Chocolate Babka

One of our sisters has a special interest in cooking the foods of other countries. Over time she has heard me repeat many stories of my Ukrainian mother’s experiences with food and what I learned about it through her.

Perhaps my favorite memory is that of packing our picnic boxes for our all-day blueberry picking excursions. These always contained fresh baked babka, lots of butter some fresh boiled eggs from our chickens and a little horseradish root from our garden. Today’s blog features a glorified babka bread filled with chocolate…enjoy!

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Chocolate Babka
SERVINGS
2loaves
CHANGE SERVING SIZE
loaves
COOK TIME
30mins
PREP TIME
20mins
READY IN
5 1/2hrs (3 hrs rising, 2 1/2 chilling)

Ingredients

Instructions

Babka Dough
  1. Combine yeast with warm water and let stand until it begins to bubble, about 5-8 minutes.
  2. Mix flour, sugar, yeast, and lemon zest in a mixer on a low speed until combined.
  3. Add eggs and water, and mix on medium speed until dough comes together, 2-3 minutes. Add salt, then butter, adding a few cubes at a time, mixing until thoroughly combined. Continue mixing for about 10 minutes on medium speed, until dough is completely smooth,and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Be sure to scrape the sides of the bowl during this step!
  4. Place dough in a large greased bowl cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size.
  5. Grease two 9x4 inch loaf pans with oil and line the bottom of each pan with waxed paper. Divide dough in half and keep one half covered in the fridge.
Filling and Baking
  1. Whisk together powdered sugar, cocoa powder, chocolate, and butter until you have a spreadable paste.
  2. Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface and shape into a rectangle as wide as the pans are long.
  3. Position dough so that a long side is closest to you and spread half of the chocolate mixture over the rectangle, leaving a ¾ inch/2 cm border all around.
  4. Roll up the rectangle like a jellyroll, starting from the long side closest to you and ending at the other long end. Press to seal the dampened end, then use both hands to even out the roll into a uniform roll and place it on your surface seam side down.
  5. Trim about ¾ inch/2 cm off both ends, and slice the loaf into even 1-inch segments. Cover the pan loosely with plastic wrap and leave to rise in a warm place for 1½ hours.
  6. Preheat oven to 375°F. Remove plastic wrap and place loaves on middle rack of oven, and bake for about 25-30 minutes.
  7. Remove from oven when done and let cool. Babka will stay fresh for 24 hours in an airtight container at room temperature or tightly wrapped--don’t place in the fridge.
  8. Babka freezes well for up to 2 months. To thaw, leave on counter or overnight in the fridge, and leftovers make excellent bread pudding or fabulous French Toast!

Apricot Butter Cookies

Tonight, our Convent was humming with Christmas cheer as we readied our home for Christmas. Some wrapped presents to send to families, other Sisters spent time catching up with old friends as they penned their lovely cards. In the kitchen, we turned on Bing Crosby and poured over old fashioned family recipes as we pondered which cookies we would make this year. The royal icing was prepared and crispy butter cookies were being decorated with sprinkles covering every surface. I remembered a cookie that I hadn’t baked in years and a favorite to be sure. In fact, you won’t find this anywhere else on the internet, at least I couldn’t. Cut from an old magazine, pressed onto an index card and covered in plastic, this shows how treasured this recipe is. Sometimes baking can restore wonderful memories of times past and other times it just puts a smile on your face, honey in your belly and much joy for the adventures ahead. I love Christmas. The beauty, the magic and most of all the precious gift that is awaiting us in the form of a little baby on Christmas morning.

May the season of light be yours this year. Blessed Christmas!

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Apricot Butter Cookies
SERVINGS
32cookies
CHANGE SERVING SIZE
cookies
COOK TIME
30mins
PREP TIME
10mins
READY IN
1 1/2hr

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. To make the filling: In a small saucepan, combine the apricots, sugar and water and simmer for 15-18 min. or until the liquid is reduced by half and add the rum or brandy. Let the mixture cool slightly and in a food processor or blender, puree it.
  2. Make the shortbread cookie dough. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. In a separate standing mixer, beat together the butter, sugar, and brown sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla and the egg, beating the mixture until it is well combined. Slowly, add the flour mixture in stages and mix until just combined, but don't over mix or your shortbread will be tough.
  3. Form the dough into a log, wrap well in plastic wrap and chill for 1 hr. Divide the log into 4 pieces.
  4. Working with one piece of dough at a time, place the dough in plastic wrap and roll into an 8 inch long rope - place on a parchment covered sheet pan and make a canal down the center with your finger so the log becomes a 8 x 2" rectangle with a channel in the middle.
  5. Spread the apricot puree in the canals.
  6. Bake the cookie sticks in a 350 degree oven for 18-20 min. until the edges are slightly golden.
  7. Transfer to a rack and let them cool.
  8. In a small bowl, whisk together the glaze ingredients and add just enough water to make a thick but pour-able icing - you want it to be on the thick side.
  9. If desired, transfer the glaze to a squeeze bottle or piping bag and drizzle the icing over the cookies.
  10. Cut the rectangles diagonally into 1" strips.
  11. The cookies will keep in the freezer or in an airtight container for 1 week.

