Jerusalem is one of those cookbooks that I just could not resist. It had everything from history, culture and delicious food to stunning photographs and a mix of exciting cuisines. It did not hurt that most of the recipes looked kosher as well. While many of the recipes feature Sephardic and Arabic cooking, standout favorites of Ashkenazi culture are also represented. Any Self respecting Ashkenazi would assume that Babka, or Krantz cake, would make the list. And it did. With spectacular photographs. I was so eager to see if the results would match the photos, this was the first recipe form Jerusalem that I tried.
For the dough:
flour, yeast, water, salt, sugar, sunflower oil, butter (I used Earth Balance), lemon zest, eggs
cocoa, dark chocolate, confectioners sugar, pecans (I left them out), sugar
melted butter (I used Earth Balance), muscovado sugar, cinnamon
I had to search five different supermarkets before I could find one that carried sunflower oil and another that carried Muscovado sugar. This sugar is apparently a dark sugar made from sugar cane juice that is stickier and moister than other brown sugars. In a pinch I would bet brown sugar would work fairly well.
I have never made a yeasted cake before, so naturally I decided to go all out and try the cinnamon and chocolate varieties. The dough recipe is actually for two cakes anyway. I made this dough using the dough hook on my stand mixer and I really think you cannot do it without one. Hand mixers will break and kneading by hand is tedious. Pouring the ingredients in the right order was not hard (although I did manage to zest my finger along with the lemon on a microplane grater). The trick to this dough is to keep stopping the mixer to scrape down the sides. It seems like a ridiculous amount of butter goes into this dough and you want to make sure it is all incorporated into a nice ball. BY scraping down the sides you ensure everything gets mixed thoroughly.
The dough ball then sits in the fridge for at least several hours although overnight is recommended. I went ahead and did the overnight route, photographing my dough before and after. I did not see a dramatic gain in volume.
Rolling out the dough the next morning was actually fairly easy. I simply floured my rolling surface and
was pleasantly surprised to find the dough, when chilled, was not too sticky. The chocolate filing was honestly delicious to eat before it went on the dough, and spread quite nicely. Followed by a dusting of sugar the chocolate babka was ready to roll. Although the recipe calls for nuts to be added a this point, we have an allergy friendly house so I left them out. The cinnamon babka called for melted butter to be brushed onto the rolled dough rectangle, followed by a dusting of cinnamon and Muscovado sugar. I found the quantity of butter was excessive. I ended having some drip off the cake onto the table and floor and I was in a race to roll this thing up before more oozed off.
The most interesting part of this recipe to me was the shaping of the krantz cakes and the accompanying photos. You have rolled a large rectangle into a long cigar shaped log and you proceed to slice it in half LENGTHWISE. Then, with filling exposed, you wrap one end of the split log around the other, seal it and pop it into a loaf pan. I was afraid the dough layers would fall apart on me. They did not. I was actually able to get decently looking shaped cakes into the loaf pans.
The formed babkas need to sit for 1.5 hours in a warm spot to rise after which they can be baked. This is where the tedium of babka comes in. It’s not that hard to make, it is just time consuming and requires numerous resting steps. There is no way this can all be accomplished during a child’s nap. Therefore I ended up rolling my cakes with a toddler tugging on my skirt going “this, this” trying to get at the dough. I removed them from the oven just as she woke up and tried to get at them again. I can’t blame her. They smelled great.
Once out of the oven, the cakes get brushed with a syrup of sugar dissolved in hot water. At first the amount of syrup seems to be way too large for just two cakes, but the recipe was very clear that I must use all of it. This resulted in puddles of syrup pooling around my cakes in their loaf pans and a feeling of despair that all this work was ruined. However the cakes do absorb the syrup and I periodically went back and brushed some of the puddle over the top to help the process along. Once most of the syrup was absorbed I removed the warm cakes onto a platter and they looked really delicious, although flatter than I would expect Babka to be.
Both the chocolate and cinnamon Krantz cakes tasted wonderful. In four days both cakes were completely polished off. However, I would note that babkas traditionalists might prefer to classify this as kokosh cake since it is incredibly moist and does not gain as much height as many other babkas. Regardless, I was happy I followed the directions and used all of the syrup as it made the cake moist and sweet. The toddler was also pretty happy when she finally got her slice.