Apple Scrapple.

My heart is broken.  In fact, it is twice broken, both times at the hands of baked goods.  The first instance of breakage was after the discovery that my beloved Great Harvest Bread Company of Evanston, IL on Central St. is in fact just one franchise of a national company.  The coziness, the steamy windows as evidence of daily baking, the carefully weathered counters and wooden shelves, the homely-appearing colored-chalkboard writing, all lies.  Thankfully however, due to ample free samples and the strong perseverance of delicious yeasted goods, my heart was healed.  The realization that a national chain in fact means nationwide distribution of warm and rich Great Harvest bread also helped along the healing process.  Alas, my heart had been set up, only to be broken yet again.

A question.  What, exactly, is the point of having a Great Harvest in north Oakland if they have no Apple Scrapple?  To break hearts, apparently.

An Apple Scrapple is not, as a diner-savvy eater may assume, a slice of pork terrine studded with apples that has been combined with cornmeal and fried.  Though that does sound lovely, and good for the coronaries as well.  An Apple Scrapple is, quite simply, a round of bread.  Plush pillowy bread swirled with apples and mounded with strudel.  A heartbreaker if you’ve ever seen one.

So what is one to do, after a twice-broken heart?

Clearly the answer is to make your own Apple Scrapple, except better—i.e. more butter, more sugar, more streusel.  This Apple Scrapple is not so secretly a giant round of Danish dough topped with caramelized cinnamon apples that taste strikingly like pie filling, and then mounded with brown sugar streusel for good measure.  And because it’s bread, it’s suitable for breakfast.  Maybe heat a slice up and top it with whipped cream.  Or butter.  Regardless, it fixes up the lack-of-scrapple problem.

Of course it’s cyclical dilemma.  Once this scrapple is gone, the only option really is to bake another.

Recipe on the following page.

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Brioche Tart with Creme Anglaise.

There were two things about this tart that I immediately disliked when I read the recipe.  The first, and probably most important, is that I hate fruit.  Hate is, yes, a strong word that really should be reserved for enemies and evildoers, but I’ll just come out and repeat it.  I hate fruit.  For me, there is nothing worse than when a raspberry invades my chocolate item, with is disgustingly bloody color, it’s tiny little wimpy seeds, and that gross, cloying flavor.  Peaches, with their fuzzy outsides and sticky, sweet insides—I’ve never eaten one.  Getting down an orange or nectarine wedge is absolute torture—I haven’t eaten a fresh wedge since middle school.  At least eight years ago.  And the banana.  The banana.  The smell, the mushy white flesh that invades peoples’ mouths and leaves a scent their breath.

Ugh.  I will only eat apples, the occasional grape.  And blueberry pie.

So, yes.  The first thing I disliked about this tart recipe was that it was served with fruit.  The second, and probably more relatable for the 99 percent of you all who actually enjoy fruit was that is was served with a “White Secret Sauce.” A white secret sauce?  What editor, what chef, what publisher though it was a good idea to put a White Secret Sauce in a cookbook?  Isn’t it a little degrading, and slightly insulting, to the memory of Julia Child, whom one would assume knows what a custard sauce is, to title a recipe ‘White Secret Sauce?’  I was personally insulted.  (And, being freshly two decades old but with the mind of a 15-year-old boy, let’s be real.  What is a white secret sauce?)

Chocolate Pulla.

When things come in groups, especially ingredients, I often find that using just one component of the group leaves the others a little dejected.  So while, yes, this does fall under the category of personification of ingredients and the occasional normal chat—or two—one may have with their foodstuffs, I’d like to submit that it’s really just consideration for lonely ingredients.  Such is the case with yeast packets.  They come in groups of three, for a reason unknown to me but most likely logical to those with a vast knowledge of bread making.

To come to the point, when I bought the yeast and made sticky buns, I had to use the other yeast packets the next day not just because I had the yeast, but because the two were are sad little couple.  Hence this Chocolate Pulla.

