Thursday, December 31, 2015

Attempting Babka

I recently got energized to bake, and since I am off for winter break, I decided to try my hand at something new.  I had snapped up a copy of a relatively new magazine titled Bake From Scratch while out shopping, and it has some interesting recipes inside.  I have also been a bit hooked on the show The Great British Bake Off, and I especially love that each episode centers around one type of baked good.  I kept telling my husband after finishing the most current season of the show that we should really start baking together, choosing one type of recipe to "master" before moving on.  That hasn't happened yet (and probably never will), but we did try our hand at babka a few days ago. It was extremely tasty, although there are things about it that weren't quite right for me, and I am determined to play around with it until I am completely and utterly satisfied (although I will have to wait some time between experiments as it is, of course, very rich in flavor and calories).  

Here is my first attempt.  You can certainly use the recipes listed if you wish.  I will share what I liked about them and what I plan to change for the next go 'round. Then once I have made it again, I'll let you know how it went.  In the meantime, if you want a rich, unique bread for dessert, breakfast, or just a special treat, this is a good place to start.  I am also eager to try this with a jam filling and streusel topping.  I will say that although the bread looks complicated it is actually fairly simple to make and turn out a pretty decent loaf.  It was time consuming and a little messy, but it was worth it.   

The recipe makes two loaves, so I opted to fill each with a different filling.  I used a chocolate filling for one loaf and a cinnamon pecan filling for the other.  Both were delicious.  The chocolate version allows the brioche-like dough to really shine, and we liked the subtle orange flavor of the dough. 

The cinnamon pecan version was all about the filling. It was much richer, much sweeter, and we really want to try to cut back on some of that in our next attempt. When I'm trying something new, I tend to stick fairly closely to the recipe so I know what it is like as written before I start altering it too much.  Once I've tried it, then I have no problems making changes which I will definitely be doing with this loaf.  While it was exceptionally delicious, I cannot justify eating that much butter or sugar in a single slice of bread, and I want to taste the bread rather than just the filling.  If you want a bread that tastes like an inside out sticky bun, though, this is the bread for you.  

The chocolate babka is filled with a mixture of melted semi-sweet chocolate, sugar, cocoa, and butter that was cooled before spreading over the dough.  To fill the babka, you roll the dough into a rectangle, spread the filling on top, and roll it up jelly-roll style. You then cut the roll in half lengthwise and twist the two resulting pieces together allowing the filling to remain facing up.  This allows you to see the filling from the top but also to get the swirl of filling and bread when you cut into the loaf.  I was happy with the rise on my chocolate loaf as well as the texture and appearance.  I did make a mistake though and added the entire filling recipe even though I later realized it was meant to be split between the two loaves.  What can I say, it was very late at night, and my brain was heading into sleep mode.  The result was a thicker ribbon of chocolate (maybe a little too thick if that is possible with chocolate).  Next time I will use half the chocolate filling in one loaf as I am sure the recipe intended.  I can definitely see how that would have been an appreciated mistake for chocolate lovers though. 

The cinnamon pecan babka was filled with a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, butter (lots of it), finely chopped pecans, and sugar.  I did use the correct amount of filling in this loaf, and the filling is delicious.  It keeps the babka super moist on the inside, but it has so much butter in it that the babka did not rise as much as it should have in baking.  Even though this type of dough is rich and full of butter, there is a point at which it can become too rich and the dough structure cannot support the amount of fat.  It can cause the dough to collapse in on itself, leaving gaps in between the filling and bread.  While this recipe did not have extreme issues with that, it did teeter on the edge.  I will definitely make this again, but next time, I will alter the filling by adding less butter and sugar and more nuts.  While the nuts were there, they were not as prevalent as I would have liked, and I think adding more nuts and less fat will help the structure of the dough as well as the taste. It will also allow me to more easily justify eating it.

Here are the recipes I used.  I am writing them here in their original form.  I will be making changes to them in the future.  The filling recipes are for two loaves.  If you plan to fill each loaf with a different filling, halve the filling amounts for each.  I also created a glaze for the Cinnamon-Pecan Babka.  It was made by mixing 2 tablepoons milk with 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar and 1/2 tsp vanilla.  I drizzled it on once the loaf was completely cool.  The glaze is completely optional.

