For me, part of hashtag-quarantine-cuisine is reacquainting myself with the contents of my parents’ cupboards. Such as a tin of black olives with a best before date of Feb 9, 2011 (or perhaps Aug 2, 2011 – I never remember whether the day or month comes first – but either way we can assume 11 refers to the year). I asked someone to try an olive for me. Surprisingly, or rather unsurprisingly, the olives tasted fine.
After meeting my family’s approval for consumption, I still had some reservations of eating them straight. Or perhaps more accurately, I don’t often eat canned olives as a snack, so they ended up being chopped into a paste via food processor. Spread onto a butter-enriched bread dough with crumbled feta produced this savoury babka.
This is one of my favourite babka variants that I’ve made. After cutting through the crust, you hit a soft, feathery crumb that shreds in your fingers. Dark smears of olive paste stride throughout each slice. The olives in addition to the feta, gives it an immensely savoury saltiness (my kidneys will appreciate it) and makes each slice an instant sandwich. No toasting or butter needed – just cut into thick slices and pull them apart in your hands.
As beautiful as the the open babka twists can look (i.e. à la Ottolenghi/Tamimi krantz cakes), I tend to prefer this closed twist method – it prevents any of the filling from burning and I find it more evenly distributes filling throughout the bread.
The dough is something I’ve made multiple times, but I’ve always struggled a bit with getting the hydration right between whole wheat flour additions and occasional sourdough adaptations. This time I seem to have gotten the ratios just right, perhaps along with a moist filling and a good length of bake, because this babka is soft and stays tender for days afterwards.
Though more than the texture or the flavours, my grandpa, morally opposed to throwing out food to the core of his being, mostly approved of the fact that I made use of the olives.
olive paste and feta babka
- 200g bread flour or all purpose flour
- 65g whole wheat flour
- 1 tsp instant yeast
- 4g kosher salt
- 1 1/2 large eggs
- 90g water
- 75g soft butter
- 398mL can black olives (about 160g drained olives)
- 2 tsp olive oil
- 90g feta, crumbled
- beaten egg for egg wash
- black sesame seeds
In the bowl of a standmixer, whisk together the flours, yeast and salt. Add the water and eggs and mix until a rough dough is formed. The dough will be rather stiff. Use the dough hook to knead for a few minutes or until the dough smoothes out.
Add the soft butter a chunk at a time and work into the dough using the dough hook. As more butter is incorporated, the dough will become softer. Once all the butter is incorporated, knead for a few minutes until the dough is very smooth and elastic. If the dough is quite sticky, knead in a bit more flour until it is tacky and soft. Cover and let rise until doubled, an hour or two – or at this point, put the dough in the fridge to rise overnight.
To make the olive paste, drain the canned olives and place in the bowl of a food processor with the olive oil. Grind until a rough paste is formed.
Butter a loaf pan and line with a sling of parchment paper.
Roll out the dough into a rectangle about 11″ wide by 16″ long (dough will around 1/4″ thick or a bit less). Spread the olive paste evenly over the dough, apart from a strip of dough along one long edge (where you will seal the roll of dough). Scatter the feta over top.
Starting from the long end that has filling right up to the edge, roll up into a loose log and pinch to seal along. Seal each short end of the log as well by pinching the rolled edges together. Holding the log of dough in your two hands, twist around six times (more and the dough may end up tearing). Fold the twisted log ontop of itself, pinch the ends together, and twist twice more. Place in the prepared loaf pan.
Cover loosely with plastic wrap or a damp towel, and let rise for an hour to an hour and a half or until the dough is puffed, filling in the loaf pan, and when poked with a damp finger, springs back slowly.
Near the end of the rise, start preheating the oven to 400F. When the dough is ready to be baked, brush with eggwash and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Put the babka in the oven, then turn the temperature down to 375F.
Bake for around 30-35 minutes or until well browned on top and the internal temperature is at least 180F.