A Pulla, as I’ve come to learn, is the Finnish equivalent of a brioche or Challah.  Egg-rich and full of butter, it’s essentially a rich man’s brioche that’s been braided and formed into a wreath.  Traditionally flavored with crushed cardamom, I assumed that any type of slightly normal bread would be greatly elevated by the addition of ¾ lb. of chocolate and more butter.  Some cream and extra sugar as well.  A tablespoon of honey just in case there wasn’t enough sugar.  And upon eating said Chocolate Pulla, I was struck—yes by the joy of once again adding chocolate to my breakfast in a slightly more acceptable form than just handfuls—but by the absolute resemblance Pulla has to Challah.  It’s true I may have bastardized the Pulla, removing the cardamom, adding chocolate and honey, and it may also be true that real Challah does not include chocolate.  But, when comparing these two yeast-risen chocolate bastards of true religious and cultural tradition, they are, essentially, the same.

Chocolate Babka, Redux.

I really have to apologize.  I’m really, truly, sorry.  So sorry, it’s embarrassing.  You see, I’ve let you down.  I heralded this Babka recipe as the best, the ultimate, the be-all and end-all of the best babushka-made Jewish food product.  But I was wrong, so very, very wrong.

Don’t worry though, this Babka recipe, right here, is the best.  I promise, I really do.

Why, you might wonder, is this recipe any better?  It looks similar, it’s pretty much the same. And it is.  But it’s really not.  It’s the Babka, new and improved.  This Babka Redux is the real deal, the kind of loaf that should make Jewish grandmas and children weep with delight.  Real tears of absolute joy.  It’s the kind of loaf that deserves to be weighed by the pounds, heightened to the status of the most unholy and delicious of foods.  (Bacon, off the top of my head.)  It’s the kind of loaf so marbled and striped with the creamiest, silkiest chocolate filling that each slice is absolute-zebra beauty.  It’s the kind of loaf that brings out the defensive loaf-hide in a sorority girl.  The kind of loaf that is hidden, because you do not want to share.

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread.

PumpChoc3

I’ll give one thing to the Midwest—fall’s a pretty good thing.  You know, the piles of red-gold leaves, everything changing colors and shifting towards warm, earthy tones, that clear, crisp fall air.  It’s really all true, these things you hear.  Now, I’m not admitting to a total conversion, but, but, if for some reason—say college—you have to give up virtually year-round sunshine with a couple weeks of below fifties rain and sprinkling, fall is a good way to go.  Unfortunately, seasons don’t last, changing and all as they do.  At least it’s a nice preface to winter, and sort of ease-in and trade-off.  Yes, you can have the colors and the clear, bright air, but you also have to take snow and sub-zero temperatures.  And wind chill.

But hey, hey.  People wax poetic about this stuff, so I figured I might as well take advantage while there are crunchy, crisp leaves with the golds and reds and oranges and yellows, since they’re just lying around.

PumpChoc1

Chocolate Babka.

Chocolate Babka

By some strange coincidence, all of my cousins are Jewish while my grandparents and my immediate family remain in some state of religious denial with exceptions, of course, for all the festivities and foods.  We’ve had parsnip latkes for Christmas, sugar candies for Boys and Girls days, challah braiding lessons, matzo ball soup making, and voluntary participation in Passover.

One of the byproducts of having five Jewish cousins and an oddly large number of Jewish friends during the thirteen-year-old stage has resulted in more Bar and Bat20Mitzvahs than my siblings and I can count.  On our combined fingers.  Mitzvahs are great, but when it comes to the point that you can sing and chant almost as well—in some cases, better—than the Bar or Bat Mitzvah, you get the feeling that maybe you’ve attended one too many Saturday morning services.

However, surrounded by all this Jewishness, it was not one of my cousins or my friends, nor even a rabbi or a platter at an after-service brunch or the post-Mitzvah party that introduced me to what in my small-experiences should be the start and end of all things Jewish—the Chocolate Babka.  It was Martha Stewart.  My relatives let me, and my Babka-crazed brother, down.