Babka- Makes 2 loaves

6 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 Tbsp active dry yeast
1 Tbsp orange zest
4 large eggs
3/4 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
16 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1 Tbsp kosher salt

Egg Wash: 
1 egg and 1 tablespoon water beaten together.

Simple Syrup: 
1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water heated to boiling to dissolve sugar and then cooled slightly.

Chocolate Filling (enough to fill two loaves): 
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt

For Chocolate Filling: Heat butter and chocolate chips over medium heat in a saucepan, stirring frequently, until mixture is smooth.  Remove from heat and whisk in confectioners' sugar, cocoa, and salt.  Allow to cool completely.

Cinnamon-Pecan Filling (enough to fill two loaves): 
2 cups unsalted butter
2 cups sugar
4 tbsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp grated nutmeg
1 cup finely chopped pecans

For Cinnamon-Pecan Filling: Using the paddle attachment on a stand mixer on medium speed, mix butter and sugar until blended.  Add cinnamon, nutmeg, and mix again until incorporated. On low speed, mix in the pecans.  

For the dough: Spray two (8 inch) loaf pans with cooking spray and line each with parchment paper.  In a stand mixer with a dough hook, combine flour, sugar, yeast, and zest on low speed.  Add eggs, milk, and vanilla.  Beat until dough comes together, 2-3 minutes.  Add more milk 1 tablespoon at a time if mixture seems too dry.

With mixer on low, add butter, 1 tablespoon at a time.  Add salt, beating just to combine.  Increase speed to medium, and beat until a smooth and elastic dough forms and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.  Add more flour 1 tablespoon at a time if dough does not pull away.  

Spray a large bowl with cooking spray.  Place dough in bowl and let rise in a warm place for 1 1/2 to 2 hours until doubled in size.  You can also let the dough rise in the refrigerator overnight instead. 

Assemble Loaves: Divide dough in half.  On a floured surface, roll one half of dough into a 12 by 9 inch rectangle.  Spread dough with desired filling leaving a 1 inch border on all sides.  Brush border with egg wash, and roll dough starting at the longest side, jelly-roll style.  Press edges of dough to seal.  Using a large, sharp knife, cut dough in half lengthwise.  Twist the dough pieces around each other with cuts sides up.  Place in pan, cut sides up.  Repeat with the second half of the dough.  Cover and let stand in a warm place 1 to 1 1/2 hours until doubled in size.  

While dough is rising, preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Bake loaves 30 minutes.  Cover with foil, and bake another 30 minutes (note- I did not cover mine with foil for the second half of the baking.  They were not brown enough.)  

While babka bakes, prep the simple syrup (if you have not already).  Once a skewer can be inserted in middle of babka without dough on skewer, remove babka from oven.  Allow to cool slightly.  Pour half simple syrup over each loaf (it looks like a lot, but it needs the entire amount to stay moist).  Let cool in pans 5-10 minutes.  Remove loaves to wire rack (with parchment paper underneath) to cool completely. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Turkeys Part Two: Lessons Learned

In case you didn't catch part one of my turkey post, here is the linkAs I was discussing in that post, we had read that 24 weeks was a reasonable amount of time for the turkeys to reach their optimal weight.  My husband loaded the turkeys up in the wee hours of the morning and drove them an hour or so to a processing facility.  He was able to stay with them and watch the process which he said was very quick and seemed to be as painless as possible.  The man at the processing plant had a little difficulty with one of our toms due to his size which was my husband's first clue that maybe our turkeys were a little different than most. 

When asked how we wanted the turkeys processed, my husband told them we wanted 1 male and 1 female left whole and the other male and female cut into parts.  And here is where we learned our first lesson.  When asked how you want the turkeys processed, it is a good idea to ask how much each weighed before making a decision.  Turns out we had some very large turkeys on our hands.  Our males weighed in at just over 40 pounds each after being processed.  Yes, that's right.  Forty pounds per tom!  I don't even have an oven large enough for a 40 pound turkey.  If I had known they were that large under all those puffy feathers, I would have opted to get both toms cut up and the females left whole.  The females weighed in at a much more reasonable, albeit heavy, weight of approximately 20 pounds each.  

