dulcey yogurt pretzels

April 26, 2018

Portland, OR, USA

Happy National Pretzel Day!

I wish I could tell you guys that I was savvy enough to plan this recipe to coincide with that made up holiday, but the truth is, I just wanted an easy and tasty recipe for the week. Between my travels in Istanbul and Cappadocia, work-related trips in Los Angeles, and a wedding in San Francisco, I’ve been away from the kitchen for about three weeks now.

Three weeks doesn’t sound like a whole lot, but in Book Time, that puts me A LOT behind. It’s taken an average of a week to finalize a single recipe for my book (not including photos, which I’m even more behind on, but that’s another story). According to all my blog friends who are all already authors, that’s wayyyy too slow – most of them were busting out 5 recipes per week, if not 5 recipes per day! At first, I figured that that production rate was a bit of unfair to follow; baking recipes take much longer to perfect than savory ones, after all. But now I’m definitely feeling the crunch and wish I had heeded my all my friends’ advice sooner rather than later (though there's definitely no way I can complete 5 recipes per day).

Which leads me back to this post. Because I’ve upped my production rate for the book to 3 recipes per week (and I really don't think it's possible for me to do any faster than that without slacking on the quality of the recipes), I've been gravitating towards easier recipes to blog about, like a dump-it chocolate cake with box mix brownie in the middle and, of course, these yogurt pretzels!

This is a recipe from my dear friend Molly and her new Short Stack cookbook, Yogurt, which is a baby cookbook full of recipes that feature yogurt (duh) as the main ingredient. Although the recipe is a mix of savory and sweet dishes, I of course found myself gravitating towards these yogurt pretzels, which were one of my favorite childhood snax growing up. My twist, however, drenches the pretzels in Valrhona's Dulcey caramelized white chocolate. It's one of my favorite ingredients to play with since it tastes a lot like dulce de leche, but with the texture and consistency of regular chocolate. Although this recipe is fairly straightforward, it does use a handful of odd ingredients (mostly, Dulcey chocolate and yogurt powder) that you'll likely need to source online or at a specialty store — be sure to check out the baker's notes for sources!


Some baker's notes:

istanbul and cappadocia travel guide

April 22, 2018

Istanbul, Turkey
above: view of istanbul from mikla

If you follow me on Instagram, you'll know that I just got back from a trip to Turkey with my mom (we were Girls' Trippin')! We spent 9 days in the country, splitting our time between Istanbul (the largest city in the country) and the Cappadocia region (known for its natural wonders like rock formations and gorges).

Because this was 100% vacation (I did literally zero work for my cookbook and this blog, unless you count some half-hearted, distracted photo editing on the flight over while I horror-watched Mother! with Jennifer Lawrence — has anybody seen it? Like, wtf, right?!), I wasn't initially going to do a recap of the trip at all. But prior to the trip, I was pretty frustrated by the lack of blogger guides to Istanbul. There was plenty of information available on what to do and see by way of guide books, but I tend to get food-related information (ehem, by that I really mean: WHERE SHOULD I EAT?!) from blogs since they tend to be more up-to-date and less touristy than what's recommended in a guide book. Luckily, I put out some feelers on my Instagram and you kind folks delivered! A big shout-out to Merve for some baller recommendations, as well as all the wonderful Turkish followers who helped me identify the kurabiye cookies I was devouring without abandon.

above: view of istanbul's skyline from the bosphorus tour dock



What to Expect
Real Talk — I was the worst and did zero research before landing in Istanbul (aside from putting out feelers for food places). I literally knew nothing about it. So I had no idea that it was HUGE. It reminded me a lot of the busy, chaotic cities that I've lived in before (Manila, London, New York City). Its sheer size, population, and traffic can be incredibly overwhelming.

That being said, once we got our bearings, it was pretty easy to get where we wanted to go. Although we mostly walked everywhere, the taxi and ferry system is plenty reliable. We didn't ride a whole lot of public transport, but it seems cheap and accessible.

My advice is to pick out the activities and sites you want to do and see beforehand, and to pick a hotel or Airbnb within walking distance. Walking is the best way to see a city anyway, and we felt plenty safe while doing so. The city is plenty bustling at all hours and you'll be walking among many locals and tourists if you're planning on seeing the major sites. In the more touristy areas, we did got accosted by restaurant and store owners trying to get you into their shop, but that happens in most touristy areas of Europe.

