Never Settle for a Lesser Babka
If there ever was a great sitcom, then in my opinion, that would have to be “Seinfeld”. There isn’t much to be added about this larger than life show; simply perfect, the show about nothing managed to make it’s way every week into our household and win us over every time. I’ve watched it when it was first aired, through my pre-teen and teenage years, I’ve watched random reruns in my twenties, I’ve binge watched full seasons of it and I don’t intend to stop watching it.
There are many culinary references in the show, from junior mints to sausages, bypassing muffin tops and soup, all of which are great props for the situations wrapped so expertly humorous around human feebleness, neurosis and the endless variations of human interactions that ultimately make up for our species.
For me, the first culinary thing that pops into my mind when I think about this show is Babka: the inauspicious coughed on babka that Elaine and Jerry purchase en route to a dinner party. First they want to get the Chocolate Babka, but another couple going to the same party snatches the last one and so, Elaine and Jerry are left with the choice of cinnamon babka, which in Elaine’s opinion is “a lesser babka”, to which Jerry then so perfectly replies: “Lesser Babka – I think not.”
Lesser or not, let’s make a cinnamon babka! And if you’re not in the mood for cooking but you want something to bring you back in that Seinfeld mood, you can always just have a Snickers bar and eat it up by way of fork and knife, à la George Costanza; “How do you eat it? With your hands?”.
For the dough:
30g fresh yeast
150ml/ 2/3 cup whole milk, warmed to 55C/110 F
60g/5 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
45g/3 Tblsp unrefined light brown sugar
20ml/1½ Tbsp sunflower oil
1½ tsp vanilla extract
6 eggs: 5 egg yolks for the dough, 1 egg white for the filling and one egg yolk for the egg wash (you can reserve remaining 4 egg whites for Pavlova)
500g/3¼ cup flour
1 tsp fine salt
Start by dissolving the yeast in the warm milk. The milk should be warm to the touch but not hot. Whisk the yeast into the milk to dissolve. Over the next few minutes, the yeast mixture should become foamy. In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or using a handheld mixer, cream the butter and the sugar. When it becomes light and creamy, add the oil and the vanilla extract and mix well at low speed. Increase the speed and start adding the yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. If using a stand mixer, fit it now with the hook attachment. With machine running on low speed, add the flour and the salt and mix until a soft dough forms and there is none left on the sides or bottom of the dish. Remove the dough from the bowl of your mixer, transfer to a lightly floured surface and knead a little until you have a smooth ball of dough. Transfer to a large bowl greased with a little olive oil, cover tightly with cling film and allow to rise at room temperature for 1-2 hours, until it has doubled in volume.
For the filling:
250g/1 cup coconut sugar (feel free to use any sugar, a dark or light brown sugar that is tightly packed is better)
¼ cup flour
30g/2 Tblsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 egg white
2 tsp cinnamon
A pinch of salt
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well to combine. Set aside
For the topping:
2 tsp cinnamon
3 tsp granulated sugar (I used unrefined light brown)
Egg wash made from 1 egg yolk and 1 Tblsp milk
Once the dough has risen, roll it on a lightly floured surface until you have a 35x45cm/14×18 in. rectangle. Spread the filling over the dough, leaving a 2cm/1 in. border all around. Then, starting with the long side, roll the dough into a log, tightly. Once rolled, use our palms to roll back and forth until it reaches a length of approximately 55cm/20 in. Twist the roll into a double eight, place in a greased loaf pan that’s been lined with baking paper, cover with a towel and leave to rise at room temperature, for one hour.
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Uncover your dough and using a skewer, poke a few holes in it. Brush the babka with egg wash and sprinkle with the topping all over. Pop in the oven and bake for 25 minutes, then turn the pan 180° bake for another 25 minutes. It is done when it is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before cutting up and serving.