Some people choose to ring in the New Year with fancy diets and exercise plans.  And I respect that.  But I prefer to welcome it in with warm chocolate breakfast pastries. 
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I have to admit, I love a good ole' New Year's Resolution. 
I am one of those people who still truly believes at the start of each year that I will keep the goals I have deemed worthy:  
Master a yoga headstand! 
Finish reading the Bible (and not quit at Numbers)!
Make new friends!
Drink more tea!
Write everyday!
Say yes instead of no!
But know when to say no!
Run!
And before midnight on December 31st each year, I look back and ask myself how I did. Usually - inevitably - I will find that I still have not mastered a yoga headstand, and that I haven't paid the treadmill a visit in a few months.   The book I had planned to finish did not write itself, and saying no is still hard for me. 
But I still love New Year's Resolutions.  You know why?
Hope. 

This year, I still want to do a headstand.  And I haven't quite finished reading through the Bible (although Philippians is pretty darn close)!  The point is not that I didn't reach perfection in 2015.  The point is that there is still hope that my life can be more joyful, more faithful, more loving than it is now. 
My resolution - my hope - for this year is to stop being afraid. There, I said it - I'm a scaredy cat.  Scared of all kinds of things.  People. Airplanes.  Accidents.  Illness. Loneliness.  Fire.  Failing.  Phone calls.  Mornings without coffee.
This year, I have decided I will just stop. I will not let the lie of fear steal my faith that my God is bigger. I will not let fear creep into every part of my life and wreak havoc.  I simply will not be afraid. 
On December 31st, 2016, will I be able to reflect on the year and say, "I nailed this resolution! I wasn't scared once!"? 
No. 
But I still have the hope that I will be better than when I began. 
One good thing about the absence of fear is that it brings the freedom to experiment.  And so, in the spirit of fearlessness, I decided to make my first Babka for breakfast this morning. 
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Babka is a Polish breakfast pastry, and it is pronounced (bahb-kuh).  Yes, I looked that up on Dictionary.com. 
I got the inspiration to try it from Food and Wine Magazine, my newest subscription (thanks, Mom!). 
I saw the picture of it on the cover and immediately began to drool.  Flaky, buttery crust? I thought. Swirls of chocolate? What the heck's not to love?

The time is takes the dough to rise, that's what. 

But, I did not let the fact that it had to rise for the better part of a day and a night phase me. And in it's defense, the babka was sheer and utter bliss, and well worth the wait. Ethan confirmed that it was the best pastry he's ever eaten, and he is a connoisseur when it comes to pastries. It definitely takes some forward thinking, but for a special occasion - like the first bite you get to enjoy in a brand new year - the babka can't be beat. 
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I was concerned that with all of the chocolate in this recipe, the result would be much too sweet.  But not so.  The dark and bittersweet chocolates instead turn this bread into a savory, satisfyingly thick comfort food that begs to be chased by a shot of coffee. 

Much to my surprise, I discovered that the ingredients in Babka are altogether simple: flour, sugar, salt, milk, yeast, eggs, and butter.  Nothing fancy.  Nothing Polish. When mixed together in a stand mixer, they form a sort of dough that I have never seen before.  It is sort of gloopy and very moist, yet not sticky.  It's incredibly easy to knead and mold.  The picture below shows the dough after it has been allowed an hour to rise and then was patted into squares to set overnight.
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When I say "overnight," I mean to say that I waited 8ish hours, then pulled it out the same day.  Patience, perhaps, is another virtue I could work on in the New Year. 

After the dough was prepped in the fridge, it was ready to be filled.  For the filling, I formed my own sort of double-boiler - so as not to burn the chocolate - by bringing a small pot of water to a boil and then placing a large bowl on top of it. Then, I just dumped in the chocolate and butter and stirred it until it was smooth.  
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When's the last time you ate one of these chocolate wafers? When I was a kid, these were my favorite. I lived for these.  I ate supper just so I could have two for dessert. 
These are the best part of the filling.  You crush 'em up and then mix 'em into the chocolate sauce with a little honey to give the innards of the Babka a satisfying crunch. 
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Finally, you spread the chocolate goodness all over the dough and roll each of the squares up tight like jelly rolls. Cut them each in half, coat the tops of one of each halves in chocolate, and twist two halves together to get a Babka ready to rise and bake.
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The breads need to rise for another two hours at room temperature. If you don't want to wait for it to rise in the morning (who has two hours to kill before eating breakfast?) it can refrigerate overnight.  Then, it bakes at 375 degrees F for about 45 minutes.  Meanwhile, you can make the chocolate glaze in the same way you make the filling - in a makeshift double-boiler with plenty of chocolate and butter.
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Cool.
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Slather.
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Stuff your face.
It's a new year.  Take the time it takes to make a really special bread. Eat it joyfully. Sip your coffee slowly.  Cook with love. And live fearlessly.

Love well and eat well,
Deidre
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Dark Chocolate Babka - Adapted from Food and Wine Magazine, January 2016 
Ingredients
Dough
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup milk, warmed
  • 1 packet fast-acting yeast
  • 1 large egg plus 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 stick plus 2 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
Filling
  • 9 oz dark chocolate chips
  • 3 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 6-8 chocolate wafer cookies, finely crushed
  • 3 Tbsp honey
Glaze
  • 12 oz dark chocolate chips
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbsp light corn syrup

  1. To prepare the dough: whisk the flour, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.  In a stand mixer, combine milk and yeast and let stand until fully mixed, about 5 mixed.  Then, add the egg, egg yolk, and dry ingredients and mix with a dough hook at low speed until a sticky dough forms, about 5-7 minutes.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise for 1 hour.  Then, line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and spray the paper with cooking spray.  Pat the dough out into two equal squares.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. 
  2. To make the filling: bring water in a saucepan to a simmer, then place a large bowl on top of it.  Melt chocolate and butter together in the bowl until smooth, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat, then add crushed wafers and honey and mix.  Prepare the dough squares for filling by rolling each of them out into a 16-inch square.  Then, using a spatula, spread chocolate filling evenly on top of the dough squares, reserving 1/2 cup.  Roll each of the squares up tightly like a jelly roll.  Cut each of the logs in half.  On the tops of one of each of the halves, spread the remaining filling.  Then, twist together the two halves to form a spiral log.  Set the loaves into 9X4 inch bread pans that have been sprayed with baking spray and are lined with parchment paper.  Make sure to leave some paper hanging off the edges for easy transfer of the loaves later.  Cover the loaves with a tea towel and allow to rise for about 2 hours.
  3. To cook and glaze: Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Bake the loaves until they have puffed up and are brown on top, about 45 minutes.  Allow loaves to cool a little bit before transferring them, using the parchment paper, to cooling racks. Meanwhile, make the glaze.  In the saucepan with the bowl set on top of it, bring water to a simmer.  Place the chocolate and butter in the bowl and stir constantly until smooth.  Remove from heat and stir in the corn syrup. Slather the glazes on top of the babkas and allow them to set for about 30 minutes before eating. 
 


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