Another thing to note: because Istanbul is a little bit off the beaten path in the US (seriously, Americans mostly holiday in London and Paris when in Europe and literally nowhere else), I wasn't expecting all the sites to be so crowded. L.O.L. The line to get into most of the sites rivaled that of the Louvre in Paris, with the crowds of Times Square in New York City. It's a very international city, attracting visitors from the rest of Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Prepare for crowds. Lots and lots of them. And traffic.

Where We Stayed
We stayed in two neighborhoods: Sultanahmet and Karaköy, both on the European side (more on that later). Sultanahmet is incredibly touristy due to its proximity to the Hagia Sofia museum, the Blue Mosque, Basilica CisternTopkapı Palace, and more. We were able to walk to all those sites from our hotel within 10 to 15 minutes. If you are NOT interested in seeing those sites, I recommend finding another neighborhood that's less touristy and will give you more of a local flavor. Like Karaköy! When we got back from Cappadocia, we spent a night in Karaköy, which is across a bridge from Sultanahmet. According to Merve, it's one of the hipster districts of the city. Although it was slightly further way from the sites, it was still plenty walkable but also filled with much cuter restaurants and shops.

And if we'd had more time, I would have loved to check out Kadıköy, which is all the way over on the Asian side of Istanbul. Istanbul sits in the middle of the continental divide between Europe and Asia, as divided by the Bosphorus strait. While most of the sites are on the European side, it seems that the Asian side has gotten hipper and more exciting. I got several recommendations for places to eat in Kadıköy that sounded really good and promising. That being said, I do think it's still worth staying on the European side if you're only in Istanbul for a limited amount of time because it is a bit of schlep to the Asian side (and traffic really is pretty bad).

above: cağ kebap from sehzade cağ kebap;
below: gömlek sarma from mükellef

What to Eat
This is what you came for, right! First, a quick primer on Turkish cuisine. Think: lots of lamb, beef, rice, and bulgur. Vegetables were mostly tomatoes, green peppers, cucumber, and eggplants. Yogurt, with a generous sprinkling of sumac, was served with almost every meat dish. Fish was available, but not as ubiquitous and good quality as you would get in a seaside and more ocean-centric city. And of course, no pork was available due to Turkey being predominantly Muslim.

We ate wonderfully in Istanbul, frequenting establishments that ranged from considered "street food" to that of "fine dining". You can eat really well there for super cheap; even at the "fine dining" restaurants, we paid less than $100 per head (including two glasses of wine each!). A lot of the restaurants we visited were at the top floor of a hotel, offering us beautiful 360-degree views of the city. I had some of the best lamb of my life in our few days at Istanbul: first, a cağ kebabı a lamb skewer similar to doner kebab, but made from meat that is roasted horizontally instead of vertically) from the street food vendor Şehzade Cağ Kebap; next, from the more upscale Mürver, a lamb shoulder that was roasted slowly over a fire for several hours complete with a crispy, crackling skin.

Below are the restaurants we frequented and had delicious meals at, most of which were recommended by my lovely readers. I also included a handful that I was really interested in but unfortunately missed because we didn't have enough time:

Matbah Ottoman Palace Cuisine (Sultanahmet neighborhood)
Okay, we didn't actually make it to this restaurant, but I'm so intrigued by it anyway that I want you to go and report back to me. This is a restaurant that specializes in ancient Ottoman cuisine, using recipes found in Ottoman palace libraries and kitchens! Their menu even includes the approximate date of origin of each dish. Very cool. It's near all the major historical sites too, so it's easy to pop in for lunch in between tours of Sultanahmet square.

Mikla (Beyoğlu neighborhood)
Mikla is a member of the esteemed World's 50 Best Restaurants list (fun fact: I visited the #1 ranked restaurant, Eleven Madison Park, when I lived in New York) and has a fun, modern menu of Turkish classics made with Scandinavian and fine-dining twists. My dishes — the balık ekmek (a sardine sandwich) and manti (Turkish dumplings) — were traditionally street food items, but classed up by Mikla's chef (the balık ekmek was more like crostini, and the manti used ingredients like smoked buffalo yogurt). You can either opt for the tasting menu or go for an a la carte menu which allows you to pick three dishes (an appetizer, entree, and dessert); both options are priced relatively cheaply when compared with what it would be priced in the US and western Europe.

