake, spread with a thick prune and cardamom jam. Freshly made, the cake layers are essentially crispy and tough (i.e. well-structured) shortbread. After I let the cake sit for 3 days the cake layers had softened perfectly until tender, the prune jam had solidified, and the layers of cake and jam had fused together. It was difficult to stop myself from trying it earlier, but I’m glad I waited.

The prunes are, of course, quite sweet, but the cake overall is not a very sweet cake, which is what I prefer. I decided not to ice it, and completely forgot to dust it with powdered sugar. I don’t think it needs it.It is a dense cake, and a very simple one. It is rich and lovely cut in thin slices served with coffee. I’ve been keeping it in the fridge, though if I want a bit the next morning, I cut a slice the night before and leave it out so it is at room temperature in the morning.

I imagine this would be a good cake to always have on hand (for months due to the long shelf-life! yes!!) for whenever someone unexpectedly comes over for coffee.

When looking around, I found mostly prune and cardamom vínarterta, but I’m excited to one day try some other flavours. I’m thinking apricot lekvar and poppy seeds for something a bit hamantaschen-like. In my reading I also came across several mentions of using rhubarb jam in the vínarterta, or in a similar cake called randalin. I think it would all be perfect with cardamom! Lina is kindly hosting this February Cake Challenge, and it is being judged by Suzanne and Jhuls. I think Lina’s challenges have hit the perfect balance. It was fun to select your own recipe (I feel a great deal of fondness for vínarterta now), and Lina provided a fantastically curated list of suggestions to encourage everyone to try something new. As we all chose something different, now we’re able to see so many different cakes!

vínarterta

Adapted from Port and Fin and Arden Jackson via CTV. I used quite a bit of cardamom and so the cardamom flavour is very strong–I like it, but it could also be reduced if you prefer!

dough

1/4 lb butter

50 g sugar

1″ length of vanilla bean

1/4 tsp vanilla extract (or, more vanilla bean!)

1 egg

1 good pinch salt

125 g all purpose flour

125 g spelt flour

1/4 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp ground cardamom

60 mL milk

Cream the butter and sugar. Split the length of vanilla bean, scrape out the seeds. Reserve pod for the prune filling. Add the vanilla seeds to the butter, supplement with a bit of vanilla extract, and mix. Beat in the egg.

Whisk together flours, salt, baking powder and cardamom.

Add a quarter of the flour to the butter mixture, then half the milk, a quarter of the flour, the remaining milk. Lastly, mix in the last half of the flour.

Wrap in plastic and chill.

Preheat oven to 375F.

Divide the dough into 6 pieces. Roll each one out onto a floured surface until just bigger than a 7″ diameter circle. Lift up the dough from the counter to release any tension and allow the dough to shrink if necessary. (I also tried just leaving the dough on the counter long enough to relax, however due to the moisture content it began to stick to the counter and so it usually ended up deforming when it was peeled from the counter. Use a 7″ diameter cake pan as a guide to cut out an even circle. Place on a parchment lined sheet and bake for around 10-15 minutes or until cooked through and slightly browned along the edges.

Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough, reserving the scraps. I had enough scraps to then make a seventh layer, but I let it shrink too much to use in the final cake. You can bake a couple layers on the same tray to bake two at a time. I finished off some layers on the bottom rack of the oven briefly so they had a bit more browning.

 

prune filling

240 g prunes

1″ vanilla bean pod (reserved from the dough)

3 green cardamom pods

3/4 tsp ground cardamom

3/4 tsp vanilla extract

Place the prunes in a saucepan, along with the pod of the vanilla bean and the three green cardamom pods (crack the pods with the heel of your hand). Cover the prunes with water and bring to a simmer. Let simmer until the water evaporates (which took around 20 minutes for me). Stir occasionally, especially near the end as the water evaporates and the prunes could possibly burn against the bottom. If the prunes are completely softened, continue–otherwise, add some additional water and continue to cook down until the prunes are soft. Remove the vanilla bean pod (which will be a bit difficult to find, so you may want to remove it the prunes start breaking down) and the green cardamom pods.

I continued to add water and cook until the prunes broke up and began to disintegrate. Cook until the mixture is thick and pasty. Beat with a wire whisk until the prunes are broken up and form a slightly lumpy puree. Whisk in the cardamom and vanilla extract. Let cool completely before layering.

