Thursday, July 13, 2017

Better Chocolate Babka

My children have been drowning me as of late. They are wonderful, my whole world, my pride and joy and all that but they can be so incredibly needy and demanding.

Ever since Paul and I disappeared to tour New York for a few days, Lucy has been very clingy towards me. She's always been attached at my hip, but she has definitely been taking it to a whole new level as of late. Bright and early each morning, I am woken up by Lucy butting my skull with her very hard noggin while demanding in a very groggy voice: "Want milk. Cereal! Hungryyyyy!" It's a pleasant way to wake up, I'm telling you.

In addition, I can't eat a meal, sip a cup of coffee, or fold the laundry without her climbing all over me, stroking my freshly washed hair with her sticky fingers, and kissing my cheeks a little too roughly. And the other two - supposedly at an age where they can start helping their worn out mother - are constantly bickering with one another about the dumbest things or jumping in my face trying to inform me of the most mundane, uninteresting little tidbits. Matthew in particular keeps nothing to himself. The moment he has a thought - any thought - he shares it, no matter how irrelevant it is to our current situation or activity. We could be discussing our plan for the day and he will suddenly pipe in with: "The spot on Jupiter is actually a big storm."

Great. Thanks for the info.

Or I poke my head into the living room where he is reading a book about tornadoes and ask him whether he prefers grilled cheese or peanut butter for lunch. His response might be something like, "Why is Daddy not allergic to Christmas trees?" Totally relevant.

I just have to keep reminding myself that never in my entire life will I be as needed or loved as I am now. It's difficult to enjoy all the love though, especially when it comes in the form of tiny boogers being wiped on my shirt and very little sleep at night.

I have had the pleasure of attending a women's book study over the summer at a local church that has been a really uplifting opportunity to discuss the difficulties of being a wife and mother with other women in the same season of life. One of the topics that came up today was how mothers are constantly giving of themselves in service to others - to their husband, to their children, to their friends, to their community - and how it is in our very nature to be so generous with ourselves. The danger in all this, of course, is that eventually we women become so exhausted by all this giving and just need some time to focus on ourselves - our help, our well-being, our spirituality. It struck a real chord with me because this is something I struggle with all the time. I exhaust myself in providing for my family and eventually I simply explode because I crave time away from it all, especially time to pray or simply sit in quiet somewhere. If you've ever been to my house, you know how loud my kids are. They are loud. Ridiculously so. I thought they might all be partially deaf and dragged them to the doctor but apparently their ears are perfect. They just enjoy yelling instead of speaking. Basically, I should hand out migraine medication to anyone who comes to visit because there's no way you're leaving without a headache.

Anyway, back to my original point, I need to take better care of my own needs - especially my spiritual needs - in order to better serve my family. Since two out of my three kids never nap and wake up before the sun rises because they are insane, I am basically never without children. As soon as they go to bed, I collapse in a heap on the couch and fall asleep. And then the whole thing starts all over again. It's great fun 80% of the time, but the other 20% I just want to hide in my closet and read quietly with ear plugs blocking out the noise. So, I've been trying my best to do something about that.

I've decided one of the areas that I need a bit more fulfillment is in my spiritual life. I really have missed attending Mass during the week. I used to attend all the time, but then both girls had a serious meltdown one time and it traumatized me from going back and it just completely fell out of my routine. I do attend sporadically and have found that when I make an effort to go, God really gives me a nice extra showering of grace to power through my day with my very loud, very high-energy children. So, even with my three little ones in tow, I've been trying to go see Him more often during the week. Most of the time we are banished to the cry room in the back because my two year old does not know how to whisper and my four-year-old cannot sit still. Also, at some point during Mass they will all inevitable fight over who gets to sit on my lap. It's great. BUT I'm there! And inevitably, even though I'm stressed at points during it, I always leave feeling a bit better than I did when I came. And, when I sit back and reflect upon my day during the twenty seconds before I completely pass out for the night, I realize that I was able to handle the meltdowns, the fights, and the mundane nature of my work with a bit more grace. I need to commit to visiting Him more often because he truly knows I need it and rewards me greatly for it.

Proud of the "ties" they gifted their Dad for Father's Day.

As a little aside to that, while at Mass this afternoon Lucy had the entire congregation in stitches as we were slowly walking up for communion. She noticed the big, tall Easter candle by the baptismal font in the front was unlit and it bugged her to no end. So, she kept proclaiming loudly for all to hear, while I tried desperately to shush her, "Uh-oh! Happy Birthday not working! The Happy Birthday not working!" She wouldn't stop. Even our priest was in stitches about it which took a little bit away from my embarrassment.

Sorry for my endless rambling, but this is just what has been on my heart as of late! If you made it through that brain dump, congratulations! You deserve a fantastic recipe for Chocolate Babka!

