Thursday, 3 March 2016

Tasting Jerusalem #33 – Babka

Dee – February’s theme was perhaps the most challenging to date:  The Babka, or Krantz Cake, has a whole four pages of the recipe book dedicated to it.  In the context of Jerusalemite cuisine, the Babka/Krantz is most closely associated with Jewish baking traditions, as its origins are with the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe.

I had feared the arrival of this recipe in our project almost as much as the Maqluba, which is still to come, but I was also secretly relishing the chance to make a yeasted loaf cake flavoured with chocolate and pecans, so greeted the announcement of it with a smile.

The commentary accompanying the recipe states; “Making a Krantz isn’t easy or quick”, but later adds that the results make all the effort and waiting around worthwhile.  It has proved popular among the Tasting Jerusalem group members, with photos of several different interpretations being shared around and discussed.

As tempting as it was to enjoy slices of the cake for breakfast with our morning coffee, we decided instead to prepare a two-course menu in which it featured as dessert.  This allowed me an opportunity to try out a recipe which was mentioned while the Tasting Jerusalem group were discussing the Hawayej spice blend last month.

Hamshuka with Tahigurt and Machneyuda Toppings

This recipe was devised by the Israeli Chef Uri Navon, who is based in Jerusalem’s Machneyuda restaurant.  It is an extremely eye catching dish and the inclusion of five different sauces immediately attracted my interest. 

It seems to capture what I see as being at the heart of Israeli cuisine; an amalgamation of ingredients and cooking techniques from the Mediterranean, Eastern Europe and the Middle East.  The recipe includes Preserved Lemons from North Africa, Pesto from Italy, Kalamata Olives from Greece, Tapenade from Southern France and a version of Tahini Sauce from the Holy Land.

Like the Babka which would follow it in our meal, this isn’t a quick dish to prepare, but it doesn’t involve any complicated techniques or specialist equipment other than a blender, and the end result is a feast for the eye as well as the taste buds.
The picture above shows it as we served it:  The Tahigurt topped with the Hamshuka, which in turn was topped with Rocket/Arugula pesto (the green sauce), Preserved Lemon Relish (the yellow sauce), Kalamata Olive Tapenade (the Purple sauce) and Muhamarra (the red sauce).  Accompanying it were a couple of home-made pita breads and a small bowl of yoghurt.

We made one or two ‘tweaks’ to the published recipe (click here for details), namely using a milder, sweeter version of Muhamarra Dip instead of Harissa, and we made the dish vegetarian by using Soya mince instead of meat, and using sea salt flakes instead of anchovies in the Tapenade.

Needless to say, we loved it and had plenty left over to enjoy for lunch the following day.  We will definitely be making it again, and it may even be included in a ‘Best of Tasting Jerusalem’ rundown which I am keen to write-up once the project is complete.  That won’t be for a good while yet though.

Now for dessert…

Chocolate Krantz Cake/Babka

I’d started the preparations for this cake the day before baking, as the brioche-like dough needed to prove overnight in the fridge.  The eggs and butter used to enrich it gave it a very sticky texture and its time spent in the fridge allowed it to firm up to a workable consistency.
The next day, it was firm enough to roll out for making and baking and baking.  I ran into some initial problems when I thought I knew better than the published recipe and attempted to roll it out between two sheets of cling film/plastic wrap.  My thinking behind this was that I wanted to make the finished cake quite light in texture and thought that adding flour, even on the work surface, would make it too dense.  However, the dough softened to such an extent that it began to stick to everything it came into contact with, resulting in much panic and cried of “Never again” in the kitchen.  Fortunately though, I managed to save most of the dough, floured the work surface as directed in the recipe and rolled it out to the required shape, which I then covered with the chocolate sauce, as shown in the picture below;
The next step was to roll it into a cylindrical shape which was then split lengthways and twisted into the loaf shape before being placed into its baking tin to prove.  This was the cause of another problem:  My knife wasn’t sharp enough.  Maybe returning the dough to the fridge would have helped here, but eventually I managed to get it to the shape I wanted and into the baking tin to prove;
After the near-disasters making the cake, I was quite pleased with how it looked when I took it out of the oven.  It passed the hot clean skewer test and looked even better when the sugar syrup was applied.  A point had been made about the quantity of syrup in the recipe being excessive, so I just made half the listed amount but even this produced more than I needed.  Maybe I was being mean with my application, but I didn’t want to risk ruining it after coming so far with it.
It cut nicely, to reveal the characteristic marbling of the dough and chocolate sauce.
We’d used a rich dark chocolate so the taste wasn’t overly sweet, even with the syrup on top, and the pecans were less in evidence than I was expecting, though I have a feeling that I would miss them if they weren’t included.

It was Jay’s suggestion to serve it with some nice ripe cherries which I wasn’t sure about initially as I didn’t know if they were authentic or not, but luckily it turned out that they are sold at Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda Market.  They proved a perfect match for the cake and were juicy enough to compliment it without being so sweet as to overpower it.
We’d ended up with a dessert that was dark and rich rather than chocolatey and nutty and will certainly pair them again.

There, I’ve said it.  I will be making Babka/Krantz cake again.  Next time though, I may use a different filling.  The commentary in the book suggests Muscovado Sugar, Cinnamon and Walnuts, but I also read somewhere that there is a Sweet Cheese filling which is very popular.  As with so many of the recipes that we have made so far, there is still much to explore.

“Tasting Jerusalem is a virtual cooking community exploring the vibrant flavors and cuisine of the Middle East through the lens of Jerusalem by Ottolenghi and Tamimi published by Ebury Press. You can follow along and cook with us by subscribing to  following the hashtag #TastingJrslm on Twitter and Instagram, liking our Facebook Page or joining our Google+ Community and finally checking out all of our groups’ dishes on Pinterest

(Please note: I have listed the UK publisher and have linked to the UK Amazon site.  The US details are provided on the web site)

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