 

assembly

The edges of the cake layers can be sanded with a small serrated knife to smooth out any rough edges or decrease the size of some layers if they’re a bit too big.

Spread each layer, except for one which will be the top, with a thin layer of the prune jam. (Do not stack them and then spread the prune jam on each layer as it can cause the jam to squish out of the bottom layers, and each layer is a bit delicate and could crack.) Stack on top of each other and wrap in paper and then a plastic bag. Set it aside, I would say do it in the fridge, to age for a few days.

When you’re ready to try some, take it out and let it come to room temperature. Serve, cut into thin slices, with coffee.

blood orange and buckwheat pancakes

I’ve realized my categorization system is not very comprehensive (Cooking, Baking, and Disasters). Disasters, by the way, are reserved for things that turn out to be at the very least 51% disaster–there’s a bit of disaster to most things I do, though part of that is just melodrama.

These pancakes have made me realize my categories are actually rather limited–pancakes are not baked, but nor would I call this cooking. Luckily I have a catch-all Food category that I can throw it in. And there’s also the recipe page and a search function need I ever recover the recipe for reference.

So maybe one day I’ll start categorizing things by cake or tart or breakfast or bread.Recently, Instagram has been inundated with pictures of pancakes. Stacks of pancakes with fruit and cream and sugar.

It’s been quite justified seeing as it was recently Pancake Tuesday. I didn’t know this existed until reading about it on various blogs and hearing about a friend’s pile of German pancakes (to make note for future pancake escapades: her favourite toppings were fruit and cream or yoghurt, butter with cinnamon and sugar, or peanut butter).

I tried to make a pancake stack–a stout and rotund little pancake stack–and while it hasn’t reached the heights of Instagram pancakes, it’s a start.

I was also surprisingly pleased with how the pancakes turned out. I tend to get impatient and burn things, and there were a few burnt pancakes, but most of them were just well browned and actually cooked throughout. Everything was finished off with some sorely out-of-season blackberries (blackberries and blood orange, as daring and compatible as they sound, are not really a combination that should ever be seen–at least where I live!). And the blood oranges. The colour and taste (and discounted price!) are fantastic. I’ve been seeing some gorgeous blood orange tarts in the reader, but I’m caught between a cake or a tart for the last couple oranges…blood orange, blackberry and chestnut pancakes

Makes around 10 pancakes for two generous stacks… or skip the stacks and it will serve more.

 

blood orange maple syrup

pulpy juice of 1 blood orange minus a tbsp for the pancakes

equal quantity maple syrup

Combine the juice and syrup in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer and cook until reduced by around one third and a bit thickened. Set aside.

 

spiced chestnut

1/4 c smooth chestnut puree

1-2 tbsp milk

pinch each ground nutmeg and cinnamon

1/2 tsp sugar or to taste

Cream chestnut puree in a small saucepan over low heat. Slowly add the milk until it reaches a loose consistency and is completely warm. Add the spices and sugar and set aside, covered to keep warm..

 

blood orange and buckwheat pancakes

Makes around 10 pancakes, roughly 10-12 cm in diameter. Recipe adapted from this one

1/2 c all purpose flour

1/4 c buckwheat flour

pinch salt

1 1/2 tbsp sugar

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

generous 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tbsp baking powder

finely grated zest of 1 blood orange

1/2 c milk

1 egg

1/4 tsp vanilla extract

1 tbsp blood orange juice (reserved from the syrup above)

butter

Whisk together flours, spices, salt, sugar and zest. Separately, mix together the milk, egg, vanilla. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, in addition to the reserved blood orange juice. Whisk until just combined.

Heat a pan over medium heat with a generous amount of butter. Add a small ladleful of batter. Cook until the pancake is puffed and you begin to see bubbles appear on the uncooked side. Flip over and cook until the other side is nicely browned. Cook in batches until all the batter is used.

 

assembly

blood orange syrup

spiced chestnut puree

pancakes

1 blood orange

handful blackberries

fresh mint

Trim the rind from a blood orange and cut out the segments from the membrane. Set aside.