Merry Christmas from our home to yours!

Cheese Danish Braid

At our Thanksgiving feast we enjoyed celebrating God’s blessings. One of them, the best in my opinion, is of course, lovely breakfast treats. In specific, a golden cream cheese danish with a hint of almond…can you see where were going with this?

Danishes can be a little tricky – below is simple version of the recipe. If you’d like a flakier danish, I suggest doing the square of butter version (see notes at end of recipe).
But either way, with a straight-forward approach and a little bit of time, you can enjoy the sweet, flaky treat for a Sunday brunch or with your mid-morning coffee. We are so grateful to God’s many blessings and pray that you also were able to appreciate God’s goodness this year. Happy belated Thanksgiving!

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Cheese Danish Braid
SERVINGS
12servings
CHANGE SERVING SIZE
servings
COOK TIME
15-20mins
PREP TIME
20mins
READY IN
30mins (plus overnight for resting dough)

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. In a medium bowl, add the yeast, 1 teaspoon sugar, and warm water. Let the yeast rest until it proofs (5 minutes). Once the yeast has proofed, add the egg, milk, sugar, and salt. Stir with a whisk, and set to the side.
  2. Place the flour and 1/2 cup cubed butter into a large bowl. With a pastry blender, combine until the butter is in tiny pieces. (You can also use the food processor for this step.) **NOTE** If you'd like a flakier Danish, set aside 1/2 cup of butter and make into a butter square.
  3. Add the wet ingredients to the flour and combine until the dough comes together. Place the dough onto a floured work surface and shape into a square. Roll the dough into a rectangle 9 x 13-inches. If you'd like a flakier crust, place the butter square (see #8) in the middle and fold the dough lengthwise into thirds (similar to folding a letter to fit into an envelope). Roll the dough into a rectangle again, and then again fold into thirds. Repeat this process twice more, until you've done it a total of 3 times. Cut the dough in half, wrap each piece in plastic wrap, and place in the fridge overnight. The dough keeps for one week in the fridge and 2 months in the freezer.
  4. Beat Cream Cheese till very smooth and no lumps remain. Combine with rest of filling ingredients.
  5. Remove one piece of dough from the fridge, and save the other for a rainy day (the dough can last in the fridge for up to 5 days and in the freezer for 3 months). On a floured piece of parchment paper, roll out the dough into a 9 x 13-inch rectangle. Spoon some of the cream cheese filling in the middle of the dough. With the dough laid in front of you vertically (so that the smaller 9-inch end is facing you), make 1-inch diagonal cuts down the left and right sides of the dough (imagine you are making a Christmas tree). Once you have reached the bottom, cut away two triangle pieces, so that the dough now has a tree trunk. Fold the tree trunk flap over the apples, then go back to the top and fold each strip over the cheese filling, alternating from left to right and moving towards the bottom.Preheat the oven to 400º F.
  6. Gently lift the parchment paper and the braid onto a baking sheet. Brush the top of the pastry with an egg wash (one egg white and a teaspoon of water). Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until brown on top.
  7. In a small bowl, whisk the powdered sugar, 1 tablespoon of milk, and vanilla until you get a desired consistency. Add a tablespoon more milk if the icing is too thick. (It should be pourable, but not so thin that it drips off of the pastry.) Drizzle over the top of the braid and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Serve warm. The danish lasts for 3 to 4 days. It's best to store in the fridge, covered in plastic wrap, and then reheated in the oven or microwave before eating.

*NOTE: Option for Flakier Dough: Before cubing butter, set aside 1/2 cup of butter. Cut into 4 squares, sprinkle with a little flour and roll to a 1/4" width between 2 sheets of parchment paper. Refrigerate till ready to use in Step #5.

Simple (and delicious!) Bok Choy

We are so fortunate to have a good friend and neighbor who grows vegetables for a nearby upscale restaurant. Whenever he has a surplus of a particular vegetable, we’re the happy benefactors. Yesterday morning, I cheered when walking into the Convent kitchen. I found three large flats of fresh, happy looking Baby Bok Choy on the counter. In no time at all, it was in and out of the sink and into the skillet for our noon meal. What a blessing!

