Babka is a Family Affair

It's only fitting that I felt compelled to make Babka on the day of the bake sale at my parents' church. They would have sold Babka by the hundreds there. Not surprising since every single recipe I had seemed to make enough to feed an entire Ukrainian village. 10 eggs! 3 packages of yeast! 10 cups of flour! Oi vey.

So I did what any good Ukrainian would do. I called my mom. Unfortunately, she was at that bakesale, but my dad totally came through for me. He referred me to another cookbook in the family collection, where we found a recipe that could easily be adapted for a normal family size. And he said it looked a lot like the Babka that he was familiar with.

Did I mention that I've never made Babka before?

Traditionally served at Easter, and part of the required items in the Easter basket to be blessed at church, Babka is a sweet, eggy bread. Our family likes our studded with raisins or currants. A lot of descriptions  online call it something between a cake and a bread. Not so in my world. I always think of Babka as a sweet, rich bread, baked tall and best with creamy butter. Keep your cinnamon and chocolate and your Jerry Seinfeld, Babka is for spring, with a touch of citrus.

So the girls and I gathered our ingredients, put on our aprons, and set about to make a big giant mess. The good thing about making Babka is that it needs a lot of eggs, perfect for little hands. And what gorgeous little hands. I adore watching my girls' attack dough in their attempts to knead it. The Monster even has the push - turn - fold technique down now. And so long as we can keep Smilosaurus from snitching bits of raw dough we end up with a nice piece set to rise. And rise. And rise again. Be forewarned, from start to finish this is a full day affair.

This recipe starts out quite wet, what with all those eggs, milk, and a juiced orange. You will have to play with the flour, adding as much as necessary.  Just go slow, adding a few tablespoons at a time. Your dough is ready when it is smooth, aside from the raisins, no longer sticky, and relaxes a little, just a little, when you stop kneading.

Babka is traditionally made into a tall, round loaf. You do this by baking it in cleaned out cleaned tin cans. You could bake it in a loaf pan, but that doesn't seem quite as fun, or traditional. If, like me, you don't have a lot of cans in your house you can ask a neighbour. Failing that, make plans to make sauce later and use the cans from some tinned tomatoes. Just make sure they are washed well. Then buttered quite well. If you are worried about the bread releasing from the can, line it with a strip of parchment paper, and more butter. 

And when you are all done, make sure you call your parents to share your success. Then butter some slices for the next generation and enjoy with tea. Church blessings optional.

Ukrainian Babka
Makes 5 large tin size loaves, more or less depending on the size of container

1 tsp  plus 1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup warm water
1 package Active Dry Yeast
3 whole eggs
5 egg yolks
1/2 cup melted butter
1 cup warm milk
1 tsp salt
1 orange, zested and juiced
1 tsp vanilla
4-5 cups flour
1 cup golden raisins or currants
1 egg, beaten

1. Dissolve 1 tsp sugar in warm water.  Add yeast and let stand 10 minutes.
2. Soak raisins in warm water. Drain well.
3. Beat eggs and yolks until light - 4 minutes with stand mixer, about 8 minutes by hand. Stir in remaining sugar and beat 30 seconds more. Add melted butter, milk, salt, orange juice and zest, and vanilla. Mix well.
4. Mix the wet ingredients to the 4 cups flour in a large bowl. Mix together well.  Add flour, if necessary, 1/4 cup at a time until you get a wet dough. 
5. Turn out onto a floured countertop and knead.  Add flour in small bits until the dough is smooth.  Knead for 4 minutes or so. In two batches knead the drained raisins into the dough. Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic. Place in a clean, buttered bowl, rub a bit more butter on the dough and set in a warm, draft-free spot to rise.
6. Let rise until double in size.  Punch down and let rise again.
7. Butter cleaned tins, dish, or pans. If preferred, line with a strip of parchment paper, then butter that as well. Form dough into balls that will fill container of choice to 1/3. Place in container and let rise again.
8. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Brush the tops of the babka with beaten egg.  Bake for 20-30 minutes, depending on the size of your container. It should be nicely browned and have a hollow sound when you tap it.

More Confessions

The very nature of a blog is part confessional.  It's time for me to 'fess up.  I've never been able to make Rice Krispie Squares.   Yup, the laziest, kid friendly treat and I've never been able to make them properly.   If you want rocks filled with rice cereal then I'm your girl.  That is, until last week.  