Obviously, one of the ways I serve my family is by baking them treats and cooking their meals. Babka is something I have made traditionally around Christmastime for the last nine years but only recently have my children developed a love for it, particularly Matthew. One of the items I looked forward trying the most while in New York City, was an authentic babka. Of course, I ended up trying a non-traditional version but it was still delicious. Matthew polished off most of the loaf when we got home and kept begging me to make more. The loaf we had in NYC was interesting because they used a chocolate paste as the filling rather than the traditional filling of loose chopped chocolate and cocoa powder. The paste idea was appealing to me because I have always found the most tedious part about making babka to be rolling and twisting the dough carefully so that the bits of chocolate does not fall out everywhere. My counter always ends up covered in chocolate by the end. So, since Matthew had been bugging me to make more, I decided to try baking a babka with a more paste-like filling akin to the one we had tried at Breads Bakery in NYC.

The result? I think I've found my new favorite babka recipe. Not only was the paste easier to work with, I thought the entire process of this recipes was much more streamlined and certainly less messy. I loved the flavor of it and thought the chocolate swirls actually distributed much better with the paste rather than the loose chocolate. This is a crazy good treat!

As I'm typing this up, Matthew is reminding me to make it again soon. I have no idea why I usually wait until Christmas! My kids will take this over cinnamon rolls and banana bread any day!

And, just an FYI, if you're a Mom in desperate need of a few minutes to yourself in a day, eating a slice of this while hiding from your children in the coat closet during a game of hide-and-seek might be the perfect part of your day. Not that I've actually done that or anything...

Better Chocolate Babka
from Smitten Kitchen

Note: I included the weight measurements because baking is so dependent on proper measurement of ingredients. I almost always weight my ingredients using a scale from chemistry lab (don't worry, it's been cleaned!). Also, the sugar syrup that is brushed on the freshly baked loaves is a must! Do not skip it!

4 1/4 cups (530 grams) all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
2 teaspoons instant yeast
Grated zest of 1 small lemon or half an orange (I omit)
3 large eggs
1/2 cup water (cold is fine) and up to 1 to 2 tablespoons extra, if needed
3/4 teaspoon fine sea or table salt
2/3 cup unsalted butter (150 grams or 5.3 ounces) at room temperature
Sunflower or other neutral oil, for greasing

4 1/2 ounces (130 grams) dark chocolate (or approximately 3/4 cup chocolate chips)
1/2 cup (120 grams) unsalted butter, cold is fine
Scant 1/2 cup (50 grams) powdered sugar
1/3 cup (30 grams) cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon [optional]

1/3 cup water
6 tablespoons (75 grams) granulated sugar

Make the dough:

Combine the flour, sugar, yeast and zest in the bottom of the bowl of a stand mixer. Add eggs and 1/2 cup water, mixing with the dough hook until it comes together; this may take a couple minutes. It’s okay if it’s on the dry side, but if it doesn’t come together at all, add extra water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough forms a mass. With the mixer on low, add the salt, then the butter, a spoonful at a time, mixing until it’s incorporated into the dough. Then, mix on medium speed for 10 minutes until dough is completely smooth; you’ll need to scrape the bowl down a few times. I usually found that after 10 minutes, the dough began to pull away from the sides of the bowl. If it doesn’t, you can add 1 tablespoon extra flour to help this along.

Coat a large bowl with oil (or scrape the dough out onto a counter and oil this one) and place dough inside, cover with plastic and refrigerate. Leave in fridge for at least half a day, preferably overnight. [Dough will not fully double]

Make the filling: 

Melt butter and chocolate together until smooth. Stir in powdered sugar and cocoa; mixture should form a spreadable paste. Add cinnamon, if desired.

Assemble the Loaves:

Coat two loaf pans with oil or butter, and line the bottom of each with a rectangle of parchment paper. Take half of dough from fridge (leave the other half chilled). Roll out on a well-floured counter to a rectangle about 10 inches wide and 12 inches in long.

Spread half of chocolate mixture evenly over the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border all around. Brush the end farthest away from you with water. Roll the dough up with the filling into a long, tight cigar. Seal the dampened end onto the log. I found that transferring the log to a lightly floured baking tray in the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes made it much, much easier to cut cleanly in half. Repeat with second dough. I've made this twice now and skipped chilling the second time and I was able to slice it just fine as long as I was careful!

Trim last 1/2-inch off each end of log. Gently cut the log in half lengthwise and lay them next to each other on the counter, cut sides up. Pinch the top ends gently together. Lift one side over the next, forming a twist and trying to keep the cut sides facing out. Don’t worry if this step makes a mess, just transfer the twist as best as you can into the prepared loaf pan. During baking, the dough will rise and puff and fill any gaps in your pan.

Cover with a damp tea towel and leave to rise another 1 to 1 1/2 hours at room temperature. Repeat process with second loaf.

Bake the Loaves:

Heat the oven to 375 degrees.

Remove towels, place each loaf on the middle rack of your oven. Bake for 30 minutes, but there’s no harm in checking for doneness at 25 minutes. A skewer inserted into an underbaked babka will feel stretchy/rubbery inside and may come back with dough on it. When fully baked, you’ll feel almost no resistance. If you babka needs more time, put it back, 5 minutes at a time then re-test. If it browns too quickly, you can cover it with foil.

While babkas are baking, make syrup: Bring sugar and water to a simmer until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and set aside to cool somewhat. As soon as the babkas leave the oven, brush the syrup all over each. It will seem like too much, but will taste just right — glossy and moist. Let cool about halfway in pan, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool the rest of the way before eating although, trust me, this is pretty amazing served warm!

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