Chocolate Babka

This rich brioche bread swirled with cinnamon chocolate and encased in buttery sweet streusel is perfect.  Perfect enough to have a Seinfeld episode featuring it in all its chocolate glory.  Nothing, not even the breakfast-of-champions partner donut, pairs as well with coffee as a thick slice of Chocolate Babka.  I honestly do not understand how, after sitting through Saturday morning services, Friday night services, Shabbat, Hanukah, and gefilte fish, I had to wait until I was sixteen for Martha to teach about the Babka.

I mean really.  Every one of those Mitzvahs would have been infinitely improved if complementary Babka had been included.

Chocolate Babka

Chocolate Babka
From Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook

Makes three loves.  A babka can be frozen before or after baking for up to a month.  When ready to bake, take the babka out of the freezer and place on a metal cooling rack set over a pan of hot water with a kitchen cloth draped over the babka pan trap steam.  Leave for about half an hour before baking.  This will bring the babka up to temperature and allow it to rise.

I add an extra egg to Martha’s brioche dough to make it more moist and rich since generally I leave the babka in the fridge overnight to bake in the morning, warming the loaves up before baking as described above.

1-½ cups warm whole milk (110 degrees Fahrenheit)
2 envelopes (¼ oz. each) active dry yeast
¾ cup white sugar
3 whole large eggs, plus 2 large egg yolks, room temperature
6 cups plus more for dusting flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature and cubed

32 oz. or 2 lbs. semisweet chocolate finely chopped in a food processor (Trust me, this is the easiest way to chop chocolate for ‘the swirl.’)
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature and cubed
1 cup white sugar
3 teaspoons cinnamon

1.  In a small bowl, sprinkle yeast and a pinch of white sugar over the warm milk; stir until dissolved and then let stand until foamy, about five minutes.  1 ½ cups of milk heat to about 110 degrees Fahrenheit in the microwave after about 1 and a half minutes when stirred.  Make sure milk doesn’t boil; it should be just hot to the touch.

2. Whisk together the eggs and yolks and the salt and sugar.  Add the yeast mixture to the eggs a little at a time and whisk to combine.  In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour and salt and then add the egg mixture with the paddle on a low speed until just combined.  Switch to the dough hook and add the 1 cup of butter.  Beat until incorporated and smooth on medium-high speed, about 10 minutes.

3.  Knead the dough a couple of times in the bowl, and then place in a different large, buttered metal bowl.  (All the butter wrappers lying around are great for greasing bowls and pans.)  Cover tightly with plastic wrap and allow to rise for at least one hour.

4.  In a bowl, stir together the chocolate, ¾ cup butter, 1 cup white sugar, and cinnamon.  Make streusel topping.  Butter and line three bread pans (9 by 5 by 2 ¾ inch) with parchment paper.   Lightly butter the parchment.

5.  After dough has doubled in size, turn out onto a well-floured surface and knead a couple of times until relaxed and smooth.  Divided dough into three equal parts.  One at a time, roll out each piece dough to a 16-inch square.  Reserving ½ cup of the chocolate mixture, sprinkle each dough square with one third of the chocolate, leaving an edge.  Roll each dough square and fold each roll in half.  Tuck the dough ends under the rolls and twist the rolls several times for a nice swirl.  Place each twist in the prepared pans.  Brush with cream and sprinkle with the streusel and remain chocolate.  At this point refrigerate, freeze, or bake the babkas.  If freezer, tightly wrap in plastic wrap and foil.  Lightly cover the babkas if refrigerating.

6.  To bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the lower third.  Bake for 40-50 minutes, rotating the loaves in the middle of baking, and then reduce the heat to 325 degrees and bake for 20-25 minutes to brown the tops.  If the loaves start becoming too brown, cover with tin foil.  Let cool completely before slicing, as the loaves will continue baking even after removed from the oven.  Delicious at any temperature.

Streusel topping

1 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar
1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature and cubed

1.  Combine sugar, flour, and salt together in a large bowl.  Cut the butter in using a pastry cutter until large and small clumps form.  The streusel can be packed together and then broken for a large crumb.