Mükellef Karaköy (Karaköy neighborhood)
A pretty, airy restaurant on top of a hotel in the hip Karaköy neighborhood specializing in meze. We shared several small plates here, all of which were delicious. The standouts, however, were definitely the meze plates. Ordering was a little hard to navigate; the meze selection changes every day, and since they aren't listed on the menu, you have to go to the deli section up front to see what's available. We randomly selected two, and both were delicious and made with smoky, flavorful vegetables. This restaurant only seats you if you have reservations, so be sure to make some before you go (although it didn't seem that popular when we went — there were several empty tables).

above: a cocktail at mürver;
below: baklava at karaköy güllüoğlu

Mürver (Karaköy neighborhood)
Located on a rooftop of Sofitel, this restaurant is famous for their wood-fired dishes (they have a beautiful, blue-tiled wood-fired oven in the middle of the restaurant) and scenic views of the city. Be sure to order the lamb shank for two, which they slow-roast in the oven for several hours until the fat renders into a separate layer with a crispy skin on top. This was one of the higher-end restaurants that we visited; be sure to make a reservation beforehand as it's fairly popular!

Karaköy Güllüoğlu (Karaköy neighborhood)
This bakery specializes in baklava and is owned by a family who has been making the pastries since 1820. The inside is a little bit confusing, and not the most tourist friendly (the set-up is weird: you pay for your pastries first, and then hand a ticket to somebody behind the counter who gives you your pastry). But their baklava is apparently one of the best in the city and it is very, very good — be sure to try both the walnut and pistachio varieties for a fun taste test! Also, despite being made with the same ingredients, the baklava comes in different shapes; each will yield different crunch and texture. The bakery also has other classic Turkish sweets like tulumba, bülbülyuvası, and more.

Şehzade Cağ Kebap (Sultanahmet neighborhood)
This restaurant had the cağ kebap I described up top. The meat is shaved so thin, yet still so juicy and succulent. One dish is two skewers with two servings of lavash and sumac covered onions, but be sure to get the full works (yogurt, tomato salad, and spicy tomato salsa) to accompany it. With all the accompaniments, you're probably looking at $10 per head. No reservations are taken, and there will likely be a line full of locals if you decide to visit. Don't be intimidated! Turnover of tables is fairly fast (my mom and I were the only table of tourists amongst many locals; locals appeared to be pressured to eat quickly, whereas we were mostly left alone).

above: stalls at the spice bazaar

Don't Miss
My favorite things to do in Istanbul were probably visiting the Spice Bazaar and taking a ride on the Bosphorus River Tour. The Spice Bazaar is a MUST for anybody interested in food and cooking; inside a beautiful building are several stalls selling literal heaps of spices, tea, and Turkish delights. Because each stall sells similar products, the store owners can be a little aggressive about getting you inside their stall to shop. But it's worth the hassling to source exotic and expensive spices like saffron, black rose tea, and dried limes for cheap. I also really enjoyed the Bosphorus River Tour that we took — it was a great way to see the city without having to deal with any of its crowds or traffic. We did the longer tour, and our boat dropped us off at a small, sleepy fishing town where we had a simple meal of locally caught fish and had views of the Black Sea.

above: scenes from the bosphorus river tour



What to Expect
Again, I was walking into Cappadocia completely blind and ignorant. I had assumed that it was going to be a teeny, tiny part of Turkey and would be incredibly remote, in the way that some national parks in the US are. I was wrong on both fronts: Cappadocia is HUGE, and made up of several bustling towns and even small cities nestled and scattered among its craggy, mountainous terrain. During our time there, there was a lot of driving between its main sites (at least 40 minutes to an hour between some of the major ones). And because there is so much to do, a lot of the tours take all day. Similar to Istanbul, the area receives a lot of international visitors and tourists; so much so that some of the towns even have Chinese and Korean restaurants, with many shops with signs in Chinese catering to the large tourist population.

