People often assume that the most fun a cookbook author/cooking teacher/pastry chef can have must be the TV appearances. I am telling you here and now that TV is probably the LEAST exciting thing I do. Although my appearance on Sweet Genius on Food Network was an amazing experience, it demanded a 12-hour day (and yes, the timed sections were absolutely the time you saw on the show) and often we just sat around waiting for something to happen. The local TV news food segments that I do before holidays have their own challenges because they are only three minutes long. The segment features a one-minute intro, a thirty-second wrap up and in between I have one minute and a half to demonstrate my entire recipe while simultaneously teaching a few great take home tips.
The best part of my job is the live talks and baking demonstrations that I do all over the country. The live events are so much more satisfying because I get to interact with kosher bakers everywhere. Many want to learn to improve techniques, some have never baked before, but everyone has questions. After over 15 years of baking demonstrations I can safely say that home bakers are the happiest group of people you will ever meet.
Two highlights of my baking demonstrations last year are (1) when my kindergarten teacher, Morah Levy, just happened to be in the audience at a Manhatttan demo and (2) when I did a class for the Chabad of Sea Gate in my grandmother’s former kitchen where the rabbi and rebbetzin now live. The Kosher Baker is dedicated to her memory and that class was the embodiment of “may her memory be a blessing”.
Often my choices for desserts to teach are tied to upcoming holidays or the seasons, the level of expertise of the bakers in a community or just the personal tastes of the host committee. The most requested dessert is my chocolate babka loaves. Babka is the most comforting dessert, is appropriate to serve 24 hours a day, and it is loaded with chocolate. Last Fall, I started substituting the babka cupcakes for the larger babka loaves. I demonstrated them before over 200 women at Lubavitch Yeshiva in Crown Heights and then at two other events in Silver Spring, MD and Westport, CT. They are small and pack the perfect amount of crunch and chocolate gooeyness.
Every once in a while, I decide to stand up to the chocolate chorus in my house and bake a cinnamon babka – the original babka flavor from the old country, where chocolate was a distant dream. Trust me, it provides the same satisfying experience as the chocolate one does.
yield 14-15 cupcakes
If you are someone who really loves the babka crust and crumbs, then this is the recipe for you. Each babka cupcake has more of the crunchier surface than the soft, gooey middle of a traditional babka loaf. If you make them in disposable muffin tins, they will come out shorter and softer than in the aluminum tins. Be careful not to overstuff the muffin tins (see the story I wrote for the Washington Jewish Week about what happens when you put too much babka ingredients into the pans.)
1/4 cup warm water
1/2 ounce (2 envelopes) active dry yeast
1 1/4 cups plus 1 teaspoon sugar, divided
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) parve margarine, softened, divided, plus extra for greasing muffin pan
1 large egg plus 1 white
1/4 cup parve unsweetened cocoa
1/3 cup parve mini or regular-size chocolate chips
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon flour
4 teaspoons canola or vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1. Place the warm water, yeast, and 1 teaspoon of the sugar in a large mixing bowl and let sit 10 minutes, or until the mixture bubbles. Add ¼ cup of sugar, the flour, 1 stick of the margarine, and the eggs. Combine by hand with a wooden spoon or with a dough hook in a stand mixer until all the ingredients are mixed in. Cover bowl with plastic and let rise 2 to 4 hours.
2. Meanwhile, for the chocolate filling, combine the remaining 1 cup of sugar with the cocoa in a medium bowl. Add the remaining 2 sticks of margarine and mix well with a hand-held or stand electric mixer, or by hand with a whisk. You can let the filling sit out covered while the dough is rising.
3. To make the crumb topping: In a small bowl, place the sugar, flour, oil, and cinnamon and mix with a silicone spatula.
4. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease 14 to 15 cups of a muffin pan or pans.
Divide dough into four pieces. On a large piece of parchment, roll each piece into a rectangle, as thin as you can. Spread 1/4 of the chocolate cocoa and sugar mixture on one of the dough rectangles and then sprinkle on 1/4 of the chocolate chips. Roll the dough up working with the long side of the rectangle to create long, thin rolls.
5. Slice each roll into 3/4-inch slices. Place 4 slices into each muffin cup, by placing the first 2 at angles in the bottom and then the second 2 on top, also at angles, none with the chocolate swirls facing straight up. Use your fingers to sprinkle some of the crumb topping on top of each babka cupcake; use up all the topping.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until browned on top. Cool for 20 minutes in the pan. Run a knife around the babkas and then remove from the pan and let cool. Store covered in plastic at room temperature for up to four days or freeze up to three months.
yield: 2 loaves, each serves 12
Cinnamon babka is like a loaf of cinnamon buns. If you are like my mother, you will never eat this version because it does not have chocolate. For everyone else, this is a great dessert to serve for breakfast, brunch or to nosh on Shabbat afternoon.
1/2 cup warm water
1 teaspoon sugar
2 packages yeast (1/2 oz. total)
1/2 cup sugar
5 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup (2 sticks) soft butter or margarine
2 large eggs plus 1 white (reserve yolk for glazing)
2 cups sugar
4 sticks soft butter or margarine
3 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1. Combine the water, teaspoon sugar and yeast in a large mixing bowl and let sit 10 minutes. Add the ½ cup sugar, flour, butter or margarine, and eggs. Combine by hand or use a dough hook in a stand mixer until all the ingredients are mixed in. Cover bowl with plastic and let rise 2- 4 hours.
2. Meanwhile, make the filling. Combine sugar and cocoa. Add soft butter or margarine and mix well.
3. Preheat oven to 375°F. Use spray oil to grease 2 12-inch loaf pans.
4. Divide dough into four. Roll each piece into a 10 X 7 rectangle. Spread ¼ of filling and roll tightly the long way. When you have two rolls, twist them together, seam side down. Tuck the ends under and place in loaf pan. Do the same for the other two pieces of dough. Brush tops of loaves with reserved egg yolk mixed with a little water.
5. Bake for 45 minutes. Cool for 20 minutes and then remove from pan. Wrap in foil and freeze unless you will use it by the next day.