Bubka Bliss

I first met fellow author and baking sister Marcy Goldman in Montreal during the IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals) annual conference. She had invited me out to her home for a visit along with two other bakers and it was an enchanting experience to be in her kitchen tasting the cakes she made for us as we all talked baking. She also presented me with a beautiful rolling pin of her design which I used yesterday to roll out the bubka from her new book A Passion for Baking. I am sitting here (having already eaten a piece for breakfast and I don't usually eat breakfast, trying to fight off the impulse to defrost a slice I stashed in the freezer to make just such a temptation less convenient. One of our fellow bloggers asked me what I thought of Marcy's bubka compared to the babka I had described in a previous posting. So of course I had to find out first hand even though I knew it was going to be wonderful--all the more so!

First let me explain the name bubka. In both Polish and Yiddish, babka is a diminutive of baba or babcha, meaning old woman or grandmother. When I was growing up, my grandmother described an old woman as an "alta bubba." No doubt Marcy's ancestors come from the same location in Russia near the Polish border (Minsk) as bubka seems to come from bubba. Come to think of it, maybe it was a distant village as my grandmother used the word bubka to describe little hard things that are undesirable as in "it's not worth bubkas"! But a bubka or babka by any other name will taste as sweet and this is a cake/bread that deserves all the attention and enthusiasm it gets.

According to the New York Times, my dear friend Arthur Schwartz, whose book Arthur Schwartz's Jewish Home Cooking is due to be published in April, writes that: ''Babka, in its original form, was stout and round, just like grandmothers used to be before they went to aerobics classes and practiced yoga.'' Now to Marcy's bubka itself. Compared to Anne Amernick's (to which I referred in the prior posting) it is less cakey and more bready, i.e. less tender and more chewy which I personally find more satisfying. This texture is mostly because it employs a combination of bread flour and unbleached all-purpose (I used Harvest King flour which is about the same protein percentage).

Marcy describes the recipe as "...it strikes the right notes of sweet and bready," and for me this resulted in the perfect balance between bread and cake. The dough is so lively it virtually bursts from the pan on baking. In fact, I would use a larger bread pan than the 9 x 5 recommended to keep it from spreading sideways as much. (My 9 x 5 pan is 7 cups but my All Clad 10 x 5 is 8 cups and I think that would be just perfect.) For those of you who weigh, I used 412 grams/almost 15 ounces of flour for half the dough.

To continue with the comparison, Marcy's bubka has less egg and butter but more water which makes it lighter and moister. In fact, it is quite similar to my kugelhopf but moister which I prefer! I also adore the brown sugar/almond paste in the filling. Some oozed out to form crunchy edges on the crust--confession--I who write in no uncertain terms to let the bread cool completely before cutting kept attacking this bubka to eat those crunchy edges until finally I could stand it no longer and cut a whole still hot slice and consumed it all!

In the process of making this bubka I have quite fallen in love with Marcy's new book A Passion for Baking along with Marcy herself! That is because she provides a real and personal presence in this book. Starting with the cover which shows her hand (and what is more eloquent or definitive of a baker than her hand) drawing a heart in the flour on the counter, you see the love she has for her craft. Right beneath it are the words: "Bake to celebrate . Bake to nourish . Bake for fun." Does this not say it all?! It reminded me of the visit to her home when she shared that before cleaning up her work counter she always drew a heart in the flour that remained on the surface. In fact, her son when he was only 12 took the photo that inspired this cover. It is the hand of a ballerina baker! Marcy dedicates this book to her sons: "...I love you more than words can say and far more than infinite fields of golden wheat. You are the gold of my heart." But anyone who opens this book will feel her love and generosity pouring out to all her fellow bakers as well, and in full measure. Note: Marcy generously is offering this recipe below. Do check out her site: www.betterbaking.com

Baker's Bubka With Crumb Topping

Bubka is pure heaven to me - because it strikes the right note of sweet and bready. It is also relatively easy to make - not as complicated as true Danish with its rolled in blocks of butter but certainly richer and moister than a sweet dough. I often use a bread machine to make the dough - although I have to give the mixing a hand at first by using a rubber spatula, just to get the rich dough properly going.

Dough 1 1/2 cups warm water (100˚ to 110˚ F) 2 tablespoons rapid-rise yeast 3 large eggs 2 yolks 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract 1 teaspoon pure almond extract 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice 3/4 cup sugar 1 teaspoon salt 1/3 cup milk powder 3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened 3 cups all-purpose flour 3 cups bread flour

Filling 1/4 cup unsalted butter 1 cup brown sugar 1/2 cup chopped almond paste 2 tablespoons corn syrup 2 teaspoons cinnamon 3/4 cup chopped almonds, optional

Egg Wash 1 egg, pinch sugar

Crumb Topping 4 tablespoons unsalted butter 1/2 cup scant confectioner's sugar 1/2 cup all-purpose flour

Generously spray two 9 by 5 inch loaf pans with nonstick cooking spray. Line a double-up baking sheet with parchment paper. For an extra large bubka, use a 10-inch angel food cake pan, also sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. Place the pans on the baking sheet.

In a mixer bowl, hand whisk the water and yeast together and let stand 2-3 minutes to dissolve the yeast. Briskly whisk in the eggs, egg yolks, vanilla, almond extract, lemon juice, sugar, salt, milk powder and all-purpose flour. Then stir in the butter and most of the bread flour.

Mix dough, then knead as it becomes a mass, with a dough hook or by hand for about eight to ten minutes, until smooth and elastic, adding in more bread flour as required. Remove dough hook and cover entire mixer and bowl with a large, clear plastic bag. Allow to rise, about 45-90 minutes until puffy or almost doubled in size. This is also an ideal dough to refrigerate overnight and resume next day, allowing dough to warm up a bit before proceeding. Whisk an egg in a small bowl for the egg wash.

For the Filling, in a food processor, process the butter, sugar, almond paste, corn syrup, cinnamon, and almonds to make a soft paste or filling.

For the Crumb Topping, in a small bowl, cut the butter, confectioner's sugar and flour together to make a crumbly topping. Turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and gently deflate the dough.

Divide dough in two portions. On a well-floured work surface, roll dough into a 16 inch square. Spread on the filling over dough surface. Roll up dough into a large jellyroll. Cut in half. Place both halves in prepared pan, beside each other - it doesn't matter if they are a little squished.

Brush well egg wash and sprinkle with some sugar. Repeat with remaining dough and filling. Spray the tops of both loaves with nonstick cooking spray. Place the pans on the prepared baking sheet and cover with the large, clear plastic bag. Let rise until the bubka is flush or a touch over the sides of the pan, 45-75 minutes. Brush with egg wash. Sprinkle with Crumb Topping.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Bake 40-50 minutes (55-70 minutes for one large bubka) until bubka is medium brown. Cool in pan fifteen minutes before removing to a rack or serving plate. Makes one large or two medium bubkas.