Babka: Best in Town

Babka: Best in Town

There was a babka war, and I missed. Apparently, there is a New York tradition of fighting for the honor of their favorite babka. You can read all about it. Thankfully, this battle was resolved before I could become involved. The warriors may now lay down their arms. The greatest babkas aren’t babkas. They are one single babka. Green’s babka. One babka made by the same people, from the same recipe, packaged differently. Available to order online.

While I’m tempted to buy one for January 11th, I happen to know a babka recipe which is better than any commercial bakery. From the archives*, I bring you:

Babka by Special Correspondent Dena and Martha Stewart 

I never trusted Martha Stewart, but I respect her. A woman who made millions by repeating generations of grandmothers’ advice is a smart cookie. However, the rest of the world would be just as well off if she’d told them to listen to their grandmothers. For this reason, along with her holier-than-thou attitude and expensive materials, I’ve never embarked on a Martha Stewart project.

Then, Special Correspondent Dena made Babka, by Martha Stewart. I don’t know that this is a recipe I will ever use, but if I ever need to have an audience applaud a baked good, this is the recipe for it.

Fittingly, this is a true grandmother’s recipe. Babka or бабка, in Belarussian, means grandmother.

Chocolate Babka

Makes 3 loaves
1 1/2 cups warm milk [substitute nondairy creamer]
2 (1/4 ounce each) packages active dry yeast
1 3/4 cups plus a pinch of sugar
3 whole large eggs, room temperature
2 large egg yolks, room temperature [or just conserve your resources and use 3 eggs]
6 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
1 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups (3 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces, room temperature, plus more for bowl and loaf pans [substitute margarine, and use oil spray for pans. Don’t use the full amount of margarine unless you are trying to shorten your lifespan]
2 1/4 pounds semisweet chocolate, very finely chopped [substitute chocolate chips]
2 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon heavy cream [substitute nondairy creamer, or just leave it out]
Streusel Topping
1 2/3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter[substitute margarine], room temperature
In a large bowl, combine sugar, flour, and butter. Using a fork, stir until fully combined with clumps ranging in size from crumbs to 1 inch.

Pour warm [cream]milk into a small bowl. Sprinkle yeast and pinch of sugar over milk; let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. In a bowl, whisk together 3/4 cup sugar, 2 eggs, and egg yolks. Add egg mixture to yeast mixture, and whisk to combine. In the bowl [of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment], combine flour and salt. Add egg mixture, and beat on low speed until almost all the flour is incorporated, about 30 seconds. [Change to the dough hook.] Add 2 sticks butter[margarine], and beat until flour mixture and butter are completely incorporated, and a smooth, soft dough that’s slightly sticky when squeezed is formed, about 10 minutes.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead a few turns until smooth. Butter[spray] a large bowl. Place dough in bowl, and turn to coat. Cover tightly with plastic wrap. Set aside in a warm place to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Place chocolate, remaining cup sugar, and cinnamon in a large bowl, and stir to combine. Using two knives or a pastry cutter, cut in remaining 1 1/2 sticks butter[margarine] until well combined; set filling aside.

[Generously butter three 9-by-5-by-2 3/4-inch loaf pans; line them with parchment paper. Beat remaining egg with 1 tablespoon cream; set egg wash aside.] Punch back the dough, and transfer to a clean surface. Let rest 5 minutes. Cut into 3 equal pieces. Keep 2 pieces covered with plastic wrap while working with the remaining piece. On a generously floured surface, roll dough out into a 16-inch square; it should be 1/8 inch thick. [Brush edges with reserved egg wash.] Crumble 1/3 of the reserved chocolate filling evenly over dough, leaving a 1/4-inch border. [Refresh egg wash if needed.] Roll dough up tightly like a jelly roll. Pinch ends together to seal. Twist 5 or 6 turns. [Brush top of roll with egg wash.] Carefully crumble 2 tablespoons filling over the left half of the roll, being careful not to let mixture slide off. Fold right half of the roll over onto the coated left half. Fold ends under, and pinch to seal. Twist roll 2 turns, and fit into prepared pan. Repeat with the remaining 2 pieces of dough and remaining filling.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. [Brush the top of each loaf with egg wash. Crumble 1/3 of streusel topping over each loaf.] Loosely cover each pan with plastic wrap, and let stand in a warm place 20 to 30 minutes.

Bake loaves, rotating halfway through, until golden, about 55 minutes. Lower oven temperature to 325 degrees.bake until babkas are deep golden, 15 to 20 minutes more. Remove from oven, and transfer to wire racks until cool. Remove from pans; serve. Babkas freeze well for up to 1 month.

Dena, I applaud you. 

*The first time I published this, I said to replace milk and cream with soymilk. Dena set me straight. Nondairy creamer it is!

First Guest Post- How to make a Princess Cake!

First Guest Post- How to make a Princess Cake!

Let Them Eat Barbie Cake

properTrookies - climbing the ladder of home-ownership

Let Them Eat Princess Cake!

Hello Dahlings!

I’m Dena and I love arts and crafts and baking birthday cakes.   These are not two separate things; a cake is not really a birthday cake unless there is some arts and crafts going on. This brings me to the princess cake I brought to N and B’s.

As you know, N and B have a daughter, so a princess cake would be the perfect birthday cake for their child.  Except that this cake was not for Baby G (who is not a baby anymore, or a watch that was the hot item when I was 12), but for N! If you have looked at the pics of the cake, this should not have come as a surprise to you because obviously I used this Barbie because of the resemblance to N: the blonde hair, the blue eyes, the hand-crafted flowered headband…

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Packing Up: Office Edition

Packing Up: Office Edition

A coworker from my department disappeared. He’d been gone for a week when our boss received an email stating that the employee would not return. Speculation ran rampant in the office on what had happened – and who had predicted when that this one would leave us.