Put one pancake on a place, spread with a small spoonful of chestnut puree. Repeat until you have a stack of 4-5 pancakes. Spread a small amount of chestnut puree on the top pancake to anchor the fruit.

Arrange a generous amount of blackberries and orange segments on the top pancake. Pour over some of the syrup, and finally, place some mint leaves.

slightly unlucky fatt gou

I wanted to write a very beautiful post. I wanted to write about how my great-grandmother would make these cakes, a thin batter sweetened with brown sugar and steamed in tea cups. I wanted to write about how the four speaks spoke to prosperity in the new year.

Instead, my first draft was not any of this. It was all standard tentimestea, about the actual making. I wrote about the trial and error. I made 7 batches in a dogged attempt to end up with a gift for my grandparents, a cake whose top split into four. I explained the details of each batch—how too much gluten made the cake too strong to split open properly, but the wheat starch helped make the top of the cake smoother. I wrote about how the true secret to these cakes was me turning to the Internet and finding a recipe to work from.I wrote about how I kept on trying until I ended up with (and only one) perfect cake.

When I brought that one and a few other failures to my grandparents, my grandpa laughed. He told me that when Ah Ma made them and they didn’t turn out, she would cut the cakes into pieces right away and say “eat!”

Hearing that story made me feel embarrassed. I had become a bit obsessed with trying to replicate the image of the cake that I had in my head, enough to make a quantity of steamed cakes to last me for a couple weeks. I thought that was the way to go about it. And it is. It is one approach, and a relatively effective one, but this time, for this cake, it wasn’t the way I wanted it to be.It should have been about a tradition that hasn’t really been maintained and should have been about my family and listening carefully to my grandparents’ stories about the past. I wasn’t honouring my great-grandmother’s resilience or her care for tradition. I wasn’t sharing much luck with my grandparents either. I was just trying to make a pretty cake.

The recipe that follows is completely un-double-tested. I’ll return to it next year, and maybe then I’ll make it perfectly. And hopefully this strange drive for perfection will carry forwards to some other things I make…now that would be useful.Above is a representative sampling of the cakes that were made. The final batch had a splitting success of 75% (i.e. 3 out of the 4), and just one split into 4 peaks.

So it’s a bit late for the new year, but here they are. These are being brought to Angie’s Fiesta Friday! This week is cohosted by the marvellous Margy of La Petite Casserole and the splendid Su of Su’s Healthy Living.

 

fatt gou

Adapted from this video. Makes 4 small cakes. I read about the vinegar tip in the comments–it’s really great (thanks MODgal81!). The cakes are best eaten at room temperature (not chilled) and are definitely nicest fresh. Re-steaming old cakes helps. The photos above are remarkably false in two ways: 1) I used a metal steamer, not the bamboo steamer (it wasn’t tall enough) and 2) I used brown sugar, not rock sugar…I just happened to find the rock sugar in the cupboard after the fact and thought that might have been nice to use. 

92 g rice flour

8 g wheat starch

pinch salt

6 g baking powder

120 mL water

30 g brown sugar

Fill a steamer with water, tie a towel as tautly as possible around the cover if metal, to prevent dripping, and set it over high heat.

Whisk together flour, starch, salt and baking powder. Separately, mix together the brown sugar and water. Combine the two mixtures.

Evenly divide the batter between four buttered and sturdy teacups. Using a chopstick dipped in vinegar, trace a cross over each cake to encourage splitting into 4 peaks. Steam for around 15 minutes. Check if the cakes are done by inserting a skewer.

Let cool at least five minutes or so and allow the tops of the cakes to firm up before loosening the edges and removing from the tea cups.

spiced apple and marzipan semlor

I have been doing some thinking since last week.

Last week I talked about how a bread that I had put in the fridge after being fully risen then collapsed and never managed to rise completely. I have a new hypothesis now, one which explains that observation, some of the experiments I did with this dough, and also underlies how there is no need for alarm about collapsing your bread dough (unless you’re me).

After the first rise of this dough, I put it in the fridge, fully risen, until the next day. The next day it was perfectly fine–it hadn’t collapsed at all and the dough was quite tough and springy. This is observation #1.

Observation #2 is that my sourdough breads always seem to turn out very sour. I don’t feed the sourdough starter too often and all the acidity seems to build up.

