Now, that was hard! I am a rather boring person, I do not drink (apart when going out to dinner or when we have friends over), I do not smoke, I do not do drugs, but the one thing that always gets me is sugar. I absolutely love sugar, cakes, biscuits, sweet breads...the lot. I know, from the very few times I have tried to give up sugar for a week or a month, that the struggle is incredible and I realise it is an addiction (sugar is indeed a very addictive substance; you should have seen me pacing the kitchen looking for a slice of cake as if my life depended on getting my glucose fix through my blood stream).
I must confess that I was rather good throughout the entire period of my ordeal. If you discount a couple of slices of toast and marmalade pretty much every morning for breakfast with my cup of unsugared tea...and a small pudding on my birthday courtesy Noya's Kitchen, I have not touched cake or biscuit for the 4 months leading to Christmas, including the cooking holiday in Puglia with Demuth when Lydia did bake something sweet for our guests every single day.
To be fair, Christmas was a bit weird, cake didn't taste the same, everything was way too sweet, so I ended up being rather lean there too, but the spell is now broken and slowly I am reintroducing sweet things in my daily diet, but most of all I have gone back to baking; yes, because one unexpected side effect of not eating cake was that I also did not feel like baking sweet stuff anymore.
Yesterday I have baked a couple of babkas, one using up some mincemeat I had made in December (and not used much because of the lack of inspiration, to my husband's great distress) and the other one using up a delicious milk free chocolate spread from Mr Organic and pecan nuts. I am glad I am back eating sweet stuff!
The recipe below includes the procedure to make your own chocolate spread, but you can use a bought one to save time, or use leftover mince meat omitting the nuts.
Post Christmas babka
plain flour 100g
fresh yeast 5g
water 60g, lukewarm
strong white flour 450g
salt ½ tsp
fresh yeast 15g
whole milk 75g
unrefined caster sugar 75g
eggs 3, medium
zest of 1 organic lemon or orange (optional)
butter 150g, at room temperature
unsalted butter 120g
dark chocolate 120g
icing sugar 50g
cocoa powder 30g
pecan nuts 100g, roughly chopped
For the pre-ferment put the flour in a bowl and make a well in the centre. Crumble the yeast into the well and mix in the water. Mix to a dough then leave in a warm place to prove for 1 hour.
For the main dough sift the flour into a large bowl with the salt. Whisk the yolks and sugar together in a bowl and set aside. Put the lemon zest on the butter for maximum flavour. Make a well in the centre and crumble the yeast into the well, pour in the milk and dissolve. Add now the preferment in pieces along with the egg and sugar mixture. Squeeze through your fingers then mix to form a dough. When it comes together tip it onto a lightly floured work surface, add the softened butter in three goes and incorporate, kneading for 10-15 minutes until you obtain a smooth and silky dough. Knead quickly around the table and whack the dough onto the worktop. When no longer sticky and smooth place in a uttered bowl, cover and leave in a warm place to prove until doubled in volume (approximately 1 ½ hours). In the meantime prepare the filling by melting the butter with the chocolate on low heat. When melted add the cocoa and icing sugar to obtain a paste. Chop the pecans and set aside. Grease two loaf tins with butter and set aside.
Once the dough is ready, tip delicately on top of a lightly floured work surface, divide into two equal sized pieces and shape into two balls without
further kneading. Leave to rest for a few minutes for the gluten to relax then roll one of the balls of dough into a rectangle of about 3 mm thickness (25 x 35 cm). Using a palette knife spread half the filling on to the sheet of dough, leaving 2cm border onto one of the long sides. Sprinkle half the chopped pecans on top of the chocolate then tightly roll up the dough from the longer side pinching the edge to seal. Place in front of you and using a sharp thin knife cut the roll in half lengthways. Delicately separate the two halves and turning the cut sides up, form a two-pronged strand plait by loosely twisting the two pieces around each other, always keeping the cut sides facing upwards. Gently squeeze together the ends and transfer into one of the loaf tins. Repeat with the second ball of dough
Leave to prove covered for 1½ hour, until almost doubled in size. Heat the
oven to 190°C/gas mark 5. Bake in the middle shelf of the oven for 25-30 minutes. Cover with foil half way through as it tends to turn too dark too quickly. Remove the foil for the last 5 minutes of baking. Take out of the oven and leave to cool a little before removing onto a wire rack. Excellent eaten warm or reheated to moisten the butter in the dough.