The plant manager explained that most people bring their turkeys in somewhere between 16 and 20 weeks which is definitely our second lesson learned.  The 24 week time frame worked well for the females, so another option would be to buy sexed birds the next time so that you're working with either all females or all males.  Either that or process them at different times. 

When we got the birds back home, we were barely able to fit them in the upright freezer.  In fact, we thought the freezer door was closed but as it turned out the suction on the door was not as strong because of the one of the tom's legs sticking out just a bit too far which resulted in a thawing of some of the veggies in the freezer.  We were able to salvage most though.  That's lesson number three.  Always check the upright freezer to make sure the door is closed tight when storing 120 pounds of turkey inside.  

So, we stored the turkeys until Thanksgiving at which point we thawed one turkey breast (from one of the hens).  The turkey breast weighed in at a little over 9 pounds.  We made a mixture of melted butter, orange juice, rosemary, salt, and pepper, and basted the turkey with the mixture throughout the cooking process.  It turned out to be absolutely scrumptious.  Much more flavorful than turkeys you buy at the store and more moist also.  We served it alongside a sweet potato casserole, dressing and gravy, and Brussels sprouts with bacon.  It was a yummy meal and one for which we were truly thankful.        

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Turkeys Part One: Raising Our Own Birds

It has been such a long time since I posted.  My life has been a little crazy lately, and I never really felt like I had anything worthwhile to say here.  I did miss it though and have felt guilty for letting everything keep me from posting.  I am going to try to get back on the wagon and post more.  

I hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving.  Ours was spent out of town with family, and we enjoyed every minute of it.  When we got back in town, we decided to cook up one of our turkey breasts from the turkeys we raised this year.  We had not tried any of the meat and really wanted leftovers for turkey sandwiches which is something you really don't get when you go out of town for the holiday.  

Before I tell you about the turkey and how it tasted, let me give you a little information about these birds.  I know I have mentioned here that we were raising turkeys, but I never really went into detail.  

On April 2 we purchased four Broad-breasted Bronze turkeys.  They were a day old at that point.  We raised them inside in a brooder just as we do our chicks.  The turkey poults grew very quickly, much quicker than the chickens we got around the same time.  It turned out that out of the four, there were two females and two males.  Within a month or so they had outgrown the brooder.  My husband then built a turkey tractor to house them.  These are pictures of the tractor in progress.  It is made of lumber, cattle panels covered with smaller welded wire, and metal and plastic ties.  We covered it with a tarp to keep out the rain, hung the food and water, and made a roost for the turkeys to sleep on.  The turkeys then moved outside to their new home.  

We locked the turkeys in at night for protection, but during the day they had access to a large grassy area that was fenced with a large portable poultry fence.  They were moved around regularly to give them fresh grass.    Occasionally they did get out of the fence, but they were easy enough to manage and were, for the most part, very easy to care for.  My husband did have to go out each evening and shoo them into the tractor because they always hunkered down under the tree instead.  

They ate specialized poultry feed for turkeys and game birds, bugs and grass, and vegetable/fruit scraps.  You do have to be careful with turkeys because they will eat anything put in front of them and aren't the smartest animals.  They were always very fascinated by the yellow caution sign attached to the poultry fence.  

They were also very entertaining. The hens were extremely curious, pecking at you if you got close enough and getting right in the way of the camera.  The toms, on the other hand, were much more skeptical and puffed up immediately as soon as anyone came near.  They never became aggressive though, which I had been a little worried about early on.  

We raised them this way for approximately 24 weeks.  Everything we had read suggested that was a good amount of time, allowing the turkeys to grow to a reasonable size.  We scheduled to have them processed at Foothills Pilot Plant (a North Carolina plant specializing in humane small flock processing for farmers in the state).  We chose to let the plant process the turkeys because we had never processed turkeys before and were not confident we could deal with such large birds.  Turns out that was a pretty smart decision (more on that later).  

In the early morning hours, my husband loaded the four birds into crates on the back of the truck and hauled them a little over an hour to the plant.  That's where our lessons in raising turkeys really began...