Completely randomly — an idea just fluttered down like a November leaf and landed on this patch of calendar, the day before the day in which all of the time we do not spend on a line to vote we will instead spend glued to election returns and trying not to bite our nails down to the nub — I’ve been thinking about the kind of cooking we do when tensions are high and a little distraction might be the height of self-care. May I recommend some extended time in the kitchen? Stirring a pot, kneading a dough, and reading a recipe forces us to briefly pause our scrolling and invest in something tangible, like a cozy meal. Lasagna with fresh pasta sheets! Peerless chicken noodle soup. A really luxurious Caesar salad. Pot pies. Wildly decadent macaroni-and-cheese. Falafel, from scratch. The highest calling of tomato soup and grilled cheese.
Or something new. A bialy (here’s my go-to recipe) — Yiddish shorthand for a bialystoker kuchen, hailing from Białystok, Poland — is a palm-sized chewy roll with an indentation filled with cooked onions and poppy seeds. Warm from the oven, spread with butter they’re, to me, simple bliss. A bialy babka is elaborate bliss. It’s what happens when you take those same flavors and ribbon and twist them through a stretchy, rich dough and bake it into a perfectly proportioned loaf — way more than a pinch of onions per serving, hooray.
The ingredient list isn’t long, hard to procure, or pricy, but the when put together with a few deeply engaging techniques, you get something of unbelievable beauty, aroma, [and Instgrammable magnificence, should you wish to “cleanse the timeline”] and flavor, hopefully the perfect project for all of the first Tuesdays of November in our lives.
Babkas, previously: Chocolate Babka, Better Chocolate Babka [although, in hindsight, I feel this label is unfair; the first is closer to what we’d get in a Jewish deli growing up; the latter is an Ottolenghi/Israeli-style Krantz cake], Baklava Babka, and even a sort of Pizza Babka.
6 months ago: Rhubarb Cordial
1 year ago: White Bean Soup with Crispy Kale
2 year ago: Sunken Black Forest Cake
3 years ago: Bakery-Style Butter Cookies
4 years ago: Broken Pasta with Pork Ragu
5 years ago: Baked Potatoes with Wild Mushroom Ragu and Twinkie Bundt
6 years ago: Homemade Harissa and Cauliflower Cheese
7 years ago: Potato and Broccolini Frittata
8 years ago: Butternut Squash Salad with Farro and Pepitas and Roasted Pear and Chocolate Chunk Scones
9 years ago: Pear, Cranberry, and Gingersnap Crumble
10 years ago: Cauliflower and Parmesan Cake and Spiced Applesauce Cake
11 years ago: Cauliflower with Almonds, Raisins and Capers and Silky, Decadent Old-School Chocolate Mousse
12 years ago: Meatballs and Spaghetti and Cranberry-Walnut Chicken Salad and Pink Lady Cake
13 years ago: Pumpkin Bread Pudding and Sweet Potato and Sausage Soup
14 years ago: Pumpkin Muffins and Easiest Baked Macaroni-and-Cheese
Want to make a French Onion Babka? Sprinkle 1 to 2 cups of grated cheese (such as comte, baby swiss, gruyere) to the onions before you roll it. But you must believe me, this doesn’t even need cheese to be savory perfection.
- 4 tablespoons (2 ounces or 55 grams) unsalted butter, melted
- 6 tablespoons(90 ml) whole or low-fat milk
- 1 3/4 teaspoons instant yeast
- 1 tablespoon (15 grams) granulated sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 large egg
- 1 large egg yolk
- 2 1/4 cups (295 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 pounds (680 grams) yellow onions, diced
- 2 tablespoons (1 ounce or 30 grams) unsalted butter
- 3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 2 teaspoons poppy seeds, plus more to finish
[For a longer rise, or to use this tomorrow, you can chill the dough in the fridge. If you are, take it out about 1 1/2 hours before using it so it has time to warm up again before rolling it out.]
While dough rises, cook your onions: Melt butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onions, toss to coat them in butter and cover the pot. Reduce the heat to medium-low and let them slowly steep for 12 to 15 minutes, stirring once or twice. You can walk away.
Uncover the pot, raise the heat slightly and stir in salt. Cook onions, stirring every 5 minutes for another 20 to 30 minutes, until golden brown and very tender and sweet. No need to fully caramelize them, as you would for onion soup or an irate French culinary instructor, which would take much longer. Raise the heat to medium-high and cook the onions until they get a little dark at the edges, about another 5 minutes. Transfer onions to a plate and spread them out so that they cool faster.
Assemble babka: On a large, well-floured counter, roll out dough until it is about 12 inches wide (the side closest to you) and as long in length (away from you) as you can when rolling it thin, likely 10 to 14 inches. Spoon then spread onions over dough in an even layer, then sprinkle onions with 2 teaspoons poppy seeds. Roll the dough up with the filling away from you into a tight coil. Transfer coil to a parchment-lined baking sheet or board to your freezer, just for 5 to 10 minutes. [It will cut much more cleanly in half when chilled.] While it’s there…
Prepare pan: Coat a standard loaf pan with butter or nonstick spray, and line the bottom and two sides with a sling of parchment paper for easier removal.
Finish shaping babka: Remove dough from freezer and use a serrated knife to gently cut the log lengthwise into two long strips and lay them next to each other, cut sides up. Lift one side over the next, forming a twist and trying to keep the cut sides facing up (because they’re pretty). Don’t worry if this step seems messy; it will be gorgeous regardless. Transfer the twist into your prepared loaf pan.
Let proof again: Cover the pan with the same plastic plastic wrap and let it rise another 45 minutes at room temperature. You won’t see much of a change in the size and that’s fine; we’re just letting the dough relax a little.
Heat your oven: To 350°F.
Bake babka(s): Sprinkle babka with an extra couple pinches of poppy seeds. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the center doesn’t feel like it’s hitting sticky/rubbery dough, or the internal temperature is 185°F. If onions get too brown on top (mine did), you can put some foil over for the last few minutes, but unless they full burn, they won’t taste bad.
Serve: Let cool as long as you can stand in in the pan, then cut into thick slices with a serrated knife. Leftovers keep at room temperature for a few days; I usually wrap it in foil. Gently toast slices to rewarm.