Cinnamon Babka

At long last, here is my babka recipe. I did not make it as sweet or sticky as other babkas – I like a milder sweetness – so it ends up having a more “rustic” feel. Enjoy!

A babka in a Bundt pan
The freshly baked babka in a pan. (Photo mine, September 2019)

Cinnamon Babka

Based on a recipe by Tori Avey and a recipe by Kristin Hoffman

Dough

1 cup warm milk (45C/110F)

1 package quick-acting yeast

5 tbsp melted salted butter

¼ cup sugar

2 eggs

3 ½ cups all-purpose flour

Oil for greasing the bowl and pan

Filling

1 cup brown sugar (light or dark)

2 tbsp cornstarch

3 tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp salt

2 tsp melted salted butter

1 egg

Egg wash

1 egg

2 tbsp milk

 

  1. Add the yeast to the milk. The yeast should bubble up within a few minutes. (Otherwise, your milk was too hot and/or your yeast was dead.)
  2. Mix the butter and sugar together in a bowl. Then, add the eggs one at a time and mix briskly until combined.
  3. Add the milk-yeast mixture, and mix briskly until combined.
  4. Add the flour, ½ cup at a time. When the mixture is still batter, you can mix it in with a spoon. Afterwards, you will need to use your hands to knead it.
  5. Knead the dough with floured hands until you have a smooth, springy dough that does not stick to your hands too much. This should take about 6-7 minutes. I do this by taking out the dough and kneading it on a clean, flour- or starch-covered surface.
  6. Oil a big bowl and put your dough in it. Cover and leave in a warm spot to rise until double in size – 30 minutes to two hours. (In my kitchen, it is usually about one hour.)
  7. Meanwhile, mix the filling ingredients together.
  8. Preheat your oven to 175C/350F. Grease a large Bundt pan or a large loaf pan.
  9. Clean and flour a large surface and a rolling pin.
  10. Punch your dough down. Place it on the surface and then roll the dough out to a large rectangle of about 1cm/2.5 inches thickness. It does not have to be perfectly rectangular.
  11. Spread the filling out over the dough, leaving a ½ centimeter/1 inch border on the edge of the dough.
  12. Roll the dough along the long edge of your rectangle. Then, if you are baking in a loaf pan, create a circle and twist it into a figure 8. If you are baking in a Bundt pan, just make the circle. Move the twisted dough into the pan.
  13. Prick the unbaked babka with a skewer with little holes – this will let out steam.
  14. Mix the egg wash ingredients and brush onto the babka.
  15. Bake for 45-55 minutes, or until the babka sounds hollow when tapped. Let cool before serving.

Thank you to my classmates and housemates for participating in User Acceptance Testing.

For Each Protest, A Babka

This blog is deeply political. In a time when the American President is saying nakedly anti-Semitic things, and that children are being incarcerated, it would be deeply irresponsible not to be. Besides, like it or not, food is political! I encourage all readers to do what they can to fight for a better society. For some people, that might include protests.

Babkas on sale with a Hebrew sticker that says "Chocolate babka, 36 shekels"
(Photo Christine Garofalo/CC)

There are many articles that talk about how to go to protests. I want to add a bit of levity and sugar to this by suggesting you bring a babka to a protest. Yes, this article is ridiculous, but why not? Babkas are delicious, portable, and help you make new friends with whom you can fight – together. Different babkas are appropriate for different protests, so here is a guide for “which babka?”

  • If there are going to be many children at a protest, a chocolate babka is best. Children are often scared at their first protest: while it is fun, there are a lot of people, and a lot of noise! Chocolate is a nice treat that also helps children feel a little more comfortable with this new learning experience. Not to mention, the adults love chocolate babka too.
  • If the protest is mostly adults, a cinnamon babka also works. In adulthood, some begin to find a chocolate babka too cloying, and others – including myself – come to prefer cinnamon, which many children find a bit difficult. Chocolate also can trigger migraines in many adults, which is the last thing you want at a protest. Cinnamon is a good bet. (You can bring both.)
  • For protests about the environment, you may want to bring a vegan babka. Forget here that veganism is not necessarily better for the environment (and often is not). If someone is vegan, you respect their dietary restrictions, and many vegans show up at environmental protests. A vegan babka will probably need to be homemade. But it works, and often only one or two substitutions need to be made.
  • If the protest has many, many people, or will be outside for a long time, bring a babka from the store. It is fun to bake a babka, but in quantity, it is very hard to do. Home-baked babka also tends to be a tad more difficult to transport, unless you have the right equipment. No shame in popping to the store.
  • If the protest may have some right-wing counter-protesters, a plum babka, or any other kind of jam babka. If they try to shake your hand, their hands will be sticky! Pettiness is sometimes your friend. Also, Trump hates plums.
  • You can always bring multiple flavors! We are advocating for a world where all people have the freedom to live a fulfilling life, which ideally should include many babkas.