My mom loves to make them for the grandkids and thus The Monster was asking for them.  It hurt a little, but only a little, to buy the marshmallows and boxed cereal.  I try to limit the processed food in the house, but I have to stop beating myself up for a few little treats. Besides, it is great dessert time fun for us to throw mini marshmallows across the table in an attempt to score one in a waiting, open mouth. 

And ultimately, score one for this mom - I've finally mastered the Rice Krispie square.  My mom told me to add a bit more marshmallows than the recipe calls for and to take it off the heat as soon as those fluffy bits of corn syrup melt.  It worked.  Squares that stayed together but weren't like rocks.  Oh, and The Monster was happy.  So happy.  Such simple pleasures.

I'm all for treats and baking. I have no qualms with them having too much sugar, they actually self-regulate pretty well.  But I didn't want the cereal hanging around, constantly teasing her and inviting the ceaseless begging of a nearly three-year old.

Then I recalled a recipe that I saw from my favourite bow-tie wearing baldy, Christopher Kimball. Have I mentioned my geek crush on him before?  I'm sure I have.  He's so damn nerdy and cute. I digress.  I remembered America's Test Kitchen doing a bit on perfect, crispy waffles. Guess what the secret ingredient was?  Hell yeah, Rice Krispies!  A perfect use for the cereal.

The recipe uses cornstarch to help lighten the batter.  Whipping the egg whites separately is not a new notion in waffle recipes, but the combination of the cornstarch, whipped whites, and cereal makes a very light batter.  The cereal essentially melts, leaving pockets of crispy throughout the cooked waffle.  I've changed the recipe a bit, adding some whole wheat flour to make myself feel better.  And I prefer brown sugar for the extra flavour, but it works perfectly well with white sugar too. 

We've now made the waffles a few times.  After so many attempts to find a light waffle that doesn't turn into a brick the second it comes out of the waffle iron I've finally found one. Seriously, these are crispy, light, and perfect for toaster leftovers.  I can make a batch on Sunday morning and the girls have a few breakfasts during the week. This is a great week for mom - dinnertime laughs, afternoon treats, and pre-made breakfasts.  And all from a box of cereal.

Perfect Waffles
(Adapted from America's Test Kitchen)

1 cup unbleached flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup Rice Krispie cereal
3/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, separated
1 1/2 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup canola oil

1.  Preheat a waffle iron.
2.  Mix dry ingredients together in a large bowl.  Whisk the egg yolks, milk, oil, and vanilla together in a medium bowl.
3.  Beat the egg whites with a wire whisk or electric mixer until soft peaks form.  Pour the wet ingredients into the dry. Stir until just combined.  Fold in the whites gently.  Do not overmix.
4. Cook according the instructions with your waffle maker.

Is It Over Yet?

Yes, Easter is over.  Passover too.  And soon enough the week will be done.  Stick a fork in me, because I am definitely done.

We always try to get through the beginning of April/Easter without any major calamities. We've had babies born at our wedding, our baby nearly arriving 9 weeks early, that baby then being hospitalized, asthma attacks, and various minor things like cars lighting on fire at this time of year.  A few minor hiccups last week, but we were doing great and no hospital visits in sight.  Then, on Monday morning I walked into a door.  And broke my nose.

Thankfully it is no big deal and other than some swelling I don't look too beat up.  There was no emergency room visit, so that's progress.  

By the time 5 o'clock rolls around my face is throbbing and I just can't deal with making dinner. Today I attempted to deal with my overflowing fridge and get something together.  The most I could muster was dealing with the leftover dyed eggs.  Most of them were cracked from the manhandling The Monster gave them.  And there were a lot!  We could have been eating egg salad sandwiches all week.  Instead I thought we could indulge on one of Hubby's favourites: deviled eggs.

Truth be told, Hubby loves himself a boiled egg, no matter what form it comes in.  Dippy eggs with toast points.  A half dozen hard boiled eggs as a post-hockey snack - yes, I said 6 eggs as a snack.  And even the traditional potluck deviled egg with its sprinkling of unnecessary paprika. The most requested form however, is the curried deviled egg.   And yes, we could eat these for dinner.  Okay, we might make a salad to round out the meal.  Maybe.

I make these for every barbeque we have.  I made them for my brother- and sister-in-law's wedding.  And my other brother-in-law asks for these almost more than he asks for pie.

