You Can't Beat A Babka, Especially If It's Apple

Oct 2, 2016

After hearing 'cherry babka' mentioned in a play, Greg Patent was intrigued. Could there be an apple version as well? He looked through all of his cook books, and when he couldn't find any, Patent decided to invent one. From Greg and Dorothy Patent's 1999 book, "A Is for Apple," here's how to make apple babka.

Apple Babka

Makes 1 large 10-inch cake.

Babka is a fabulous Polish sweet yeast cake. This one rises about 2 inches above the pan rim during baking — a most impressive sight — then it settles a bit once out of the oven. A fresh, thick applesauce flavors this eggy and buttery babka. Babkas make great eating any time of day. Since it should stand overnight before serving, you can have it for breakfast. The dough is more like a batter, much too soft to be rolled and filled. It is not difficult to make, but you will need a heavy-duty mixer. You will also need a 9 1/2-inch kugelhopf pan with a 10-cup capacity. The apple filling can be made a day or more ahead and refrigerated. Be sure to use crisp, tart apples, that cook down to a thick sauce that will hold its shape. Jonamac, Winesap, Northern Spy, Granny Smith, and Goldrush are all good choices. I like to use a mixture of apples. The babka will keep fresh for days at room temperature.

Apple-Orange Filling

2 1/4 pounds apples, quartered, cored, and peeled

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (grate the zest first and

reserve it for the dough)

Babka Dough

3 1/4 cups (16 1/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon instant yeast

1 cup hot milk (120 to 130 degrees)

1 large egg, at room temperature

1/2 cup sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

4 large egg yolks

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

Finely grated zest of 1 orange

1. To make the filling, cut each apple quarter into two wedges, then crosswise into thirds. You will have about 7 cups (1 3/4 pounds). Combine all the apple filling ingredients in a heavy medium saucepan and set the pan, covered, over medium heat. Stir occasionally with a wooden spatula as the mixture come to the simmer. Uncover the pan and continue cooking over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the apples are completely tender. With a potato masher, mash the apples to make a puree with small pieces of apple.

2. Continue cooking, stirring frequently with the wooden spatula, until the apple mixture is thick and holds its shape in a spoon, 30 minutes to 1 hour. It will resemble mashed potatoes in consistency. The length of time depends on the moisture content of the apples. Stir constantly towards the end of cooking to prevent scorching. You can tell if the apples are ready by lifting some of the mixture onto the spatula and quickly turning the spatula upside down. If the mass stays put and doesn't fall off, the mixture has cooked enough. Also, when you swipe a path through the apples rapidly with the wide side of the spatula, the bottom of the pan should remain visible for 2 or 3 seconds. Cool the filling completely. You should have about 2 cups. The apple mixture may be covered and refrigerated for several days. Bring it to room temperature before use.

3. To make the babka dough, measure the flour by scooping dry measuring cups into the flour container to overflowing; sweep off the excess with a metal spatula. In the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer, stir together 1 1/2 cups of the flour, 1 tablespoon sugar, the salt, and yeast. Add the hot milk all at once and stir well with a rubber spatula to combine thoroughly. Add the egg and beat it in with the spatula. Scrape the bowl, sprinkle the remaining 1 3/4 cups flour evenly over the batter, and cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Set aside at room temperature until the batter is very bubbly and has partially engulfed the overlying flour, about 1 hour.

4. Thoroughly coat the kugelhopf pan (including the central tube) with cooking spray or brush it well with softened butter and set aside. Add the 1/2 cup sugar and vanilla to the batter, and beat them in on low speed with the flat beater for 1 minute. Increase the speed to medium and add the egg yolks 1 at a time, beating about 30 seconds after each. Scrape the bowl. While beating on medium speed, add 2 tablespoons butter at a time, beating until each addition is thoroughly incorporated before adding the next. Add the orange zest and beat for 1 minute at medium speed. The batter will be thick and elastic.

5. Remove the bowl from the mixer and add 1 cup of the apple filling. Fold and cut the apples into the batter with a rubber or firm plastic spatula to give a streaked appearance. Don't be too thorough with this step. The batter will be too thick to pour. Here's how to get it into the pan: Using a large metal spoon, cut into the batter and remove spoonfuls of it. Place the spoonfuls on the bottom of the prepared pan, using about half the babka dough. Don't bother trying to spread the batter level. With regular teaspoons, spoon 1/2 cup of the remaining apple filling in a ring over the batter. Then carefully place the remaining babka dough in spoonfuls over the apple ring, covering it completely. The top of the babka will look uneven; just leave it alone. Cover the pan loosely with plastic wrap coated with cooking spray (sprayed side down) and set the pan aside at room temperature until the dough has nearly doubled in size and is 1/2-inch from the top of the pan, about 1 hour.

6. Meanwhile, adjust an oven rack to the lower third position and preheat the oven to 375 F degrees. When the babka is ready to be baked, remove the plastic wrap and and place the pan in the oven. Bake until the babka is a dark brown color and a wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out dry, about 40 minutes. If the babka seems to be browning too much, cover it loosely with a square of aluminum foil during the last 10 minutes of baking. Cool the babka in its pan on a rack for 10 minutes. Cover the babka with a wire rack and invert the two. Remove the pan and let the babka stand upside down until it is completely cool. Wrap securely in plastic wrap, and leave the babka at room temperature overnight before serving. Use a sharp serrated knife to cut the babka. Properly wrapped, the babka will stay fresh for days.

From A is for Apple by Greg Patent and Dorothy Patent, Broadway Books, 1999. Recipe Copyright © 2016 by Greg Patent.

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