I’m a crazy cookbook collector. I have shelves upon shelves of cookbooks, so many that I can’t even find a place for them all in my kitchen. There’s a cabinet in the dining room that holds a healthy stack, while the rest line the shelf in my study that’s slowly bowing in the middle as it attempts to hold their weight.
Because while the internet is an abundance and wealth of information, there’s something just really freaking nice about holding a book in your hands. I mean, the first thing I do after I unwrap a new cookbook is flip through the pages and mark (I know, I know, purists will gasp but I’m a shameless dogear-er all the way) the photos that inspire me and the recipes that I want to try. You don’t really get that same satisfaction with bookmarking in your browser or pinning on Pinterest.
And so I own different cookbooks for different purposes. There are the workhorses like The Flavor Bible or Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything that I use for reference almost every day. There are the showstoppers filled with stunning photos that I flip through for visual inspiration before I shoot (A Kitchen in France, Small Plates and Sweet Treats or What Katie Ate are all great books for getting inspired). Then, there are the ones filled with crazy recipes with advanced techniques that I can only aspire to — Dominique Ansel’s The Secret Recipes cookbook, for instance, which contains THE recipe for homemade cronuts.
Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbooks fall somewhere in between these three categories. His two that I have — Plenty and Jerusalem — are filled with stunning, inspirational pictures and a mix of recipes that range from achievable to aspirational. But oh boy, the moment I flipped through Jerusalem and spotted his recipe for chocolate krantz cake, I knew I was in trouble. It was the sort of stunning, delicious and yet oh-so-time-consuming recipe that straddled the line between achievable and aspirational.
What's a krantz cake? It’s basically a babka — that is, a cake made from a brioche dough that’s been twisted and sweetened with fillings like chocolate, cinnamon or fruit and nuts. In my version, I’ve filled my babka with dark chocolate and pumpkin:
Ottolenghi’s recipe divides the dough in two and braids the two strands together; with this method, my two toppings swirled into each other, creating a sort of marbled effect in the bread. One bite initially yields the dark chocolate flavor, while a second bite yields buttery, cinnamon-tinted pumpkin. The trick, however, is to get a bite of the two together — because is there really a better flavor combination than chocolate, pumpkin and cinnamon?
I don’t think so.
As for the recipe itself, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the babka wasn’t actually that hard to make. Sure, it takes a while — you’ve got to let the dough rise overnight, then for another few hours after you’ve rolled and braided it — but most of that time was inactive and spent binge-watching Gilmore Girls on Netflix. As for rolling it out and braiding it, the dough is incredibly forgiving and easy to work with, more similar to pliant Play-Doh that stays together versus a sticky, fussy pie crust. There are a couple tricky steps in the recipe, so I’ve included process shots with the steps.
Some baker's notes:
- Plan ahead for this one! The dough requires you to make it ahead of time to allow it to rest and proof overnight. After that, there's another 2 hours or so of waiting around until it rises. You can try and make it in one day by letting it proof for 4 hours or so, but the dough is easier to work with when it's been chilled overnight. It's best to make the dough first, then the two fillings, before rolling out the chilled dough and stuffing it with filling.
- The original recipe in the cookbook calls for you to combine flour and yeast together with water, not specifying what temperature the water is. I was skeptical since in order for yeast to work, it needs to be "activated" by warm water between 80 to 90 (F). Indeed, I googled other folks who'd tried it, and found that their dough barely rose with cold water unless they were using instant or rapid rise yeast. Since I only had active dry yeast at hand, I decided to use warm water... with great results. This is how I've written it in my recipe instructions, so if you're following my instructions to a tee, it's important to remember that yeast is a living thing — it thrives when the water's not boiling, but just warm enough. A good test is to stick a finger in the water and see if it's a temperature you'd like to take a shower or bath in — if it's too cold or hot for you, it's likely the case for the yeast as well.
- Don't be worried if, while making this, your braid doesn't look like mine in the process pictures. It's really hard to screw this up — the braid bursts open in the baking process, hiding your mistake and making it seem like whatever you did was intentional. You can see from my pictures that my own cuts weren't that clean — there are strands of dough here and there, but it didn't matter in the end. In any case, it'll taste awesome no matter what.