Dough! V: Babka and Breakfast Breads!

Our world is terrifying and uncertain, why not eat dessert for breakfast?

I was super excited for my “Fancy Breakfast Breads” class, while secretly preparing myself to be underwhelmed, because such is life, but much like Hamilton, my wildest expectations were somehow exceeded, and it is my new favorite class at our world-famous food emporium.

When asked if these breads could be appropriately served for dessert rather than breakfast, or even consumed as dessert in lieu of breakfast, the instructor said, “Sure! The bread will not judge you! There’s no judgment in bread.”

Let’s begin with my new favorite recipe and front-runner for the name of my first child: Kardemummabullar, or Swedish Cardamom Rolls.

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The Swedes have perfected the art of the cinnamon roll—in fact, they have an entire holiday devoted to cinnamon buns. It’s called Kanelbullens Dag and if you want to celebrate it properly this year, you have until October 4th to get to Sweden.

The daily ritual of coffee and a cinnamon bun is a major institution in Swedish culture, and cardamom is actually the biggest staple of Scandinavian baking. Our amazing instructor had a theory about why a plant native to the tropics is Scandinavia’s favorite spice: “I think back in the day the spice traders went to Sweden and said, ‘Wow, you guys have nothing up here,’ and just dropped a ton of cardamom and went on their way. And they’ve been eating it ever since!”

Kardemummabullar (I can’t wait to yell that across a playground!) is pretty straightforward to make. The dough is very similar to brioche, in that it requires an actual brick of butter that must be worked in by hand.

The instructor said, “I need you to stay strong. I’ll put some music on.”

A lot of people were fazed by the sheer amount of butter that had to be kneaded into the dough, but after the fifth or sixth chunk (yes, CHUNK), the dough starts to smooth out. And all that butter makes your hands super soft!

The instructor kept us going with upbeat music and encouragement: “The dough will not want to accept the butter! But it has no choice! Fat always wins! The dough will come to terms with that! Eventually!”

Once the dough is done and proofed, it’s just a matter of spreading the cardamom filling (add candied ginger! IT WILL BLOW YOUR MIND!), folding it all to make a giant cardamom sandwich, cutting strips and rolling them out to proof again.

 

Next up was Povitica, which is a Croatian name for a bread that has a hundred different names in a hundred different languages, and according to our instructor, “As there are stars in the sky, that’s how many different ways you can make this bread.”

It’s basically an Eastern European variation of the strudel. Our recipe called for sweetened walnuts, but you can fill them with almost anything. The dough is a lot like strudel dough—very sticky and difficult to work with. Our instructor implored us to resist the urge to add flour to our dough.

“Americans hate being sticky,” she said. “Embrace the sticky! DO NOT add flour!”

The dough gets stretched after proofing much like strudel dough, except we didn’t use a sheet—and after you stretch it as thin as possible, all you have to do is spread the filling and “roll it like a boss.”

 

“Are we ready to babka?!” said the instructor.

Babka is like the Hamilton of breads—everything is jammed in there, even things you had never thought were possible in bread, and it’s somehow richer and more filling than any other bread you’ve ever had and the obsession consumes your every waking thought (yes, I am listening to Hamilton right effing now).

Our babkas contained both flame and golden raisins in a syrup of orange oil and sugar, chocolate ganache made from scratch with heavy cream and semisweet chocolate, sugar, cinnamon, streusel topping also made from scratch with yet even more sugar, and finally, 1 and a half cups of brownie crumbs—and not just any brownie crumbs, crumbs of the world-famous brownies made by our world-famous food emporium, whose empire was built mostly on their national treasure of a brownie.

It’s the Lin-Manuel Miranda of brownies.

 

After four hours of non-stop baking, I was pretty hungry, but then all three of our bakes came out of the oven at once, and I will never be hungry again.

The instructor cried “Chocolate carnage!” as she sliced up a babka, right out of the oven. Eating a slice of babka right out of the oven almost put me in a coma (again, 1 and a half cups of brownie crumbs!).

I need a moment to confirm that I am actually writing this and not still in a fugue state from all the sugar and bread I’ve consumed in the last 24 hours.

 

And I’m back.

The Kardemummabullars (it’s gender neutral! But not so trendy that there’d be another five Kardemummabullars in their class!) were sprinkled with a mix of ground cardamom and sugar, and I actually paused mid-bite to say, to no one, “This is a game changer.”

The lady next to me was going home to Chicago right after the class—she’d driven four hours each way just to make fancy breakfast breads! She said to me, “I’d better put these in my trunk. Otherwise I’ll just eat them all on the drive.”

“Same!” I said. “And I live twenty minutes away!”

But it was the Povitica that really snuck up on me—much in the same way that you assume there’s no way Aaron Burr will be your favorite character going into Hamilton but then you come out like “Oh my god, am I crying for Aaron Burr? What does this mean?”

I’m already planning to bake it on the regular for little Kardemummabullar (I just spelled it right on the first try! Surely it would come naturally to a preschooler!).

I’m not normally a fan of walnuts and I didn’t think anything could show up babka in terms of flavor explosions, but Povitica just has a lot going for it in a non-showy package—it’s a subtle flavor explosion.

Just like Aaron Burr.

 

 

 

 

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