kuglóf, kougelhopf, Gugelhupf, bábovka, babka...
There are many names for this airy and buttery yeast cake that's swirled with either a chocolate or cinnamon filling, but let's just say that no matter what language you speak, you can call this pastry a little piece of heaven.
Usually known as babka (like in the Seinfeld episode) in the U.S., kuglóf originated in Central and Eastern Europe, and, depending on your baking heritage, can take many slightly different forms. The variety found in America-- often made with a streusel topping--can be very rich, and usually has either a chocolate or a cinnamon (raisin) filling. While I prefer the former by far, my family is divided on the issue. And what a polemical issue it is, given the great social significance of babka:
JERRY: That's the last babka. They got the last babka.
ELAINE: I know. They're going in first with the last babka.
JERRY: That was our babka.
ELAINE: You can't beat a babka.
JERRY: We should have had that babka.
ELAINE: They're going to be heroes.
JERRY: What are we going to do now. If we can't get the babka the whole thing's useless.
ELAINE: Well how about a carrot cake?
JERRY: Carrot cake? Now why is that a cake? You don't make carrots into a cake. I'm sorry.
ELAINE: Black Forest?
JERRY: Black Forest? Too scary. You're in the Forest, oohh. That was our babka. We had that babka!
ELAINE: What's this one?
CLERK: That's cinnamon babka.
JERRY: Another babka?
CLERK: There's chocolate and there's cinnamon.
JERRY: Well, we've got to get the cinnamon.
ELAINE: No, but they got the chocolate. We'll be going in with a lesser babka.JERRY: I beg your pardon? Cinnamon takes a back seat to no babka. People love cinnamon. It should be on tables at restaurants along with salt and pepper. Anytime anyone says, "Oh This is so good. What's in it?" The answer invariably comes back, Cinnamon. Cinnamon. Again and again. Lesser babka - I think not.
(Thanks, Seinfeld Scripts)
While kuglóf might not cause such controversy in other places of the world, it is by no means a trivial matter. When I was in Alsace last November with some friends (oh là là), we were lucky enough to be celebrating someone's birthday and smart enough to tell the couple we were renting the cottage from about it. The next night they treated us to an authentic Alsatian kougelhopf as a birthday gift for my friend. Oh mon dieu.
This kougelhopf had a very light texture and was almond flavored-- It's a bit hard to see,
but there are almonds that go around the top of the cake. Très délicieux.
When it comes to the Hungarian tradition, which is what runs in my family--on both sides, believe it or not-- I turn to my mom, who tells me stories of the giant kuglóf my grandmother used to make--every weekend. A few years ago, after my first attempt at recreating the legend was met with a bit of confusion and frustration and hours of waiting, I concluded that my grandma's superhero powers must have included the strongest of kneading arms and the patience of a saint. Now, having gone through this recipe (and a few others) several times (Hungarians love their kuglóf) I hope to one day possess a tiny fraction of my grandmother's superpowers. My mom says I'm getting closer each time.
So I went through several kuglóf/babka recipes before finding this one from pastry studio. I tried Martha Stewart's recipe and a few others, but none of them made my parents' eyes light up when they came out of the oven quite like this one. Thank you, pastry studio.
Hungarian Chocolate Kuglof
adapted from Vogue Entertaining & Travel 2002
Serves 8 to 10
3/4 C milk
1 pkg active dry yeast
2 3/4 C flour [ I increased to about 3 C ]
1/3 C sugar
1/2 t salt
4 oz (1 stick) butter
3 eggs @ room temperature
1 t vanilla
And now, the Great Choice: Chocolate or Cinnamon Raisin. I asked my family to vote this time around. There was a tie. Always diplomatic, I decided to make a small kuglóf of each kind. This resulted in some creative dough and filling halving, which I wouldn't recommend for your first time around...
So here are the choices: the first is pastry studio's chocolate filling, and the second I kinda came up with on the fly.
Filling 1 (Chocolate)
2 oz (4 T) butter
1/4 C cocoa powder
2 t Grand Marnier I like to keep the flavors more simple, so I usually just replace this with some butter.