I also tend to find that my sourdough can only rise so much (observation #3). It can never really make it to a full third rise. I had always vaguely ascribed this to the rabid yeast-y creatures having chewed everything up even though my sourdough always rises so slowly, contrarily indicating that the yeast population remains low in abundance and pretty sluggish.

I think that observation #2 (acidity) can explain my observation #3. I think it is the rising acidity, not the rabid action of the yeast which can break down the protein content of the dough, eventually destroying the the gluten structure. Thus, as with observation #1, a new dough (on its first rise) can stand being refrigerated as the protein structure is sufficient to maintain its form. A dough that has been weakened (on its second rise) may not be able to maintain its form upon refrigeration. And even when subsequently given a long time to rise afterwards, it will only be able to rise so much due to the lower gluten content.

As additional support, one time (this was in junior high school so I can look back and laugh at my bread-naivety) I wanted to make a lemon bread and I decided to do this by putting a lot of lemon juice in. There was no gluten structure at all! It rose in a very flat and sloppy manner.

I’m not sure if any of this is right, but it made sense in my head. I might come to a different conclusion later though.

The (for now) conclusion: I need to be careful about how long I keep my bread dough around! I should also feed my sourdough starter more often…maybe this will help? And there is no real concern about collapsing your bread dough if you refrigerate it fully risen. I think it should be quite alright!

Ah, back to the issue of semlor. When I first saw them, I kept on thinking of these magnificent creampuffs from beta5. Now when I see creampuffs the association will go in the other direction and I will think of semlor because they are lovely.

I brainstormed a bit with Claire from This is not a pie after seeing her wonderfully puffy semlor. She was considering a delicious-sounding poppy seed cream, while I mused vaguely (not really certain about how they would play in) about apples. After seeing these raspberry semlor from My Danish Kitchen, jam also started playing a role….

The classic marzipan filling. When I first made it I wasn’t exactly convinced–it is grated marzipan and the torn up bread from the inside of the buns, moistened until soft. However, once it is in the bun, it’s perfect. I suppose because the filling is partly made out the bun, it is quite compatible (like devilled eggs). The texture is a softer, sweeter extension of the bun. Here is the spiced apple filling that I made. I really like it. I mixed together some warm apple with the marzipan and the marzipan melts a bit and the whole thing is a lovely mess when eaten warm.I also folded some cloudberry jam into the whipped cream (in the style of the cloudberry cream from The Nordic Cookbook). It was a bit tart and sweet. I intended to pipe it on top of the classically filled semlor, but I accidentally ended up piping it over the apple semlor (and the plain cream over the classic semlor). The classic ended up staying classic, and with all the flavour from the apple, I didn’t notice anything at all from the cloudberry cream. I think, however, it might be nice to add some tartness to the classic semlor. However, considering that the buns are sourdough, there is plenty of tartness already.While it is not pictured, I did make a third sort of semlor, filled with ricotta and ligonberry preserves.

In making the almond paste, I took some inspiration from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book because it didn’t use any egg white as almond paste typically does (and I prefer to avoid eating raw eggs when I can). I think the almond paste worked out very well–I suppose you just have to be careful to keep it at room temperature and it probably will not last as long. (I also read here that corn syrup is another alternative to egg whites!)

I’m bringing this as an awfully awfully last-minute contribution to Fiesta Friday, kindly hosted by Angie and this week hosted by Steffi of Ginger & Bread and Andrea from Cooking With a Wallflower.

spiced apple and marzipan semlor

Enough dough for 16 semlor. The filling quantities make enough for 4 semlor. I’m calling it marzipan because I think “spiced apple and marzipan” sounds nicer than “spiced apple and almond paste”, but perhaps almond paste is a better description from what I understand of the consistency difference between marzipan and almond paste. 

 

cardamom and spelt buns

The dough is adapted from The Nordic Cookbook by Magnus Nilsson.I used half the dough to make 8 semlor.  

sponge

100 g sourdough starter

100 g spelt flour

100 g milk

dough

120 mL milk

80 g butter

1 tbsp (5-6 g) ground cardamom

1 tsp (2 g) kosher salt

100 g sugar

2 eggs

500 g flour

Mix together the sponge and let sit overnight until well risen.