Remember to stay safe at protests! Follow these tips by Sam Killermann on your own safety, and don’t forget to have the contact information of a pro-bono lawyer, just in case. Your protest right is protected in the United States by the First Amendment. (In other countries, different local laws apply.) Don’t forget to hydrate. If you don’t feel safe going to a protest, or can’t make it, that’s okay! There are many other ways to contribute to a better society, and you should still have babka while doing it.

Babka Series 1: In Honor of the Store-Bought Babka

This is the first of what will be three posts about babka.

My mother’s friend Abby says that babka is a ghost that will haunt you until it is eaten. In this case, I prefer many exorcisms. I love babka.

Chocolate babka slices on a blue porcelain patterned plate
(Photo Katrina Parks/Flickr via CC)

Too bad that it’s a pain to make.

A sweet yeasted dough, twisted and wrapped around a filling of chocolate, cinnamon sugar, or fruit and perhaps sweet cheese. Sounds simple, right? In fact, it is not. Sweet yeasted dough is quite difficult to work with, and wrapping it around the filling is always my downfall. (My hand-eye coordination, to quote my boyfriend, is “erratic.”) As it happens, bakeries sometimes do a very good job with their babka. I am more than happy to fork over some money and enjoy the babka without the anxiety.

Babka is, in fact, a very common food that people will only ever savor store-bought. Jewish bakeries across the world specialize in the Ashkenazi treat. Haredi bakeries in Jerusalem make “Krantz cake” – an alternate name for babka – that people from all walks of Israeli life travel from across the country for. The beautiful bite of the dough and the coy sweetness of the filling is a triumph. Breads in New York has become famous for their babka, which seems to elicit joy everywhere. (Note: I believe that all properly-made babkas cause joy.) In any case, Breads’ perfectly textured babka is divine. I have seen visitors from out of town bee-line to Breads for babka before going anywhere else in the city. And of course, one cannot forget supermarket babkas. As dowdy as these can be, some brands’ babkas are perfectly tasty and delectably un-shareable. A few readers have mentioned the Trader Joe’s babka as their ideal babka, but I am more partial to Green’s obscenely swirly chocolate babka.

Of course I want to make my own babka. A plum jam and cottage cheese babka will never be mass market in a country rightly obsessed with chocolate babka. Yet it is so delicious – especially when you hit a plum and a gob of cheese right by a doughy bit. Divine! The braiding is beautiful, and making a babka is really the height of Ashkenazi balabostakeit. I should try it out! But I am also a klutzy graduate student with limited time and even more limited hand-eye coordination. I refuse to only have babka as often as I can make it.

So I have no shame in buying from a bakery. In fact, that has been done for generations. Now, babkas have long been in the repertoire of Ashkenazi home cooking – especially as Jewish communities, like neighbors, used leftover bread dough for the task. However, making babka – and actually, challah and bread generally, was hard work then, as it is now. It also used relatively expensive ingredients, which is why both were reserved for a Sabbath treat. Many people did not have the time or energy, and one of the promises of America or Canada was the prosperity to have a treat like that – and pay someone else to make it. Babkas were a frequent feature of bakeries that opened up across Jewish neighborhoods in New York in the early 20th century – and continue to be a feature at remaining bakeries today. Having a babka that’s not “homemade” is a tradition.

Enough rambling. I want to know: what’s your favorite babka?

Great Show: “Street Food”

Instead of preparing to move one day, I decided to start watching Netflix’s Street Food series. I am a big fan of street food generally – it is fun, showcases the creativity of evolving cuisines, feeds lots of different people, and is usually very tasty. (I have a special soft spot for roasted chestnuts or peanuts on the street.) The series looked beautiful too, with a focus on street food vendors and their food in ten different Asian countries. So, I turned on Netflix and began watching the first episode, about Jay Fai and her famous drunken noodles. I was hooked.

