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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Pandoro + Danish = Babka

Here's my version (only a little simplified) of my mom's version of Mario Batali's pandoro and Craig Claiborne's danish. (For all the Craig Claiborne fans out there, have you seen his newly reissued book of Southern recipes? Did you know he was from Mississippi? I did not.)

Cheese Babka
For the yeast mixture:
1/4 cup warm water
1 tablespoon active dry yeast (I used instant)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 large egg yolk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour

For phase 1:
3 cups all-purpose flour
4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup room temperature water

For phase 2:
2 cups all-purpose flour
4 large egg yolks
1 large egg
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup room-temperature water
Zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup golden raisins (I used black)

For the cheese filling:
1 cup cottage cheese
1 large egg
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon butter
Zest of 1/2 lemon

For the topping (optional):
1 large egg, beaten together with 1 teaspoon water

Make the yeast mixture: In a small bowl, combine the water, yeast, sugar, egg yolk, and flour. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for 2 hours, or until doubled in bulk.

Phase 1: In a medium bowl, beat together all the ingredients. Add the yeast mixture and mix well. Gradually stir in the flour to form a sticky dough. Knead for 5 to 10 minutes, or use the dough hook attachment on an electric mixer (which I don't have; use those arms!). The dough should remain somewhat tacky, unlike bread dough.

Butter a large bowl and add the dough. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for 2 hours.

Phase 2: In a medium bowl, beat together the flour, egg yolks, egg, sugar, salt, water, and lemon zest.

Punch down the dough from phase 1 above and pour in the egg mixture, stirring and cutting slowly to break up the dough. The texture of this mixture will appear strange, but will smooth out after the addition of the flour. Gradually add the flour and mix until thoroughly incorporated. Knead for an additional 10 minutes. Place in a buttered bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise for 2 hours. Punch down the dough and knead in the raisins.

Make the cheese filling: In a food processor, process the cottage cheese until very smooth, then add the egg, sugar, butter, and lemon zest and process to combine.

Shape and bake the babkas: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter and flour 2 large coffee cans (I used cans that were 6 3/4 inches tall and 6 inches in diameter, but you can get creative here and use 3 smaller cans, or tall cake pans, or whatever; just adjust the baking time and watch them closely).

Divide the dough in half. On a lightly floured surface, pat out half of the dough into a rough rectangle about 6 by 12 inches. Spoon half of the filling over the rectangle and do your best to roll it up and get it into a coffee can. It may look as messy as this:

But don't worry. Do the other half of the dough and filling. Cover and let rise for 30 minutes. Bake for 35 minutes, until nicely browned on top, then brush with the egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Return to the oven for 5 minutes. Let cool on wire racks for 10 minutes, then loosen the edges with a thin knife and remove from the cans. Let cool completely, then slice one and give one away.

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