The next day, heat the milk and butter together in a small saucepan until the butter melts. Transfer to a bowl and let cool. Whisk in the remaining ingredients apart from the flour. Add the sponge and around 400 g of the flour and mix until you form a cohesive dough. Add flour as needed until you have a dough that is tacky but not sticky.

Cover and let rise fully, which took around eight hours for me.

Take half the dough and divide into eight pieces. Roll each into a ball and place on a parchment lined tray. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise until nicely puffy which took a few hours in a warm place for me.

Preheat the oven to 400F.

Brush the buns with a beaten egg. Bake for 10 minutes, turn down the temperature to 350F and bake for another 5.

Remove and let cool on a wire rack.

 

filling & assembly

almond paste

Adapted from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas.

90 g ground almonds

60 g icing sugar

10-15 mL heavy cream

Combine the almonds and icing sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Mix. Add the cream bit by bit until a soft dough is just formed. Chill in the fridge.

 

classic almond filling

To fill 4 buns, or 1/4 of the dough. From The Nordic Cookbook by Magnus Nilsson. 

1/3 -1/2 of the almond paste

milk

60 mL 36% m.f. cream

2 tbsp cloudberry preserves, optional

icing sugar

Cut the tops off of four of the buns. Hollow out the breads by pulling out the insides. Break apart the bread innards into small pieces. Grate around 1/3 – 1/2 of the almond paste using the large holes of a box grater into the bread innards. Add a dash of milk as needed, just to moisten. Mix together. Pack into the hollowed out buns.

Whip the cream until thick and just stiff.

If desired, flavour the cream with the cloudberry preserves. Press the preserves through a sieve to remove the seeds. Stir one spoonful of cream into the strained preserves. Fold into the cream. Quickly (as the whipped cream begins to collapse a bit, which is accelerated by the jam) place into a piping bag fitted with a star tip and pipe a generous amount on the top of each bun.

Top each bun with the piece of bread you previously sliced off. Dust with icing sugar.

 

spiced apple and marzipan filling

To fill 4 buns, or 1/4 of the dough.

1 large apple

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground cardamom

dash of grated nutmeg and pinch of ground cloves

1/3 of the almond paste.

60 mL 36% m.f. cream

icing sugar

Core the apple and chop into small pieces. Place in a saucepan and add enough water to partially cover the apples. Add in the spices. Bring to a simmer and cook until the water is mostly gone and the apples are tender.

Grate around 1/3 of the almond paste using the large holes of a box grater into the spiced apples. Stir to combine; if the apples are still warm, the almond paste will melt a bit.

Cut the tops off of four of the buns. Hollow out the breads by pulling out the insides. Fill each bun with 1/4 of the filling.

Whip the cream until thick and just stiff. Put into a piping bag fitted with a star tip and quickly (as the cream begins to collapse when it is in the piping bag) and pipe a generous swirl on top of each bun. Place the small round of bread you previously sliced off the top of each back on top of the cream.

Dust with icing sugar.

 

I also quite liked a ricotta and ligonberry filling that I tried. Fill the bottom of the bun with a good couple spoonfuls of ricotta (I had flavoured it with a bit of lavender for another purpose), then a spot of ligonberry preserves.

butternut, gruyere and thyme sourdough brioche bread pudding

I had quite the accident with this sourdough brioche loaf. It was nearly risen, but it was already the early hours of the morning and I really wanted to go to sleep. I was anticipating at least another hour and half to let the loaf finish rising and then baking it which was enough to make me give up. I decided to put the loaf in the fridge (absolutely no rising ever seems to happen when I put sourdough in the fridge). The next morning, the loaf far exceeded my expectations of not rising–it loaf had completely shrivelled, turning wrinkled and sunken. I don’t know if I’ve ever put something mostly risen in the fridge before (no actually maybe I have!) but I probably should have anticipated this. I left it on the counter for the day but it never regained its height and remained stunted.

Once I baked it, it was very sourIt tasted the way a very ripe, unfed sourdough starter smells.

It was not very good.

The bread pudding, made in an attempt to salvage the loaf, was okay. Considering that the starting material was not okay, the overall transformation was actually rather good.