A plate of drunken noodles with seafood on a plate with an egg on the side
Drunken noodles in Thailand (screenshot from Street Food/Netflix)

The show is not just about the food, but about the extraordinary “ordinary” people who cook it. While much of the show focuses on the delicious food, most of the time is dedicated to the people who cook it – and particularly, one vendor in each episode. The chef narrates his or her story, his or her history, and his or her life. The show shines here: it makes the show about the food and its wider context. This focus is often lost elsewhere. When a food is divorced from its social or political context, it becomes easy to dismiss the concerns of the people who cook it as well. Street Food avoids this trap by plainly putting that context in your face. You cannot watch the show without noticing the influences from various places, or how people adapt to difficulties through food, or how history informs the very basis of the cuisine – and not some sort of “authentic essence.” In fact, Street Food is markedly critical of authenticity, and proudly displays new foods like Korean baffle (egg waffles) right alongside traditional fare like Filipino nilarang.

A stall with trays of food
Street food in Vietnam (screenshot from Street Food/Netflix)

Street Food is not just critical of authenticity, but also shows the dynamism of each country’s street cuisine. The vendors talk about inventing new methods and preparations – from Jay Fai’s Japanese-style crab omelet in Bangkok to Aisha Hashim’s modernization on the process of making putu piring, a rice and coconut cake, in Singapore. Scholars on the show talk about the influence of war, globalization, colonialism, or political trends on the cuisine. Western food writing and media often treats street food as something unchanging, and the show challenges that. Often, the newer foods are the most appealing – for example, the flour-based knife cut noodles (kalguksu) from Seoul.

A laughing Korean woman with a gray headband and a pink smock with pots in the background
Cho Yoon-sun, a kalguksu vendor in Seoul featured in Netflix’s Street Food, and her joyous laugh. (Screenshot from Street Food/Netflix)

Of course, the food is mouth-watering. My favorite episodes were the ones for India and South Korea. The former featured huge plates of delicious curries, stews, and fried goods, often cooked for hours at a time. The meaty Nihari stew is something I would love to try. The Korea episode was also wonderful for the food: Cho Yoon-sun’s kalguksu noodles look perfectly filling, with a luscious texture and delicious (albeit treyf) broth. The banchan featured in the Seoul episode – particularly the lotus root pickles – were so mouth-watering that I had to go get a snack immediately. And, of course, all the other episodes have delicious food too.

A bowl with a fish head by a bowl of stew with two dipping sauces. A hand holding tongs is withdrawing from the bowl.
Fish head stew in Chiayi, Taiwan (screenshot from Street Food/Netflix)

My one big critique is that the episodes are too short! At thirty minutes, one can sense that many of the stories and histories were cut short. I would love even an extra fifteen minutes to more deeply explore the making and history of some of the dishes. I would have also loved to see an episode featuring Cambodian or Central Asian street food (plov anyone?), but I also understand the difficulty of producing media in those countries.

I look forward to future installments of the series. We still do not know which countries will be featured, though I am hoping very fervently that Mexico’s incredible street food culture gets featured. Ditto for Turkey and Morocco. And, given the quality of this season, we can expect a real treat for the second installment too.

Accessibility notes: audio description is available, and all episodes are captioned in several languages.

Pareve Pie Crust

I am moving to Maryland and in the midst of packing, but I did not want to leave you, my loyal readers, hanging. So, here is a quick recipe for a dairy-free pie crust. I have seen many people complain about the lack of quality generally present in pareve desserts. Though I love butter and sour cream, I do not think that a lack of dairy means that your dessert needs to be bad. Here is my tested pie crust recipe, which works for most dairy-free and vegan pies.

Thatched apple pie in a glass tray
An apple pie I made with the crust. (Photo mine, October 2018)

Pareve Pie Crust

For one double-crust 9-inch/23cm pie or two singe-crust 9-inch 23cm pies.

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp salt

½ cup oat milk

½ cup corn oil

Up to ½ cup cold water

  1. Sift the flour and salt together in a large bowl with a fork or a whisk.
  2. Add the oil and oat milk. Then, with a pastry knife or your hands, meld the flour and liquids together to form a dough. Add a teaspoon of water at a time until you have a pliable but not dry dough.
  3. Refrigerate the dough until ready for use. You do not need to have the dough at room temperature to work it. Use like a dairy pie crust in your pie recipe.
  4. Do note that when it is done, it will be slightly lighter than a dairy pie crust.

A Reminder That Food is Political!

