Just in time for Chanukah, more than 100 people attended the Jewish Museum of Maryland’s “Great Jewish Bake Off!” on Dec. 2.
The JMM’s third annual cooking contest featured baked goods that are usually best eaten with a schmeer of cream cheese or butter. The contest’s categories included “Fully Schmeered” (baked treats such as bagels or challah that almost always taste best with a schmeer); “No Schmeer Here” (foods like babka and raisin bread that are so flavorful on their own they don’t require a schmeer); and “Schmeer Surprise” (baked goods like rainbow bagels or pretzels that taste great with a schmeer but are not traditionally eaten that way).
Trillion Attwood, the East Baltimore museum’s program director, said there were 16 “bakes” including challah, mandel bread, bagels, knishes and babka. “In total, six prizes were awarded,” said Attwood. “The overall winner was Dinah Winnick, who made ‘The World’s Best Babka.’ ”
The event was supported by Eddie’s of Roland Park, which provided a gift basket for the winner plus samples of rugelach for all program attendees.
This year’s judges were Amy Simon, events coordinator for Eddie’s of Roland Park, and local food maven Martine Richards, organizer of Baltimore’s annual Deviled Egg Pageant.
World's Best Babka
Prepare the dough
Place milk, eggs and yolks in the bottom of a large mixer. Place flour, yeast, sugar and salt on top (reserve butter for later). With a dough hook, mix on low for 3 minutes, and then on medium for 5 minutes. Add the butter and mix on low until thoroughly incorporated. Let rest to bulk ferment for one hour.
At the end of one hour, turn the dough gently out onto a floured work surface. Divide dough into two 500g pieces. Place the pieces onto pam-sprayed, parchment-lined baking sheets. Gently coax the dough into two 6-inch squares. Chill completely, at least two hours or overnight.
Roll out the dough
Working with one piece of dough at a time (keeping the rest chilled), on a generously dusted workbench, quickly roll out into an even 16-inch square. Use ample flour underneath the dough and on top. Rotate the dough frequently by 90 degrees to prevent it from sticking to the work surface. If the dough gets too sticky while working, chill it again, and then resume rolling out.
Chill all of the squares until ready to fill and shape. The 16-inch squares can be separated between layers of parchment and then stacked in the fridge until ready to be filled. If stacking, flour use flour underneath and on top of each square.
Prepare the filling
While the babka dough squares are chilling, prepare the cinnamon filling. In the bowl of a mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the almond paste, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt. Mix on low speed to break up the paste.
Add the softened butter and mix on low until combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the honey. Do not overmix. You don’t need to add air to the filling, but you want the filling to be homogenous.
Keep the filling at room temperature until ready to use. If not using right away, refrigerate and then pull it out to let it warm up before using.
Fill and shape the babka
Working with one babka at a time, remove one sheet of dough from the refrigerator and transport it on a sheet tray to your work surface.
Check the spreadability of the filling. It needs to be very soft and spreadable. If it is too firm, microwave the filling for a few seconds and stir.
With an offset spatula spread 250g of filling evenly over the surface of the babka. Work quickly to spread the filling all the way to the ends of the dough. The goal is to finish while the dough is still chilled.
Gently and quickly begin to roll up the dough, rolling away from you (similar to a jellyroll). Once completely rolled up, pick up the roll and elongate it a little. Set it down and cut the babka roll in half so that you have two rolls, each approximately 10-inches long.
Spread some extra filling in the middle of one of the two rolls and place the second roll on top, as if forming the letter ‘X’. Then spread extra filling on the top roll, one-third of the way in on either side, so that there is filling between the two rolls as they are twisted together. This will help keep the layers separate. Twist the bottom roll up and over the top roll.
Note: It is also fine to use another popular babka shaping method, cutting the dough in half the long way, and criss crossing the resulting long strips multiple times, with stripes facing upward. This methods yields a beautiful top of the babka after baking. Use whichever method you prefer.
Pick up the babka with two hands and place it in a parchment-lined and oiled 9” x 4” baking pan. Repeat with the remaining babka.
Proofing and baking
Proof the babka for 1.5 to 2 hours in a warm space until the loaves look swollen and have doubled in size.
Brush the tops of the loaves with egg wash and bake in 350F convection oven set to high fan for 40 minutes, rotating halfway through. (For home ovens, bake for 45 to 50 minutes at 350F).
Remove the babka from the pans and let cool.
Make the glaze while the babka cools
Melt the butter and allow to cool slightly. While the butter is cooling whisk together the powdered sugar, ground cinnamon, and salt. Whisk the milk into the dry ingredients, then whisk in the butter.
Once the glaze is made, brush over the babka.
Recipe adapted from Melissa Weller’s Good Cinnamon Babka by Dinah Winnick for the Great Jewish Bake Off