Cappadocia is also at high-altitude and is a dry, dusty environment. Be sure to drink plenty of water, and don't be surprised to find yourself out of breath at some of the steeper hikes. That's the altitude for 'ya!

above: cappadocia's signature "fairy chimney" rock formations;
below: rock houses built into the cappadocia landscape

Where We Stayed
As I mentioned before, Cappadocia is comprised of many cities and towns (Turkey Travel Planner has a great index with brief descriptions of each one). But as far as I can tell, most tourists usually fly into Kayseri and stay in either Göreme, Ürgüp, or Uçhisar. We decided to stay in Göreme because it seemed like it had the most options in terms of dining and activities, and indeed, the town was far more developed than I thought it would be, complete with a bustling boulevard of shops and restaurants (it actually reminded me a lot of Colorado skiing towns like Breckenridge and Vail).

above: sunset over the various cave hotels in göreme;
below: our cave hotel at artemis cave suites

Regardless of which town you decide to stay in, you MUST stay in a cave hotel. Historically, people who settled in the area created cave homes and entire cities for themselves in the landscape's various rock formation. Some of these caves were converted into luxury hotels, whereas others were built and modeled after them to provide a haven from Cappadocia's extreme environment (think: high-desert weather, so super hot in the summer and freezing-balls in the winter). A lot of the cave hotels have massive rooms, and amenities like private terraces, epic bathtubs, and more.

above: pottery kebab!

What to Eat
You don't really come to Cappadocia for the food, but it's worth calling out the region's specialty dish: pottery kebab (testi kebap in Turkish). Pottery kebab usually comprises of a meat and vegetable stew slow cooked in a sealed clay pot over a fire. To serve, a waiter will bring the incredibly hot pot over your table and crack it open with either a small hammer or machete. We had a great version of a lamb pottery kebab at Organic Cave Kitchen in Göreme; if you opt for the full meal, you'll also get a tahini and tomato soup and a delicious rice pudding.

above: scenes from our hot air balloon ride

Don't Miss
Riding a hot air balloon in Cappadocia was definitely the highlight of our entire Turkey trip. Cappadocia has ideal conditions for doing so; every morning, 100 balloons float up to the sky, dotting the landscape with bright splashes of color. From the basket, you can see the region's rocky, craggy terrain and watch the sun rise.

That being said, hot air ballooning is a very popular activity here and perhaps even the main reason why people travel to Cappadocia. Book a spot in a balloon way in advance, and make sure that you book it with a reputable company (according the guidebooks, the three most reputable are Butterfly Balloons, Voyager Balloons, and Kapadokya Balloons). You'll likely pay a premium to book a spot with one of those companies, but after looking up articles about hot air balloon accidents in Cappadocia, I can absolutely say that your safety is worth every penny you pay. After being waitlisted for a spot on Butterfly Balloons, my mom and I managed to secure a reservation with Voyager. Voyager has different pricing tiers, with pricing going up as the number of people in your basket decreases. We opted for a balloon that held 10 people maximum, and again, it was worth every penny after seeing how crowded the other baskets were.

If you find that hot air ballooning is beyond your price range, no worries! You can still participate in the magic by getting up early to see the balloons rise (hot air balloons only fly in the mornings, when the wind is more stable and predictable). Sunset Point at the top of Göreme is perfect for doing so, especially since a lot of balloons fly fairly close to the ground near that point and you will find yourself literally level with a lot of them. Another popular spot to watch is the balcony at Sultan Cave Suites, which I actively avoided because of its Instagram fame (and watching the behind-the-scenes of influencers trying to capture the perfect 'gram simultaneously stresses me out and depresses me). On that hypocritical note, be sure to check out my Instagram account to see more photos from my hot air balloon ride!


Learn More:
  • To see more of my travel guides, be sure to check out the Travel section in my index and to follow the hashtag #humhitravelsoften on Instagram!

  • A lot of folks DM'ed and emailed me, asking what camera I was using to take my Instagram photos. Bahahahah! Want to know a secret? I just used my iPhone 8+ camera (which is obvious in this blog post, but not so much on Instagram). But after lugging around my heavy Canon 5D Mark IV in Portugal and spending most of my time panicking that it was going to break or get stolen, I vowed never to travel with it again. It's working out great.

chocolate brownie cake

April 18, 2018

Portland, OR, USA

I haven't seen a whole lot of bloggers talk about this, but there are days in which I wonder why I keep doing all this at all. Although I still enjoy baking (and occasionally, the photography, but admittedly less so these days on account of my cookbook — but more on that in another post, I guess), my numbers are stagnant. My monthly traffic reports and social media numbers basically stay the same month over month. I appreciate the core group of audience that I have, but frankly, stagnant numbers don't look great from a brand/sponsorship perspective. Numbers are unfortunately something I have to keep growing, given that this is where the majority of my income now comes from. But with so many more bloggers and Instagrammers joining the game, it's harder and harder to get and stay noticed. There's a lot of *content* out there, everywhere, all the time.

