Chocolate Babka

Chocolate babka: the stuff that dreams are made of. At least my dreams. Even if the last stray slice gets stale after hanging around for too long, it toasts beautifully and morphs into a warm, oozy, slightly crunchy piece of wonder. Babka toasted on a panini may be my favorite way of eating babka. When I first began baking babkas a few years ago, I loved them. But I also sensed that there was room for improvement, and consequently immersed myself in a baking frenzy from which I have only recently drawn back. I’m indebted to all my friends and family who have eaten one or another version on my journey towards this recipe: the babka of my aforementioned dreams.

My main sticking point with babka is that it can run a bit dry. Pouring a simple sugar syrup onto the finished and still hot babka helps eliminate at least some of this dryness. Poking holes in the dough helps distribute the syrup; but because it is a yeast dough, the syrup nonetheless tends to collect in some areas more than others. I love these unexpected moist pockets of sweet goodness, even if they were surrounded by much drier pockets. Still, I was not satisfied with the dry pockets, so I started playing around with a basic brioche dough recipe. I replaced some of the butter with oil, four tablespoons of traditional flour with potato flour, and even went so far as to incorporate tangzhong. During my prior experimentation with tangzhong in the recipes of other baked goods, I’d previously concluded that a shorter knead time improves the final product. But with brioche dough, unfortunately, a long knead is necessary for the full development of the gluten. To make tangzhong work in a brioche dough, I recommend a long knead before adding the tangzhong mixture, followed by a shorter final knead before resting the dough. All of this, you might be wondering, just to eliminate some dryness? For me, it’s worth it. Read more.

Soft Flour Tortillas

Any Mexican dinner (and almost any dinner, in fact) can be elevated with the addition of a fresh flour tortilla. Fajitas and tacos are the most usual applications of tortillas, but my favorite unusual application is to wrap one around a roasted vegetable pesto, a roasted vegetable, and a few slices of avocado. Even a plain tortilla hot off the skillet has even been known to make me swoon. I’ve also enjoyed them with reheated leftovers (it reinvents yesterday’s kale salad or stir fry).

In case you couldn’t already tell, I’m not a purist when it comes to tortillas or their ingredients. If I had been raised in a family that made and served tortillas, perhaps I would be opposed to tampering with that history—but I wasn’t. In fact, I never even tasted Mexican food until I was in high school, but even then I was eating hardshell Old El Paso tacos with ground beef at a friend’s house. Most of my exposure to “Mexican food” has been far from authentic. So while I respect tortilla purists who are opposed to using baking powder in their tortillas, that respect is more cultural than practical (I believe tortillas rise better with baking powder). I really begin to step away from tradition with my inclusion of potato flour. This small addition makes for a softer and more pliable tortilla, which retains its pillowy texture regardless of overcooking (yes, I’ve done it… multitasking has often been my downfall). I find that the potato flour (and the baking powder) works a bit like an insurance policy against stiff, flat tortillas. Read more.

Marian Burros's Italian Plum Torte

There's something quite special about those foods that are only available for a short window of time each year.  Knowing that their appearance is short-lived makes me appreciate their reappearance all the more.  I loved eating these tiny plums by the handful when I was a kid, not yet aware of the season's brevity.  They'd appear on the kitchen counter, we'd eat them until they disappeared, but not once did we question the timing.  That's how I remember most of my younger summers.  I rarely thought about how long anything would last; usually I didn't even know what day of the week it was.  Summer felt like it stretched on forever, with not a single responsibility on the horizon.  I walked to the local pond everyday to swim, played hide and seek every evening with the other neighborhood kids, played cards with my sister on rainy days, and went on an annual summer camping trip with my family. Read more.

Chicken Potstickers

First, let me start with two apologies.  I am so sorry it has been three months since my last update (with one very small exception: in July I added a summer shot of the field by our house; now the homepage cycles between all four seasons, and that makes me smile).  Now, on to the second apology—I'm sorry that I don't have an airtight excuse for letting so much time slip through my fingers.  But I do have a handful of lesser excuses.  My two youngest sons were home for a good chunk of the summer (one home after his third year of college, the other after completing his first year as a teacher), and I've been busy cooking big family dinners every evening.  Summer is for enjoying leisurely meals on the porch, with time to talk and just be together with my family, so sadly I let my blogging slide.  I also spent some time in New Jersey with my sister, my oldest son, and some extended family (nieces, a nephew, and my brother in-law), where I enjoyed a good chunk of my summer.  They happily surrendered the kitchen to me, and we usually played games after dinner, so needless to say I was blissfully busy.  Not to mention the family vacation on the South Jersey shore with—miraculously—all four of my boys, or the invasive plant that I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to eliminate from our property every spring (I'm talking about you, garlic mustard!).  I think you get the idea... I am easily distracted.  But lest you think all of my distractions were welcome and happy, sadly they were not.  My father died in the spring.  Although he was very old and very difficult, closing a chapter of one's life is always an adjustment. Read more.