It does seem a bit of a waste to make a loaf of bread and go right ahead to turn it into a pudding, but in this case, with such a sour tasting loaf, it was a very useful. I’m still not sure if I’m entirely convinced by bread pudding, but it was rather decent and tasted much better than the bread on its own. I used approximately half the loaf in the pudding–and it expanded into a large pudding capable of feeding quite a few people! I guess this is useful to know if you don’t have much bread. 

The lesson is, well, maybe two things.

First, if you’re going to put some dough in the fridge, do it when it isn’t very well risen, not an almost risen dough.

Second, when something seems nearly inedible, consider transforming it into something else. Sometimes it doesn’t work and just leaves you with even more strange tasting food to eat, but other times it can help.

I’m bringing this bread pudding as a last minute contribution to Angie’s Fiesta Friday (there is also the remainder of the brioche loaf if you would like!). This week is being cohosted by Lily, the Little Sweet Baker and Julianna, the Foodie On Board!

 

brioche loaf

sponge

50 g whole wheat flour

50 g all purpose flour

50 g sourdough starter

dough

200 g all purpose flour

3 g salt

3 g wheat gluten

15 g sugar

2 eggs

20 g milk

125 g butter at room temperature

egg white to glaze

seeds for top

Mix together the sponge and leave on the counter overnight.

The next day, combine the flour, salt, sugar and wheat gluten in the bowl of the mixer. Add the eggs, milk, and sponge on top, and mix until a smooth and stretchy, and slightly sticky, dough is formed.

Beat in the butter one small piece at a time until a very soft dough is formed. Cover and let rise completely (6-8 hours).

Butter a loaf pan and line with a parchment sling. Scrape out the dough onto a floured surface, flatten, and fold. Let rest, then shape into a tight, elongate loaf. Place into the loaf pan, cover, and let rise again until doubled (4-6 hours).

At this point, if you’re me, you might unwisely put it, nearly fully risen, into the fridge. Take it out the next day and leave it on the counter for another 8 hours. Then bake. (Skip this step if you’re not me!!)

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Brush the loaf with egg white and sprinkle with some seeds.

Bake for 30-40 minutes or until nicely browned. Remove from the pan and let cool on a wire rack.

 

butternut, gruyere and thyme bread pudding

I looked at this recipe to get an idea of the ratio of bread to milk/cream to eggs. I also have to admit, I don’t really know what the texture of a bread pudding should be (this is probably the second bread pudding I’ve ever tried?) and so I just baked it until I was sure everything was fairly well cooked. I think I might have cooked it too dry though.

4 thick slices brioche loaf

300 g butternut squash, roasted until just tender (1/4 of a largish squash)

generous handful thyme sprigs

1 shallot

200 g milk

40 g cream

2 eggs + 1 egg white

good pinch salt

pepper

grated nutmeg

20 g gruyere, grated

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Cut the brioche and the squash into equally sized cubes.

Pick the thyme leaves from the stems. Mince the shallot. Grate the gruyere. Mix together all the ingredients except for the bread and squash.

Pour this mixture over the bread and squash, stir, gently to avoid breaking up the squash, and then pour into a buttered ovenproof casserole.

Bake for around an hour or until nicely browned on top.

Serve with a salad of chopped parsley and iceberg lettuce, seasoned with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper.

a black sesame and milk babka and a chocolate chestnut babka

Sending emails is a bit nervewracking. Part of this is because I tend to overthink what I send in emails (I should apply some of that thinking to what I say in blog posts so they don’t all consist solely of: oh, I enjoy blogging + oh, I am a bit tired lately). The other part of this is because somehow what I write seems to get interpreted in all sorts of different ways. Sometimes mildly different from what I intended.When it does I don’t know what to do. Am I making too much of a fuss if I insist and correct them? Well that, it depends, as with more things, on the magnitude of the misunderstanding.

It’s a bit easier with texting–when things get tight or uneasy, pull out an emoji and huzzah! It’s also a bit easier with blogging because I act more freely with the exclamation marks which can ensure that any statement comes across as positive. Additionally, I permit myself to produce plenty of long run-on sentences and a few too many parentheses (I like to assure myself it’s style) which gives me enough room to explain myself in typical longwinded fashion.