And with the Instagram algorithm being what it is, people are more discerning about which accounts they follow and unfollow. As somebody who uses Instagram primarily for business purposes (to keep up with my peers, to find inspiration for my own work), I 100% get it — it can be frustrating when the algorithm serves you the content that they think you want to see, but ends up being completely off the mark most of the time. And for some reason, it's usually the same few accounts they keep serving up. Thus, the unfollowing.

I always thought that the following and unfollowing was something that was just part of the game, but it seems that everybody takes it personally (even just a little bit). Because it happens to me on such a mass scale (Seriously — for every few followers I gain, I lose twice as much. I 100% don't know why, and have given up on trying to figure it out), I've become somewhat desensitized to it. I just figure it's a combination of everybody being frustrated with the algorithm and being flooded with all sorts of content all the time. It's annoying from a business perspective, sure, but unless it's a good friend of mine, I won't lose any sleep over it. But I have friends (bloggers and non-blogger alike) who really, truly agonize over their unfollows, even going so far as to download apps that track such activity or check SocialBlade everyday. It scares me to see how much they take it personally — smart, rational people whose self-esteem has been crushed by a social media app. But I'm not here to judge, because I actually get it. It stings to have folks unfollow you.

I don't know what the solution to any of this is, except maybe to just keep my head down and focus on my baking. But I'm not going to lie — there are some days when that's a drag too. Developing recipes for a cookbook is a beast, and I spend most of my days making the same recipe eight or so times to really, truly hone it to perfection. After days (and weeks) like that, the last thing I want to do is do the same but for my blog instead. So I'm trying to give myself a little bit more breathing room, and pick recipes that are more low-key and fun for Hummingbird High.

Like this cake! This is the Happy Wife, Happy Life dump-it chocolate cake adapted from Small Victories. It's a one bowl recipe where there's no need to cream the butter, sugar, and eggs — hence the name "dump-it", I guess, because you literally just dump all the ingredients into a bowl and mix. As a result, it's a bit denser and flatter than most chocolate cakes, but plenty tasty still (it actually reminded me of a Little Debbie Cosmic Brownie, if that's your jam). I also had a bunch of Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Brownie box mixes left over from when I was reverse-engineering a box mix brownie recipe for Weeknight Baking, so I decided to bake a mix in a cake pan to use as the middle layer for this cake. The brownie layer added extra height and decadence, and worked really well with the lighter-yet-still-dense chocolate cake layers. I foisted this cake off to my friends Kyle, Jenny, and Pech, all of whom came back with rave reviews (well, except for Kyle, said that my frosting job looked like something a kid would make but then ate the majority of the cake so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯).


Some baker's notes:
  • Because there are a lot of components to this cake, the best way to make it is to break the work up over a few days. First, make the box mix brownie layer on Day 1. I used a Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Brownie box mix, which makes an 8 x 8-inch brownie. I baked it in an 8-inch round cake pan, upping the baking time for about 5 to 10 minutes than what's suggested for an 8 x 8-inch brownie. You can totally make this with another brownie mix brand, but watch out for its yield — most box mixes make 9 x 13-inch brownies. If you go this route, you'll need to bake the mix in two 8-inch pans instead (and end up with a quadruple layer cake). Allow the brownie to cool to room temperature completely before turning out of the pan and wrapping fully in plastic wrap. Well wrapped, the brownie layer will keep at room temperature for a few days — you can make the chocolate cake and frosting then!

  • This is one of those rare recipes on my blog where it's incredibly important that all the ingredients are at room temperature. Because you won't be using a mixer for the chocolate cake, it can be hard for the ingredients to incorporate together when mixing by hand. If some of the ingredients are cooler than others, there's a possibility that they'll separate during the baking process and you'll end up with a weirdly textured cake. Bring all your ingredients to room temperature first! 

raspberry lemon snickerdoodles

April 10, 2018

Los Angeles, CA, USA

Greetings from sunny, sunny Los Angeles! I know, I know, I literally just got back from Turkey a few days ago and here I am on the road again. I'm here for a work trip, but there's fun involved too: I'm staying in the heart of Hollywood and am going to have dinner with some of my favorite Angeleno blogger babes. Then Alana and I are going to Harry Potter Land (okay, I think it's technically called The Wizarding World of Harry Potter but that's too much of a mouthful so Harry Potter Land it is)!!! I'm SO excited. If you follow me on Twitter, you'll know that I'm sort of a closet Harry Potter nerd and spend a lot of time spamming my friends with Harry Potter memes. But more on that later — because we're going soon, so be sure to follow along on Instagram Stories!

