One of the members of the Daring Bakers recently invited me to join in a monthly sourdough challenge from Sourdough Surprises. I was pretty happy to learn about this group since I love to bake bread but I am a very neglectful sourdough parent! My poor starter is usually sickly and underfed since I’m lucky if I remember to feed it or bake with it even once a month. I’m hopeful that this group will not only challenge my baking skills but also make my sourdough starter healthier and stronger.
This month’s challenge was to make a sourdough brioche dough and to use it to make babka. Babka has been on my baking bucket list for a long time, so I was delighted to give it a try. The bread has it’s roots in Easter Europe, but many cultures have their own version. I’ve never actually eaten babka, but what could possibly be wrong with a sweet egg and butter rich dough wrapped around a chocolate and cinnamon filling? Is it breakfast, dessert or a snack? Yes!
I didn’t think that my whole wheat starter was really appropriate for this challenge, so I took a little out of the fridge and started reviving it with increasing amounts of white all purpose flour. I’m happy to say that after about 5 days I had a nice sour 100% hydration white flour starter that doubled in size between feedings and had lots of bubbles. Time to bake!
Since I haven’t spent a lot of time converting recipes to sourdough, I went ahead and used one of the brioche recipes provided by Sourdough Surprises. Even though brioche seems fancy, it is really pretty easy to put together especially if you use a mixer. I put the flour, sugar, eggs, salt, milk and the starter all into my KitchenAid mixer and mixed it with the paddle attachment just enough to combine the ingredients. I then let the dough rest for about 15 minutes. Switching to the dough hook, I then mixed the dough on medium until it came together in a mass that held together around the dough hook as it mixed and pulled away from the sides of the mixer bowl.
With the mixer on low, I then added the softened butter a pat at a time and let it absorb almost completely between additions. Once the butter was fully incorporated and my dough was smooth and silky, I added just enough flour (about 1/4 cup) to get the dough to hold together in a soft mass. The original recipe didn’t call for any extra flour, but my dough was almost a batter and I felt it was probably too slack to roll out later without some additional structure. I then let the dough rest overnight for about 15 hours.
After the 15 hour rest, I was a little concerned that very little rising had taken place in my very chilly house, but I forged ahead figuring that lots of unseen action had taken place to improve the flavor. For the babka, I combined parts of two different recipes, one for the filling and one for the crumb topping and technique. I rolled the dough out onto a floured surface into a large rectangle. After painting the edges with egg wash, I spread the surface with a mixture of chopped chocolate, cinnamon and butter. The dough was then rolled up, sealed and twisted and put into a large, greased bread pan. I covered the dough lightly with greased wrap and put it into the cold oven with the light on for about 2 hours. Visually, there wasn’t any significant rise during this time period, but the dough felt puffy to the touch.
While the oven preheated, I painted the top of the loaf with more egg wash and sprinkled it with a crumb mixture made from confectioner’s sugar, flour and butter. I baked the final loaf at 350°F for 55 minutes, then lowered the temperature to 325°F and baked it for about 40 minutes more, until the internal temperature was 190°F at the center of the loaf. The hard part was completely cooling the loaf before eating it!
The finished loaf was fantastic. It nearly doubled in size as it baked (yay for my starter!) and resulted in a rich and flavorful loaf that was moist and a little dense in a good way. The sourdough tang was detectable and was very compatible with the chocolate. The only change I would make would be to change the crumb topping as this one didn’t do much for me flavor-wise. I think a pinch of salt and some vanilla bean seeds probably would improve the plain crumb or, better yet, chocolate crumbs!
Sourdough never ceases to surprise me. It just seems like magic that I can let it sit on my counter and it will catch little yeasty bugs that make my bread rise! I look forward to more sourdough challenges. Be sure to check out all the other babkas made by the Sourdough Surprises group.