Friday, April 2, 2010

 Chocolate Babka Baking Day

Every holiday carries with it a happy, and highly personalized, assortment of traditions, any one of which, if left by the wayside, would render the holiday simply unacceptable.  It’s amazing how many of these traditions center around food.  If you don’t know what I mean, at your next Christmas dinner, just try putting cornbread stuffing on the plate of someone raised on oyster stuffing and observe as their expression changes from quizzical to disappointed in a flash.  In our family, it wouldn’t exactly be Christmas without my chocolate fudge - I make batches and batches for an ever-lengthening list of lip-smacking souls who are known to complain loudly if they are forgotten.  
Traditions are important.  They tie us to the best of our past, they contribute to our uniqueness, and they can also be expanded as the years go by.  For instance, for the past few Easters, I have been baking Chocolate Babka.  A truly delectable treat, the recipe makes three loaves of the sweetest, most chocolatey, utterly delicious concoction you can possibly imagine.  I keep one loaf for The Songwriter and myself and give the other two to different friends each year.  It’s a treat to share and has, in just a few short years, become an Easter tradition.  

This year, I have been anticipating Babka making more than usual, for I was anxious to try an intriguing ingredient recently given to me by a friend who had brought it home from her trip to Morocco in February.  She bounded into my kitchen one afternoon proudly holding aloft a shimmering green bottle containing a liquid the colour of saffron and gaily informed me that she had discovered this baking elixir in a market near Tangiers.  She declared it to be a truly amazing secret, one used for centuries.  Supposedly, just a few drops added to any yeast dough would create the most heavenly results imaginable.  No, she didn’t know exactly what it was, but she’d already tried it and swore to me it was remarkable.  Although skeptical at first, I had to admit, her enthusiasm was contagious and, as I knew my friend to be an excellent baker herself, I soon found myself looking forward to stirring a few drops into my upcoming Easter Babkas.

Babka baking day dawned warm and breezy, the most sublime weather for such an involved culinary activity.  I opened all the windows, put some Bach on the stereo and began to work, Edward lying on the kitchen rug, as usual.  Once the dough was all mixed up, I pulled out my tiny green bottle and held it up to the light.  I took out the small cork stopper and gave a sniff.  No scent really.  “Oh, what could it hurt to try it”, I asked the dozing Edward.  I tipped it over and watched as one, two, three, fat drops of shiny, sun-coloured liquid plopped silently into the dough.  Giving it a few extra kneads, I placed the babka in a large red bowl to rise.
Soft winds were flowing through the house, Bach was quietly serenading  in the background, and Edward was still dozing... so I decided to curl up in a downy chair with a book.  From there, gradually, I began to smell something odd.  Flowers?  Perfume?  I couldn’t quite work it out.  I walked into the kitchen and peeked at the rising babkas.  Startled, I saw not only that they had already risen double in size, but they also seemed to be a slightly different colour than expected.  Rather pinkish gold.  “This couldn’t be right, could it?”,  I asked Edward who, as usual, did not audibly reply.  Reasoning that I had come too far to stop now, I went ahead and divided the strangely hued dough into three pans and placed it in the oven to bake.  And that’s when the trouble started.  

The babkas had only been baking for five minutes or so when an overwhelming smell began to permeate the entire house, the distinct scent of Casablanca lilies, not at all unpleasant, but most unexpected.  So powerful, it seemed to be emanating from every room at once.  Edward woke up and stared pointedly into my eyes. I padded into the kitchen at stood in front of the stove, wondering.  Through the glass window of the oven, it seemed as though I could see an occasional flash, little sparks of light that appeared to be changing colours.  “Perhaps I’m getting a migraine”, I said to Edward.  But he just stood up and gave me a disapproving look over his left shoulder and trotted out of the house.  As I edged closer to open the oven door there came a sound that caused me to instantly step back.  What was that, voices?  That’s what it sounded like, high-pitched and rather sing-song, but definitely voices.  All of a sudden the Bach that had been playing so softly in the background rose to a deafening volume and...... April Fool!


While yes, this was all a fabrication, the bit about my traditional Christmas fudge and Easter Babka is true.   Babka making is taking place in my kitchen this week and, although the kitchen smells of chocolate and cinnamon instead of lilies, the windows are open, Edward is dozing and Bach is playing in the background. 
For those of you who might wish to make Chocolate Babka yourself this year, HERE is the best recipe I've found, and the one I use each year.
Have fun, and Happy April Fool’s Day!