Babka-kadabra

Salted Caramel Apple Babka

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Between the crunching leaves, the chilly nights, and the iPhone 7 and iOS 10 releases, it’s officially apple season!  Fall, for me, means squash soups and curries, chunky sweaters, and apple desserts out the wazoo.  Just in case you’re wondering, “wazoo” is actually a medical-school-approved anatomical term — it’s located somewhere between the noggin and the baby toe.

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Yeast breads are one of my favorite things to make, but with the summer heat and humidity, I tend to take a yeast hiatus from June to September.  Now that we seem to be safely on the other side of the autumnal equinox, on the cusp of a New England fall, I’m ready to dust off my dough hook and rise to the occasion!

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I grew up making yeast doughs by hand, kneading with good old fashioned elbow grease.  These days, I tend to keep my elbows less greasy, and I frequently opt to save time by using my stand mixer and trusty dough hook.  I really do believe that you can get the same results by hand and by stand, as long as you devote the appropriate amount of time and energy to each.
I have made this babka dough many times before, usually stuffed with dark chocolate and candied ginger, in semi-faithful replication of Deb’s to-die-for Better Chocolate Babka (a killer housewarming gift…especially for a family of Seinfeld fans).  This time; however — given the season — I decided to do a bit of apple R&D.

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Now, as any loyal Great British Bake-Off watcher knows, any time you add a moisture-containing filling (i.e. fruits, veggies, meats) to a yeast dough, you risk an incomplete bake (i.e. raw dough in the middle).  I tried to thwart this phenomenon by placing a base layer of old-fashioned oats under the apple filling to help absorb some of the juices and by increasing the baking time.  In retrospect, I still removed my loaf from the oven a tad prematurely, another 3-5 minutes and it would’ve been perfect.  I have adjusted the recommended baking time appropriately in the recipe below, but, since every oven is different, use the skewer test to make sure your loaf isn’t rare in the middle #nobluebread

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Shaping a babka may look complicated, but it’s actually very simple and incredibly forgiving!  I followed Deb’s recommendation of freezing the filled roll-up prior to slicing and shaping with solid results.  Plus, by the time your pour the salted caramel drizzle over the top and à-la-mode-ify each slice, all sins will disappear.  And remember, as Elaine so poignantly stated, “You can’t beat a babka.”

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Salted Caramel Apple Babka

Yield:  1 loaf
Dough:
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon dry yeast (~half of a standard yeast packet)
1 whole egg + 1 yolk, at room temp
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup warm-to-tepid water
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 1/3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to room temp
Filling:
5 firm, crisp apples, peeled, cored, and chopped into ~1/2″ dice
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 cup old fashioned oats
10 soft caramel candies, unwrapped and cut into quarters
1/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
Coarse sea salt, for sprinkling
Sauce:
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Splash of cream (~1 tablespoon)
Coarse sea salt, for (more) sprinkling
Make the dough:  In the bowl of a stand mixer, use a rubber spatula to stir together the flour, sugar, and yeast.  Add egg, yolk, vanilla, and water, and quickly combine these ingredients into the flour with the spatula, scraping the sides of the bowl.  Fold in the butter, just until it is coarsely interspersed throughout the dough.  Fit the dough hook onto the stand mixer, turn it on to low, and allow the mixer to knead the dough for 5 minutes.  At this point, the dough should be in a single, coherent mass and not sticking to the bowl.  Transfer to a lightly greased bowl, and cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap.  Place bowl in fridge overnight.  Meanwhile…
Make the filling:  In a medium saucepan, combine chopped apples, sugar, spices, and water.  Using a heat-safe rubber spatula, stir to coat apples in mixture.  Cover saucepan and place over medium-low heat for 5 minutes.  Remove lid, and continue to cook for another 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally with spatula, until apples have softened and sauce has thickened.  Transfer apples to a heat-safe bowl, let cool, cover, and place in fridge to chill overnight.  The next day…
Assemble babka:  On a large sheet of wax paper, covered in a thin layer of sifted flour, use a rolling pin to roll out the chilled babka dough into a rectangle ~12″ x 18(to 20)”.  Distribute the oats over the surface of the dough.  Spread apple filling evenly over the oats, maintaining a 1″ border around the entire circumference.  Dot the apples with the caramel candy pieces and sprinkle with walnuts, if using.  Use a damp finger to moisten your 1″ dough border for optimal sealing.  With the long side closest to you, tightly roll the log away from you, using the wax paper to help you lift up the edge evenly; tuck in any renegade apple pieces that escape during rolling.  Use damp fingers to seal the long seam running down the log, and tuck the ends into the roll, sealing them to prevent lateral apple escape.  Use the wax paper to transfer your log to a cookie sheet, and place in freezer for 10-15 minutes.
Grease a large loaf pan, and line the bottom with parchment paper.  Remove the cookie sheet from the freezer, and use a long, sharp knife to slice the loaf along its length (you may need to use a pair of kitchen shears to initiate your cut) — see photos.  Flip both log halves so that the filling side faces up (and the exterior dough side faces down).  Carefully lift up one log half, and place it over the middle of the other half, making an “X.”  Keeping the filling sides facing up, criss-cross both ends, to complete the twist — again, see photos.  Carefully transfer the twisted log halves into the loaf pan; you will need to cram the twist into the pan (that’s how it’s supposed to be!).  Cover loaf pan with a damp towel or plastic wrap, and let sit at room temp for 1 hour.  As you settle your loaf for its hour long nap, remove your apple filling from the fridge so that it can come to room temp prior to loaf assembly.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees farenheit.  Uncover loaf, and bake for 65-70 minutes, until top is golden brown, and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out dough-free (depending on your insertion path, you’ll probably have some apple goo on the skewer, but you shouldn’t see raw dough).  Remove from oven and immediately pour caramel sauce over the top (see below).  Sprinkle with coarse sea salt, and let sit for 1 hour prior to slicing.  Serve warm, with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream!
Make the sauce:  Start making sauce when there are 10 minutes of baking time remaining.  In a medium saucepan, bring sugar and water to a boil, let simmer 5 minutes, stirring occasionally with a heat-safe rubber spatula, until sugar has completely dissolved and mixture has thickened.  Turn off heat and whisk in vanilla and cream.  Immediately pour sauce all over the surface of the loaf, then sprinkle with salt.
This bread is best on the day it’s made, but any leftovers can be covered tightly and refrigerated — microwave leftover babka for 30-40 seconds prior to consuming.
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