Yeast cake (babka)


It is a brave soul who attempts these cakes, as there are so many processes involved: making the dough, filling it, rolling it, proving it, baking it… but it’s the brave that get the glory. And although there are multiple processes, each is quite simple, and if you follow these instructions carefully, success is guaranteed. The pride you’ll feel as the plaited loaf comes out of the oven; the particular joy of pouring the syrup on top, hearing it hiss and seeing it disappear as it soaks in; slicing into it and seeing the beautiful layers of filling and dough – pure joy and comfort; and, best of all, sitting down to enjoy that first taste with a cup of strong, dark coffee. Nothing you have baked before is likely to give more satisfaction on so many levels.

The filling variations are endless and there are many ways to shape the loaf too.

Chocolate, hazelnut & cinnamon krantz loaf

Fills a 1kg loaf tin

● 1 batch yeast dough (see below)
● A little egg wash (1 egg beaten with a pinch of table salt), if you like
● 200g/ml basic sugar syrup

For the filling:
● 100g unsalted butter
● 190g caster sugar
● 80g 70% dark chocolate
● 40g dark cocoa powder
● 1 tsp ground cinnamon
● 60g roasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped

● Melt the butter in a small saucepan over a medium-low heat. Remove from the heat, tip the sugar in and stir to dissolve.

● Add the chocolate, cocoa and cinnamon and mix to combine. Set aside to cool a little at room temperature (don’t place it in the fridge, as it will set solid).

● Place the chilled dough on a lightly floured surface and roll into a rectangle of about 50cm x 30cm.

● Spread the filling over the dough, reaching right to the corners, then sprinkle with the hazelnuts. Roll up tightly from one of the longer sides, so that you end up with a 50cm-long log. If the dough has softened too much for you to handle it, place on a tray and chill in the fridge for 10 minutes to firm up. While you are waiting, butter the loaf tin and line the base and long sides with baking parchment, making sure that there is an overhang so that you will be able to lift the baked loaf out easily.

● Use a pastry cutter or sharp knife to cut the log in half along its length to expose the layers. Place the halves with the cutsides facing upwards. Lift one halved log over the other so that they form a cross at their midpoints, with the filling layers still pointing upwards. Continue to twist the strands over each other until the dough looks like a lovely twisted plait.

● Place in the lined baking tin and leave to prove in a warm place until the dough is fluffy, soft and doubled in size. This will take about 1½ hours in a warm kitchen, or up to 2 hours if it is chilly.

● Preheat the oven to 220°C/200°C fan. If you are using the egg wash, brush all over the surface.

● Bake in the oven for 10 minutes, then turn the tin around for an even bake and leave for another 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 190°C/170°C fan and bake for a further 10 minutes.

● Remove from the oven and immediately pour the sugar syrup all over the hot cake.

● You must let this cool in the tin or it will fall apart. I know this is hard, but practise some restraint. It will be worth the wait.

Yeast dough

This base dough is very butter-rich and needs to be cold when you work it, so don’t take it out of the fridge until you are ready to fill and shape it.

Makes enough dough for one cake (about 620g)

● 20g fresh yeast (or 2 tsp dried yeast)
● 330g strong white bread flour
● 40g caster sugar
● a pinch of table salt
● 1 whole egg
● 85g/ml milk
● 90g unsalted butter, at room temperature

● Crumble the yeast into the flour, sugar and salt in a mixer bowl with a hook attachment and mix together. (If you are using dried yeast, dissolve it in the milk before adding to the flour.)
● Add the egg, milk and butter and combine to form a dough that comes together in a ball. This will take about 5–6 minutes on a medium speed.
● Cover the bowl and chill in the fridge for at least 6 hours or overnight.

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