Only one coworker declared that they’d known he’d leave from the very beginning: the investigator. Despite the fact that the two men had worked on different floors and, as far as I know, spoke only once. Still, the investigator was definitive; “I knew he’d leave.”

I found the assertion specious. But I humored him with a “How?”

“He didn’t have any personal belongings here,” the investigator said. I pictured the office. The investigator was right.

However, the mental picture lead me to point out that the vanishing coworker wasn’t the only person to do without the photos-and-figurines cubicle personalization. “I don’t have any personal belongings on my desk,” I remarked.

The investigator started to explain that away. I interrupted; “There are a lot of papers on my desk. That’s all work-related, not personal.”

“You have a lot of food,” he said, once I’d finished protesting.

I stared at him.

“I sat at your desk one day,” he slowly explained. “You were out, and I needed to be in your department. I noticed that you keep a lot of food there.” He paused. “You also have a few mugs.”



 my mugs. and some papers.

I had to concede the point. As the agency is moving soon, we have all been packing. My boss requested that we post an “empty” sign on each drawer as we finish packing it. I finished boxing up what I could; only 1 of my 5 drawers read “empty.” I popped into my boss’s office and explained. I left 1 drawer for the files I had to access, and 3 for food. He was ok with that.

I guess that means I don’t plan to leave the agency too soon.

Steel Youself for Steel Advice

Steel Youself for Steel Advice

I would advise you to take advice only from those with whom you fundamentally agree. That rules out people who are  unwise, ostentatious, and – usually – Republicans. This rule means that Emily Posts’s etiquette can be taken under advisement. Meanwhile, Mao’s “All power comes from the barrel of a gun,” can be disregarded. However, there is a class of people whose advice varies from reasonable to irrational – advice columnists. For those ones, you’ve got to call it like you see it.

Not all advice columnists are equal. 9 times out of 10, I’d follow the guidance of Dear Abby. Only 1 out of 10 – and that’s being generous – would I believe something in Cat’s Call. There’s a new column in Pittsburgh, and the jury is still out. Steel Advice does not have a promising name, but she seems to have a good head on her shoulders. A recent sample:

DEAR STEEL ADVICE: What is the proper amount of time after a wedding a thank-you note should be sent by the bride and groom? After attending a wedding in the middle of May, and giving a very nice monetary gift, I still have not received any acknowledgement. Is this obsolete now?

Six months prior to the wedding (back in December 2012), I received a “Save the Date” card. Two months before, a wedding invitation arrived along with the RSVP, which I sent quickly. And now I have no idea if the monetary gift was received or what? I think this situation is very rude to the wedding attendees. I placed my name on all gifts.


DEAR PUZZLED: Don’t hold your breath. Snail mail is not the problem. Chalk this one up to self-absorbed socially inept procrastinators. These newlyweds are comforting themselves by adhering to the urban myth of a year to send a thank-you note. Three months is the socially accepted maximum time frame for acknowledging wedding gifts. Their note may eventually arrive, and in the interim you may learn of a crisis in the couple’s life that makes your criticism of them seem petty.

That’s the sort of Steel Advice I would take.

Cheaper By the Corporation

Cheaper By the Corporation

We all know that weddings cost a lot of money. Many say that they cost too much money. The New York Times is now part of that chorus.

According to this article, industries charge people more for wedding commodities than it would for the same service for a different purpose. More than Bill Gates. More than the Pope. More than an international corporation run by Bill Gates and the Pope – if one existed. Because it seems that the only people more willing to spend than those who can afford do so, are brides.

But you already knew that.


Election Day

Election Day

I ❤ voting. I have voted at least once a year – since birth. For nearly 20 of those years, I voted in the same church social hall. As a social hall, the cracked linoleum and aged paint made it pitiful. But throw in some polling booths, the smell of coffee from the election-day bake sale, and friendly neighbors as poll workers, and it was a dandy polling station. I looked forward to going there for every election.

Then I moved.

Along with my residency, my voter registration changed. But amid all the changes, some things stayed the same. My new polling station was in yet another church. Walking into a church-located polling station, I expected the usual from my polling station workers – the friendly smiles, the joyful greetings. On my first New York-resident election day, I burst into the room full of smiles for the poll workers.

There was  a bag of candy sitting on the table nearest the door. I beamed at it, and the poll workers at its table, as I made a beeline for the candy. I announced my name, and address, and was leaning toward the candy when one of the poll workers stopped me short.  She told me I was at the wrong table. I lived the next district over; they pointed me toward the correct table. A table without candy. As I walked away, they didn’t offer me a parting sweet. And I knew I wasn’t in Pennsylvania anymore.

I tried to greet my actual poll workers with pep; it was not returned.

That first election was heart-breaking to me. But being a voter, I kept going back. Over the course of six elections, I kept up the enthusiastic greetings to the best of my abilities. Slowly, but surely, I worked my way into their hearts. This year, I greeted my poll workers like long-lost friends and they greeted me like a rock star. Our meeting was so cheering that it took me a moment to realize they still didn’t know my name. But the break-through gave me hope; I patiently spelled out my name and address so that they could look me up. We chatted as they got out my ballot. Once it was at hand, the man laid it in front of me and began, “You can only vote for one person in -”

His colleague broke in. “-she knows how to vote.” With a smile, she handed me my ballot, and waved me toward the voting booths.

Finally, I’d made it. My poll workers knew me.

It took two days for me to realize.

I had voted in the wrong district.

In New York, when you move three blocks you move out of one district and into the other. And I had moved. So now, it’s time to reregister.

But that’s ok. Because now I know I have what it takes to win over new poll workers. Though this time I might start by bringing them candy.