Also, even though I'll only be here until Friday, send me all your best recs. Where do I eat? What do I do? Let me know!

Now let's move on to these cookies. While fighting jet lag, I found myself flipping through my camera at 4AM and realized I'd shot these cookies a few weeks ago but never blogged about them. One of the unexpected side effects of writing a cookbook is that I stumbled upon some really cool recipes when researching and developing my own version. This is one of them — this is a snickerdoodle recipe is from Cookie Love, and creates the most buttery and chewy cookie there is. I don't know what it is, but I suspect that it's because the pastry chef substitutes a teeny tiny amount of the granulated sugar in the recipe with brown sugar, adding extra moistness and caramelization.

While I was up to my elbows in snickerdoodle recipes, however, I discovered something a little disconcerting: I am maybe not the biggest fan of cinnamon? Although I loved the sugar cookie base, I much preferred the cookies without any coating at all. I am just not a cinnamon girl, I guess, which is weird because I love Cinnamon Toast Crunch. But my solution was to substitute the cinnamon with other spices and flavors like freeze-dried fruit. So consider this a sneak preview of snickerdoodle magic from Weeknight Baking Book: spiked with fresh lemon zest and rolled in freeze-dried raspberries, this is a Modern Snickerdoodle for the Millennial. Enjoy!


Some baker's notes:
  • Freeze-dried raspberries are basically raspberries that have been dehydrated; they retain all of the flavor and color of the fruit, but none of the moisture. I like to think of them as "fruit MSG" for bakes. You can buy bags online, Whole Foods, or at Trader Joe's (which also sells freeze-dried blueberries and strawberries). 

  • You'll notice that this recipe uses cream of tartar — when researching snickerdoodles, I learned that cream of tartar is the ingredient that actually distinguishes snickerdoodles from traditional sugar cookies. Cream of tartar is slightly more acidic than traditional leaveners, giving snickerdoodles a mild tang, and also prevents the sugar from crystalizing fully, giving the cookies their tender chew. 

ube babka

April 4, 2018

Istanbul, Turkey

Hi friends! I'm currently in Turkey on vacation with my mom, but had this post lined up for you folks to read while I was gone because The Content Machine is scary and powerful but also because I was really excited about sharing this ube babka with y'all. Be sure to follow along on Instagram for my Turkey-related stories and photos; we're currently in Cappadocia for some hiking and hot air balloon riding, and I am beyond stoked! 

I made my first babka almost four years ago in 2014, before it really "became a thing"; after seeing Deb's version, I was inspired to give it a shot. My first babka, which is still alive on vintage Hummingbird High, interwove chocolate and pumpkin together in celebration of autumn and cookbooks (lol). Although I was very proud of it at the time, in retrospect, the loaf looks small and underproofed in the photos. I had no idea though – I just thought that maybe babka wasn't really my thing and that other desserts were more my jam. This was confirmed when, a year later, I moved to San Francisco and had the driest and blandest babka slice from Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen.

It was only recently, after moving to New York, that I realized the full potential of the babka. Molly tipped me off to Breads Bakery, maker of New York City's best babka and the bakery often credited with bringing the babka as we know it today to the mainstream. Then there was the babka french toast at Russ & Daughters and the chocolate glazed babka at Sadelle's. Heck, even the pre-wrapped and shelf-stable packages from Green's Babka blew anything I'd previously made or had out of the water. It was babka like I'd never had it before: sky high in height with picturesque swirls weaving throughout the bread... and the crumb — oh, the crumb! Light, buttery, and fluffy, but made fudgy and dense from chocolate and simple syrup.

Living in New York, there was never a reason to make babka at home. My office was a stone's throw away from Breads, and I could easily go to any of the places I mentioned above to pick up a loaf. But Portland is a different story. As far as I know, there is only one place in the city that makes it, and I am suspicious of it because their bagels are very much lacking. Portland does a lot of food things well, but bombs others completely: bagels, in particular, are a nut that Portlanders have yet to crack.

