I rarely exclaim during baking. When I do, it's usually a bad thing. (i.e., "My oven mitt is on fire!" or "Don't sit on that cream pie!")
But tonight, I opened my oven, and involuntarily cried, "Oh my god!" Never have I seen a bread puff so very much. From a regular-sized lump of dough, it had puffed straight up the sides of my 10-cup Bundt pan, out the top, and was reaching up to the top burner, crisping the top of its crown, on the verge of burning. I whipped it out of there and plopped it on my stovetop.
Just in time, too – it was just right. The insides are puffy, light, and deliciously soft; the crust gentle but firm. It tastes that way a good night sleep should, after a long and productive day.
Babka is traditionally served on Easter Sunday, but I baked it on a Monday in mid-June, and it worked just fine. A versatile bread. Splendid.
Makes 1 enormous loaf
2/3 cup warm milk
3 1/2 – 4 1/2 cup flour
1 Tbsp yeast
1/4 cup warm water
7 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp almond extract
4 Tbsp butter, melted
1/2 cup chopped candied orange peel
1/2 cup almonds, chopped
Mix the warm milk and 1/2 cup flour. Dissolve the yeast in the warm water and set aside for 10 minutes to proof, then mix with the warm milk mixture, cover, and let rise for about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, beat the egg yolks and sugar for about 5 minutes, then add the salt, vanilla extract, almond extract, and butter. Add the yeast mixture and enough of the flour to make a soft dough. Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth. Let rise, covered, in a greased bowl for about 1 hour, or until doubled.
Knead in the orange peel and the almonds, about 10 minutes. Cover again and let rise for another 20 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Punch down the dough and scoop into a greased Bundt pan (a big one). Let it rise, covered, for another hour, then bake for an hour or so.