A deli window with a sign that says "we accept food stamps EBT" with Doritos and Lays bags behind it, and toothpaste below.
(Photo Clementine Gallot via Creative Commons, March 2009)

I often post explicitly political things on this blog and the associated Facebook page. I do this for two reasons. One is that this blog has never been, and will never be, politically neutral. It is irresponsible to talk about the food people eat without concern for how that might be affected by people’s lives, and all the things that affect their lives. The other is that, by and large, the readers of this blog like the political commentary – even if they do not always agree with it. Some are even drawn to it. That said, a few people have complained, either because I refuse to endorse their racism or their politics of cruelty, or because they believe food should be not political. “Food should unite,” one messenger told me. “It shouldn’t be subject to politics.”

Well, you will just have to deal with the political bent of this blog. Food is deeply political! In some ways, it is the basis of politics itself – what else spurred any form of governance other than the need to make sure people’s resources were managed, including food! (For good or for bad.) When we eat, we say all sorts of political things. What we eat is closely connected to our status, what sort of “traditions” we pass on to our kids, and who we see ourselves as. Even more so, what we do not eat does the same thing. Beyond that, what we are able or not able to put on the table spurs us to political action. The knowledge of how that ability might change informs how we act politically today. And the identities that we take into politics is shaped by food. Think about how much our own Jewish identity is shaped by food – and then think about how much Jewish identity gets shaped in politics. Think about how many racist things are said in the name of food being “too smelly” or “too gross.” Think about how someone’s life might be shaped by those remarks. And think about how often politicians use food as an excuse to gain power, to take away power, or give power.

Your food cannot be isolated from political discussion. It is a hard truth, and many people wish to hide behind the privilege of not needing to think about this. If you are a migrant child in a cage with irregular food access, an elderly person unable to access food because of an inaccessible environment, or a poor person unable to buy certain foods because of limits on what you can use food stamps for, you do not have the luxury to assume that food is not political. The same rules apply for an observant Jew in a country that has banned shechita, the Jewish child teased for matzah at school, or the Jewish prisoner forced to eat treyf because of the abysmal nature of prison food systems. Even when you can sit at a dinner table normally again, that knowledge never goes away.

So I ask you, if you are uncomfortable, to sit with that discomfort at your next meal. Think about the workers that grew the crops in your food, and why your food cost as much or as little as it did, and why you are eating that specific thing. Were you ever teased for eating it, if you brought it to school as a child? Did anyone call the cops while you made it? Have you always been able to afford it – and what enabled that? That will help you understand how food is, in fact, deeply political.

Blueberry Buckle

Credit, first and foremost, to my friend Rebecca for introducing me to this cake. Blueberry buckle is her favorite cake, and I and others have made it for her birthday. It is, in my opinion, one of the highlights of American baking. The recipe itself originated in Colonial New England as an adaptation of an English cake, and uses a native ingredient – blueberries. That said, this recipe is much like smetanakuchen, the coffee cake introduced by Ashkenazi Jews with great success to the Northern United States. And though I love Jewish coffee cake, the blueberry buckle has a moisture that the cake is sometimes missing. The name itself comes from the fact that the crumb topping causes the cake to “buckle” – as you can see in the picture.

I made the buckle a little softer than most buckles, because I find that the melty blueberry goes well with that texture. You can totally use frozen blueberries if that is easier or more affordable for you, or if you prefer the result. I added some yogurt to give the cake more weight.

Blueberry buckle
(Photo mine, June 2019)

Blueberry Buckle

Serves 10-14

Cake

4 tablespoons salted butter, melted

½ cup full-fat Greek yogurt, at room temperature

½ cup whole milk

¾ cup brown sugar

4 eggs

1½ cups flour

2/3 teaspoon baking soda

2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries

Topping

4 tablespoons salted butter, softened

½ cup white sugar

1/3 cup flour

1 tsp ground cinnamon

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 375F/190C. Grease a cake pan – I used a 9”/23cm wide round pan, but you can use a similarly sized square pan.
  2. Whisk together the butter, yogurt, milk, sugar, and eggs until thoroughly combined. Add the flour and baking soda and mix in thoroughly.
  3. Fold in the blueberries until evenly distributed through the batter. Then, pour the batter into the greased pan.
  4. With a pastry knife, fork, or food processor, blend the topping ingredients together. Then, sprinkle on top of the cake.
  5. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until a toothpick in the cake comes out clean. Let cool before serving.

Thank you to Rebecca Galin for introducing me to this cake.