1/2 C sugar
1/2 t cinnamon
Filling 2 (Cinnamon Raisin)
2 oz (4T) butter
1/2 C rehydrated and flavored raisins (I put the raisins in a bowl and then cover them with boiling water and a few tablespoons of amaretto and Triple Sec. Ok, so maybe I don't always keep flavors simple).
1/2 C brown sugar
2-3 t cinnamon, to taste
Generously slather an 8” Kugelhopf mold or tube pan with soft butter. I usually use a Bundt pan, but this time also used a loaf pan and baking sheet to handle the recipe splitting I had to do. Also, the butter really gives the kuglof a nice color and outer texture, and of course, makes it much easier to get out of the pan.
Gently warm the 3/4 C milk. Place 1/4 C of the milk in a bowl and sprinkle the yeast over it along with a pinch of sugar. Let stand for 5 minutes until the yeast is dissolved. Stir in about 2 – 3 T of the measured flour to make a sticky dough, then cover and set aside in a warm place for about 30 minutes. A countertop that gets lots of sunlight during the morning or middle of the day is a perfect spot for the dough the rise.
Gently re-warm the remaining 1/2 C milk with the 4 oz butter until melted. Cool to lukewarm. Do this while you wait for the dough to rise- cooling takes longer than you'd think (close to 15-20 mins) and makes it a lot easier to get the dough together later.
Beat the eggs together with the vanilla.
Whisk together the remaining flour, sugar and salt in a large wide bowl and make a well in the center. Place the lukewarm milk/butter mixture, beaten eggs/vanilla and the bit of risen yeast dough to the center of the bowl in the well. Work all of it together with your hand, first mixing the ingredients in the center and then working in the flour around the edges bit by bit. The dough should take just a couple of minutes of mixing to form a smooth dough. If it’s too sticky, keep adding flour a tablespoon at a time until it forms a soft and pliable dough. The dough will be sticky. But if you can work with it, don't add too much flour. If it's necessary for rolling out the dough, more flour can be added then.
Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface or piece of parchment and knead for about 5 minutes until smooth and elastic. Place the dough in a large wide bowl that has been generously oiled, turning the dough over so the top surface is oiled. Cover the top of the bowl with a light cloth or piece of plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place until the dough doubles in size, about 30-40 minutes.
For the filling, melt the 2 oz butter and take off the heat. Whisk in the cocoa and Grand Marnier to make a thin paste. Whisk until there are no lumps. Set aside. In another bowl, stir sugar and cinnamon together and set aside.
For the cinnamon raising filling, before melting the butter, put the raisins in a medium bowl, add a few tablespoons of amaretto and/or triple sec (the flavors won't end up being too strong in the kuglóf, so don't be afraid to be generous) and then pour in boiling water to cover the raisins. Let stand 5-10 minutes, until the raisins are slightly plump. In another bowl, stir sugar and cinnamon together and set aside.
When the dough is ready, divide it into two pieces and roll out one at a time on a lightly floured surface or piece of parchment to about 13” x 8”, the length depending on the circumference of the base of your pan. Spread half the cocoa butter paste on the dough and sprinkle with half the cinnamon sugar. Roll up the dough into a log starting at the longer side. Lift it gently and place into the buttered kugelhopf or tube pan and pinch the ends together to seal. Repeat with the second piece of dough and stack it on top of the other piece, forming two rings inside the mold. Overlap the ends of the log and tuck under. Set aside in a warm place until the dough has risen to about an inch from the top of the mold, about 30 to 45 minutes or so. Let me just say that by adding an extra filling and halving the dough to these steps, I somehow found a way to end up with three babkas of different sizes and shapes. Oops.
Two small cinnamon raisin babka and a chocolate babka. Three's a party.
Remove from oven and place on a cooling rack for about 10 minutes, then turn the Kuglof out on the rack to cool completely before slicing. You've probably noticed that I made all the times in the recipe bold. If you add them up, you'll see that making babka is a serious time commitment... that is completely worth it.