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Walnut-Halva Babka

Walnut-Halva Babka

This is a mash-up of two Ottolenghi recipes: The dough is adapted from the chocolate krantz cakes in Jerusalem (via Smitten Kitchen). The filling–crumbled halva + chopped walnuts + more walnuts whizzed with brown sugar, butter, tahini, and a bit of cinnamon–is inspired by the walnut halva cake in Plenty More. The combination of flavors is lovely, and the bread is satisfying without being overly sweet. It took a couple of tries, though, for me to get it right.

When I made this recipe for the first time, I posted a photo of the just-baked babkas on Instagram, and I was overwhelmed by the positive response. The enthusiasm was understandable–golden, spiraled loaves, glistening with sugar syrup, dappled with bits of walnut and halva. What’s not to love, right? That photograph is below.

But now my confession: The beautiful loaves were under-baked. When I removed them from the pans a bit after the photo was taken, they collapsed; the dough in the middle was basically raw. In my defense, the recipe I adapted specified 30 minutes in the oven, and I not only waited that long, I also used an instant read thermometer to check the dough temperature, and–truly–it read 190 degrees. (Maybe I didn’t insert it in the correct place.) I had also baked a “mini-babka” using the bits cut off from the ends of the logs of spiraled dough, and,  after only 20 minutes in the oven, that was deliciously, perfectly cooked. But all those excuses aside, the beautiful, photogenic, Instagram-star loaves were, in fact, largely inedible. And yet, I couldn’t bring myself to delete the Instagram post.

My sister surmised that there may be some larger philosophic point lurking in this anecdote. I’m not sure I would go that far, but it is a good reminder that photos do not tell the whole story, at least where food is concerned. I like creating beautiful things, but, Instagram-posting-weakness notwithstanding, I also strive to bake delicious things.  So this blog is, in part, an attempt to keep me honest.

When baked properly, this babka DOES work. The loaves are a bit unwieldy to shape, but freezing the dough logs before slicing them in half helps immensely. As others who have made or adapted the chocolate krantz cakes recipe have observed–this is not a traditional babka. The dough is a bit denser and, well, bread-ier, for lack of a better term. I love this denser texture, but be forewarned.

Walnut-Halva Babka

Adapted from Jerusalem, by Yotam Ottolenghi, via Smitten Kitchen.

Ingredients

Dough

  • 4 1/4 cups (530 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • grated zest of 1/2 orange
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) water
  • 3/4 teaspoon fine sea or table salt
  • 2/3 cup (150 grams) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • neutral oil for greasing pans

Filling

  • 1 1/2 cups (175 grams) walnut pieces lightly toasted and cooled
  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) brown sugar
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons (50 grams) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons tahini
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup (75 grams) crumbled halva

Syrup

  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/3 cup water

Instructions

  1. Make the dough: Combine flour, granulated sugar, zest, and yeast together in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add water and eggs and mix with dough hook on low speed until the dry and liquid ingredients come together. Mix in the salt. Then add the butter, a tablespoon at a time, incorporating each addition fully before adding the next tablespoon. Knead with the dough hook on low speed until the dough looks smooth and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. (For me, this was less than 5 minutes of kneading after all the butter was incorporated.) Place dough in large greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator for at least 10 hours or preferably overnight.

  2. Make the filling: Place walnuts in food processor and pulse until chopped into small pieces. Remove and set aside about half the chopped walnuts. To the remaining walnuts in the food processor, add the brown sugar, butter, cinnamon, and tahini. Process until a paste is formed.

  3. Preheat the oven and assemble the loaves: Grease two standard loaf pans and line bottoms with parchment paper. Remove half the dough from the refrigerator (leave the other half in, for now). On a lightly floured surface, roll the first portion of dough into a rectangle about 12 inches long and 10 inches wide. Spread half the walnut-brown-sugar-tahini-butter paste over the rectangle, leaving about a 1/2 inch border. Sprinkle on half the chopped walnuts and half the crumbled halva, pressing slightly to adhere. Brush the short edge of the rectangle that is farthest away from you with a bit of water. Now, starting with the short end nearest to you, roll the dough into a log. Place the log in the freezer for 15 minutes to firm up a bit. Repeat with the second portion of dough. Remove each log from the freezer, trim about 1/2 inch off each end, and slice the log in half lengthwise. Then, twist the two halves of the logs together, trying to keep the cut sides facing out. Place the twisted loaf in a loaf pan. (You can either nestle the bits trimmed off the end in the same loaf pan, or bake them separately as a little "mini babka.") Cover with damp towel and allow the loaves to rise at room temperature for 1 to 1.5 hours.

  4. Bake the loaves: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake the loaves for 40-45 minutes, or until a wooden skewer can be inserted with little resistance, and comes out free of dough. (You will probably need to cover the loaves with foil for the last 10 minutes of the baking time to prevent overbrowning.) After removing from the oven, immediately brush the loaves with sugar syrup (see below), then allow the loaves to cool for 20 minutes in the pans, on a wire rack, before removing them from the pans to cool completely.

  5. To make the sugar syrup: While the loaves are baking, combine the 6 tablespoons sugar and 1/3 cup of water in a small saucepan, and heat over low heat until the sugar completely dissolves. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Recipe Notes

Both the original Jerusalem "chocolate krantz cakes" recipe and the Smitten Kitchen "better chocolate babka" recipe call for the loaves to be baked for 30 minutes. As recounted above, that was not long enough for my walnut-halva variation. However, ovens vary, so you may want to start checking your loaves around 30 minutes to be safe. 



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