When you write emails, you have to convey what you feel without any facial expression or body language (email sarcasm is much too high level for me). It would even help if I could write emails in third person. For example: Please fix this immediately, the email-writer wrote cheerfully and pleasantly. See? No room for misinterpretation.

Oh well, it’s just another sort of writing that requires another sort of skill…and a good eye for catching the connotations of diction and punctuation. 

I’ve been meaning to make some babka for quite a while. I’m glad I finally got around to it.

My favourite was the black sesame babka–mostly due to the milky and and sugary glaze. It was, however, very generously filled, which makes it difficult to slice nicely without each slice crumbling into delicious bits of bread and black sesame.

The chocolate and chestnut babka was alright. It would have been nicer if it had a glaze as well. On it’s own, it was barely sweet and tasted a bit sour (yes indeed, you dear sourdough starter) and so it was a bit disconcerting going in with the expectation of a sweet bread. Alternatively, as a savoury bitter chocolate bread it was fairly nice.

There are also two different rolling methods that I tried. The black sesame method looks a bit pretty from up top, but both work quite nicely.

babka

an enriched dough

Loosely adapted from Food and Wine January 2016. Article by Tina Ujlaki, recipe by Melissa Weller. Makes enough dough for two babka.

150 g 100% hydration sponge (50 g whole wheat flour, 50 g sourdough starter and 50 g water overnight on the counter)

360 g flour (240 ap, 120 whole wheat)

4 g salt

45 g sugar

3-4 g wheat gluten

1 egg

175 mL milk

75 g soft butter

To make the dough, whisk the flour, salt, sugar and wheat gluten together. Add the egg, milk and sponge, mix until a smooth dough is formed. Beat the butter in, one small piece at a time. Cover and let ferment for an 8h first rise, or until doubled (I then left it in fridge overnight). The dough is then ready to use with a filling.

Shaped next morning with 5 hr second rise

 

chocolate and chestnut filling

Adapted from the chocolate krantz cakes from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem. In the end I think this babka could have been a bit sweeter–though it did make for a rather nice slightly savoury, soft, and bitter chocolate-swirled sourdough–add some additional sugar or perhaps a glaze. The rolling method itself is borrowed from the Food and Wine January 2016 babka article. Enough filling for 1 babka.

40 g chocolate

40 g butter

15 g cocoa powder

10 g icing sugar

pinch kosher salt

100 g chestnut puree

egg

Melt the chocolate and butter together. Whisk in the cocoa powder, icing sugar and salt.

Line a loaf pan with a parchment sling and butter any uncovered areas.

Roll out half the babka dough into a large square on a floured surface. Spread first with the chestnut puree, then with the chocolate filling (don’t scrape the bowl too well; leave a spoonful or two behind).

Roll snugly. Slice the role in half lengthwise. Place one half crosswise on top of the other. Spread the surface of the top half with the remaining chocolate filling. Twist the two halves together to form a twisted bread, then drop into the pan. Cover and let proof (4-5 h) until doubled.

Preheat the oven to 375F.

Brush with some beaten egg. Bake until well browned, 30-40 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack.

 

black sesame filling

Rolling method borrowed from Yotam Ottolenghi’s krantz cakes in Jerusalem. Enough filling for 1 babka.

50 g butter

45 g ground roasted black sesame

29 g granulated sugar

10 g powdered milk

pinch kosher salt

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

egg

black sesame milk glaze

80 g icing sugar

7 g ground roasted black sesame (or less for a less grey-coloured icing)

milk

For the filling, cream together the butter, sugar, salt, sesame, powdered milk, and vanilla.

Line a loaf pan with a parchment sling and butter any uncovered areas.

Roll out half the babka dough into a large thin square. Use an offset spatula to gently spread out the sesame filling. Roll snugly and cut in half lengthwise. Place each half cut-side up, twist the two halves together. Place into the prepared pan. Cover and let proof (4-5 h) until doubled.

Preheat the oven to 375F.

Drizzle the bread evenly and thinly with some beaten egg (to avoid dislodging the filling). Bake until well browned, 30-40 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack.

For the glaze, whisk together the icing sugar and sesame. Add milk as necessary to achieve the desired consistency. Drizzle over the cake, and let set (20 minutes or so). It makes a generous amount of glaze and I didn’t use it all.