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Simple (and delicious!) Bok Choy
Great anytime in the week, this easy recipe will turn a side dish into the star of the show on any table!
SERVINGS
4servings
CHANGE SERVING SIZE
servings
COOK TIME
20mins
PREP TIME
10mins
READY IN
30mins

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Heat broth, butter, and garlic in a deep skillet, cast iron is preferred.
  2. Arrange the bok choy evenly in the skillet and simmer until tender--about 5 minutes.
  3. Remove the bok choy onto a serving dish and cover to keep warm.
  4. Return to the skillet and reduce the broth by half. Add sesame oil, salt, and pepper.
  5. Pour the broth reduction over the bok choy and enjoy!

Apple Fritter Quick Bread

Several of us Sisters were recently sharing our favorite fall doughnut flavors, and it seemed the most popular Fall favorite was Apple Fritters. As a child, I remember getting these as a treat at our Fall fairs – crispy on the outside and slathered with creamy frosting, it just takes one quick bite to sink your teeth into the most delightful apple pieces covered with cinnamon. Yum! Just writing about it now makes my mouth water! Since our waistlines aren’t exactly what they were when we were kids, but still just dying to bring the memory back, I stumbled upon an Apple Fritter Bread. With a few modifications, this bread, although slightly healthier, still has those magical flavors. It’s a perfect recipe for young children to participate in making. And the aroma it brings into your kitchen…you don’t want to miss it!

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Apple Fritter Quick Bread
SERVINGS
8servings
CHANGE SERVING SIZE
servings
COOK TIME
1hr
PREP TIME
15mins
READY IN
1 hr15 mins

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Use a 9x5 -inch loaf pan and spray with non-stick spray or line with foil and spray with non-stick spray.
  2. Mix brown sugar and cinnamon together in a bowl. Set aside.
  3. In another medium-sized bowl, beat white sugar and butter together using an electric mixer until smooth and creamy.
  4. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time, until blended in; add in vanilla extract.
  5. Combine flour, baking powder and salt together in another bowl and add into creamed butter mixture and stir until blended.
  6. Mix milk into batter until smooth.
  7. Pour half the batter into the prepared loaf pan; add half the chopped apple mixture.
  8. Sprinkle 1/2 of the brown sugar/cinnamon mixture you set aside earlier, on top of apple layer.
  9. Pour the remaining batter over apple layer and top with remaining chopped apples, then the remaining brown sugar/cinnamon mixture.
  10. Lightly pat apples into batter; swirl brown sugar mixture through apples using knife or spoon.
  11. Bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean, approximately 60 minutes.
  12. To make a glaze, mix powdered sugar and milk or cream together until well mixed.
  13. Let cool for about 15 minutes before drizzling with glaze.

(add chopped walnuts or pecans if you'd like)

Decadent Chocolate Cupcakes

Recently, I had the privilege and gift of studying for a week in the Essentials of Pastry Arts at the International Culinary Center in New York City. Once known as the French Culinary Center, ICC has some of the most renowned pastry chefs in the United States – such as Jacques Pepin and Jacques Torres. Their alumni are some of the most noteworthy in the food and hospitality industry. It was a week of intense learning as well as exploring an area of personal inadequacy. Give me a savory dish over a fancy rolled fondant cake anytime! But, little did I know what a week of good, concentrated study could do to boost my confidence. Leaning into our insufficiency can sometimes prove “sweet” results.

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Decadent Chocolate Cupcakes
Tip - use a digital scale to weigh these ingredients and always be sure to "tare" your scale after putting your mixing bowl on it; that is, reset the scale to "0" before you start measuring ingredients
SERVINGS
16cupcakes (approx.)
CHANGE SERVING SIZE
cupcakes (approx.)
COOK TIME
15-20mins
PREP TIME
20mins
READY IN
45-60mins

Ingredients

Instructions

Cupcakes:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
  2. Grease 16 cupcake tin or line with muffin papers.
  3. In a bowl, sift together the sugar, flour, salt and baking soda.
  4. Combine butter, oil, cocoa powder, and water in a bowl and whisk until warm over a bain marie.
  5. Whisk together the whole eggs, egg yolk, vanilla, and buttermilk until combined; add to butter mixture.
  6. Stir liquid ingredients into the sifted flour mixture until just combined.
  7. Portion the batter into the prepared cupcake molds until 3/4 full and bake in preheated oven for 15-20 min. (Bake as soon as you fill them; otherwise, they won't rise as much in the oven.)
  8. Test the cupcakes for doneness - your finger should bounce back to the touch.
  9. Immediately unmold the cupcakes onto a cooling rack Let them cool completely before icing.
Fudge Icing:
  1. Place all ingredients for the icing in a saucepan and warm, stirring to combine.
  2. Remove the pan from the heat and allow it to cool until desired consistency is reached.
  3. Dip the cupcake tops by inverting into the cooled icing and then twist and place right side up on a cooling rack. Iced cupcakes are best served the day they're made. Add sprinkles on top if desired.