For every iteration on the deviled egg theme there will be lovers and haters.  My brother, for example, makes wasabi deviled eggs.  I'm not that much of a fan.  And I could take or leave the traditional variety too.  But add some mango chutney and curry powder and you will see me hoovering a plate faster than anyone could sprinkle paprika.  Maybe you'll hate these, but then I would think there is something wrong with you.  And if deviled eggs aren't your thing, add a touch more mayo, chop up the whites, and make an egg salad sandwich.

Curried Deviled Eggs
Makes 12 servings

6 hard boiled eggs, sliced in half lengthwise
2 TBSP mayonnaise
1 TBSP mango chutney
1 tsp curry powder
Salt and Pepper

1.  Scoop out the yolks and place in a bowl.  Set aside the whites.
2.  Mash the yolks together with the mayonnaise, chutney, and curry powder.  Season to taste.
3. Spoon the yolk mixture back into the egg whites.  Garnish with a slice of mango.

Backseat Adventure - Family Day in Banff

It's been a few weeks since we took a day off and headed a little West to Banff.  But we were talking about brunch and Hubby informed me that he would forgo any brunch in the city to drive to Banff for brunch.  All I have to say is "Be careful what you wish for..."

It was a strong desire for a change of scenery and the promise of a soak in the Hot Springs that took us to Banff.  We will head to the mountains to hike or bike, but we don't usually go in to Banff.  To be honest, we avoid it.  Do you remember that scene at the end of The Truman Show, where they hit the edge of the set?  That's what I feel like when I go in to the Banff townsite.  A wonderfully idyllic setting that seems too pretty to be real.  Really, just a mall with a fantastic ceiling.    This particular day we just wanted brunch, candy, and a soak.  Call it the urban adventure to the Rockies.

We paid our national park entrance fee, parked on one of the empty spots off Banff Avenue, and wandered, nose to the ground, for some eggs benedict.  Then talk about some fantastic friggin' luck.  We cut down a side street to check out a bakery.  Hmm, it smelled good but there were no eggs on the menu.  Hubby needs his eggs.  But just down the road we happened upon The Bison Mountain Restaurant and Lounge.  The downstairs is under renovation, but the restaurant was open.  They happily accommodated our stroller and put us in a quiet spot near the kitchen - not to hide us, but so we could see all the action from the open kitchen.  Then the brunch glory began.

Sure, they had a kids menu, but it seemed too safe, too boring, too predictable.  But the french toast sounded yummy, and it came with bacon.  Everything is right in the world if The Monster has bacon.  And some eggs benny that sounded too pretty to be real.  But oh, was it all so real.  Broek Acres Back Bacon with carmelized onions (or maple onion compote, as they called ).  And I had duck confit with fresh cheese curds on my benny.  Hands down, they were both the best eggs benny we've ever had.  And Hubby knows his eggs benny.  Hence the desire to drive there anytime.

The Monster's french toast came stuffed with smoked gouda and bacon, covered in a blueberry sauce and garnished with an apple slaw.  When the waitress brought the plates out she was looking for the third adult at our table.  "Oh no," we told her, "that's for her."  In the end she ate half of the actual toast, most of the blueberries, all of the cheese and bacon, and she split the apples with her sister.  

A little, just a little, walk was required after all that goodness.  Where else to go in Banff when you aren't there to shop?  The candy store, of course!  World famous, Welch's Candy Shop has been an institution for anyone who has ever made their way to the mountains more than once.  As a kid we always went there, even if we were only skiing for a day.  No trip was complete without my brother's wine gums, my sister's jaw breakers, my mom's almond bark, and my macaroons.  As I got older I always managed to sneak a couple of Flakes in the bag too.

The selection might be a bit overwhelming for the neophyte.  Just don't get overcome by the selection of imported treats and various cliche Canadiana candy.  Save your eyes for the large bulk display.  No, it isn't all homemade on site, but that isn't the point.  Just the visit, the sugar smell, and the white paper bag of your treat of choice are what it's all about.

Finally, the day would not have been complete without a visit to the Banff Upper Hot Springs.  Yes, it's touristy and generally crowded.  But if you get there before 4, when the ski hills haven't cleared yet, then it's just you, some Canmore locals, and all the Japanese tourists.  And in the winter you can still enjoy the view before darkness settles in.  It sure as hell isn't going to burn off any of the calories from brunch and your candy, but it feels so good on work weary bones.

Hmm, what's Hubby doing this Sunday?