So, I decided to roll up my sleeves and try it again at home. I used the same base recipe as I did when I first attempted homemade babka in 2014: Yotam Ottolenghi's chocolate krantz cake recipe in Jerusalem.

This time around, the babka was magical. You can see from the photos yourself — there's no sad and dense flatness here. The loaf was almost bursting out of the pan! And the swirls, those swirls. They're purple! Inspired by the success of my ube cinnamon rolls, I decided to make this babka with ube filling as opposed to the traditional chocolate or cinnamon fillings of babka. Ube, you may recall, is a purple yam akin to a sweet potato in flavor (but milder and more rooty, if that's a real world) and is frequently used in Filipino and other South East Asian desserts. It was delicious.

I'm not going to lie — babka is a time-consuming venture, and is tricky for novice bakers to nail (I mean, you saw my sad, flat loaf from a few years ago). So be sure to read the Baker's Notes below beforehand to learn where I *think* I went wrong the first time around. It's also worth investing in a copy of Jerusalem to see step-by-step photos of how to actually braid the babka; you can also check out my babka post from 2014, as well as my Instagram profile on your phone under the Instagram Story "Ube Babka" — both will have some photos on how to slice, roll, and braid the dough appropriately. God speed, and enjoy!


Some baker's notes:
  • I made a major couple of changes to Yotam Ottolenghi's original recipe. First, his recipe  instructs you to divide the dough to make two 9 x 5-inch loaves. But dividing the dough means having to fuss and mess with two loaves as opposed to one, and I am wayyyy too lazy for that. So instead, I baked the loaf into a large 13 x 4-inch pullman loaf pan — the pretty kind I used is no longer available, but you can easily find more utilitarian ones online (this one or this one looks like it'll do the trick). The second major change I made was to add an egg yolk to the recipe. Yotam's original recipe instructs you to use extra-large eggs, which I never have on hand because literally 90% of all recipes instruct you to use large ones instead. Since I didn't want to go out and buy extra-large eggs, I just used regular large eggs and added an egg yolk to account for any lost moisture and protein. It worked! The extra egg yolk also gave the crumb a subtle pale yellow color that complimented the purple of the ube wonderfully. 

  • Speaking of ube, you'll need two sources of ube for this recipe: ube halaya jam and ube extract. Ube halaya jam is available online, and can usually be found in the Filipino/Hawaiian aisles of an Asian supermarket (Portlanders — I bought the Monika brand at Fubonn, which is also available at Uwajimaya). Ube extract is tricker to source in real life, but can easily be purchased online (I used the McCormick brand). Use any leftovers to go on an ube baked goods bender and make these ube cinnamon rolls and ube crinkle cookies

  • Alright, let's talk science for a hot second. One of the reasons why I think my first babka didn't rise all that well is because I used active dry yeast as opposed to instant yeast. If you're an intermediate/advanced baker, you'll probably know what I'm about to tell you, so you can skip this part. But beginners, listen up: it's important that you follow the recipe and use the exact type of yeast that it's called for. Different kinds of yeast are activated in different ways and at different temperatures. You can't substitute in one for another without changing the way you work with the yeast too. Active dry yeast is usually activated by soaking it in some warm water, whereas instant yeast can be mixed in with ingredients directly. Check out this article from The Kitchn for a quick primer on the differences between the two. Be sure to use instant yeast for this recipe. Similarly, it's important to learn how to read the dough — the times for proofing in the recipe are estimates and assume that you're working in a room that's between 70 to 75 (F) degrees warm. If your kitchen is colder than that, like mine frequently is, your bread will rise more slowly and will need to proof for longer than what is stated in the recipe. Baking underproof loaves will lead to squat, dense ones like my sad babka from 2014, so go with visual cues as opposed to recipe times. The first proofing will have the dough double by half, the second proofing will have the dough double by 10 to 20%. I know that it can be time consuming to let breads proof, so there are some tricks to get around this — I always mix my dough in the evenings and stick it in the fridge to proof slowly overnight so that it's ready to go first thing the next morning. If you do this for this babka, you'll still need to wait for the babka to rise after braiding again, but it definitely cuts down your waiting time from potentially four hours to just two max. 

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