When Autumn wrote so eloquently about how hard it is to make friends as an adult I nodded my head in agreement and when she quietly questioned the value of blogging and what it has brought to her life I shook it even harder. It's easy to sit back and read other people's words and comment and admire them from afar, but at what point can you consider them friends?
I am someone who likes to have a lot of time to myself. The reason I stayed at my last job long after I should have was that it offered me hours and hours of alone time every afternoon, but now that I've been away from that job for a few months, I find myself with more time than I know what to do with. It's not that I don't enjoy it, but as I've gotten a bit older I've assigned more value to making meaningful connections with other folks.
You may have seen Ariele's beautiful wood work or Amélie's clever letterpress baseball cards around the internet. I'll try not to sound like a gushing fan girl here, but when I saw their work for the first time I was so surprised and delighted. Yes, I know that sounds terribly cheesy, but I can't think of any other words to describe how happy I was to see two talented gals busting ass to make their living as artists.
After a few months of internet friendship and lots of commenting back and forth, it was decided that a meeting of the minds was in order, a blind friendship date if you will. We chose a time and I promised to bring the snacks. When I saw a swirled chocolate babka by way of Eating for England I knew I had found the perfect tea time treat. I consulted my bread guy (Peter Reinhart) for his recipe and ended up with this delicately sweet and super chocolatey bread. I packed it up in a tea towel to contain all of the delicious streusel crumbs and made my way to Ariele's incredible studio/apartment. We chatted and drank tea and when I got to see their work in the flesh, it did not disappoint.
We spent the afternoon talking about about all sorts of things and when someone mentioned Dead Horse Bay my ears (probably my whole face too) perked right up. I had heard of the place, but had never been. We decided that the next day's spring-like weather demanded a trip!
This isn't a beach for sunbathing and frisbee tossing. It's the kind of beach that requires sturdy shoes and gloves. You see, Dead Horse Bay is the former site of a horse rendering plant, turned 19th century landfill, turned playground for "junk" loving treasure hunters. The beach is littered with piles and piles of beautiful glass bottles, bits of tiles and Amélie even found an old rusted gun and a toy cowboy boot in close proximity to one another. I came home with some glass bottles to add to my collection and some porcelain light sockets that I repurposed into candle sticks.
As we walked along the beach picking up and kicking up treasures, yelling to each other when we found something exceptionally cool, I felt like I was anywhere but New York. The smell of the sea air was comforting, the sun was shining bright and warm and I was spending time with two awesome ladies I knew from the internet and had only met in person the day before.
I knew immediately that I wanted to go back. I've already planned another trip.
Chocolate Almond Babka
adapted from Peter Reinhart
For the Dough
2T instant yeast
6oz lukewarm milk
3oz room temperature butter
1oz vegetable oil
1t vanilla extract
4 egg yolks
15oz all purpose flour
1 egg + 1T water for egg wash
For the Filling
9oz finely chopped bittersweet chocolate
4oz sliced almonds
2oz cold butter
For the Topping (optional, but advised)
The original recipe called for 2x this amount of topping, but I could only get about half of it to stick to the bread so if you really want to go for it with the crumbs feel free to double these amounts
.75 oz all purpose flour
.5 oz almond meal
2oz brown sugar
For the Bread
1. Whisk the yeast and milk together. Set aside while you prepare the other ingredients
2. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. I made this entire recipe by hand with a wooden spoon, but you could use a hand or stand mixer instead.
3. Add in the oil and vanilla, then add the egg yolks in one at a time, mixing until each yolk is thoroughly incorporated. Mix for 2 min or until the eggs are light and fluffy.
4. Stop mixing, then add the flour and salt, followed by the milk and yeast mixture. Mix slowly until the dough comes together, if you are mixing by hand, your hands are the best tool for this job.
5. Turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead for 2 min. The dough should be soft, supple and golden in color. Place the dough in a well oiled bowl covered with plastic wrap and let rise for 2 1/2hrs or until the dough almost doubles in size. At this point you can finish the bread or let the dough rest in the refrigerator over night. I let mine rest.
For the Filling
Combine the chopped chocolate, almonds and cinnamon in a large bowl. Add the butter and mix with your fingers or a pastry cutter until the mixture resembles streusel.
To Assemble the Loaf
1. Grease a 9''x5'' or 10''x5'' loaf pan and line with parchment paper so it hangs over the two long sides. Once the dough has risen, roll it into a 15''x15'' square on a lightly floured surface. The dough should be about 1/4'' thick. Sprinkle the chocolate and almond filling over the dough, leaving a 1/2'' border around the edges.
2. Roll the dough like a jelly roll and place it seam side down on your work surface. Gently roll the dough back and forth until it is about 20'' long.
3. Fold the dough in half to form a "U" shape. Twist the arms of the dough two or three times around each other to form the loaf, then pinch the seams together. This post has a photo of a formed loaf. Place the dough into the prepared pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room until the babka fills the pan, 1-2 hours.
While the loaf is rising
Preheat oven to 350º
Prepare the Streusel and Finish the Loaf
1. Combine all of the streusel ingredients with your hands until the mixture resembles cornmeal.
2. When the loaf has risen completely, brush with egg wash made from 1 egg +1T water and sprinkle the streusel mixture over the top. Use a toothpick to poke a few holes in the top of the loaf which will release any air pockets trapped between the folds of the dough and filling.
3. Place the loaf pan onto a baking sheet and slide into the oven. Bake for 20-25min, then rotate and bake for 20-30 more minutes. The loaf will be deep golden brown on top and sound hollow when the bottom is tapped when finished. You can also use a thermometer to check the internal temperature which will be 185º when the loaf is finished.
Cool the loaf to room temperature before slicing.
p.s. I recently listened to a TED talk by Susan Cain about the power of introverts, about how our society is built for extroverts to succeed and receive praise. While I don't agree with everything she has to say, I think it is worth a listen.