Three cheers everyone, final exams are officially over!! *insert a sigh of relief* YESS!! I couldn’t be more excited. I have been done with school since spring break. So glad for the summer break. I’m celebrating the end of the school year like any respectable food blogger would, by making some food and taking pictures of it! From late night study sessions to early morning exams, I needed a chance to rest my brain, so I went outside and photographed a bit. There is something so therapeutic about the combination of photography and nature. Whenever I’m feeling stressed or anxious, I set my sights for the woods. In the sea of hanging branches and dirt pathways, I find peace. In the woods, I can be alone and simply capture all of the simple beauty the landscape has to offer. The woods are definitely my favorite place to photograph. The way the light silhouettes through the trees, creating shadows across my path. This is where I find my serenity and inspiration.
I took two walks in the week leading up to final exams. The first one was alone in the woods near the lake. I had been cooped up in my apartment alone all day and just needed some time out of the house. Early that day it had rained so the ground was a tad muddy and slippery. On my trek, I noticed a small creek running along the bottom of the hill I was on. The lighting was PERFECT down in this little ravine, with the cutest bridge that stretched over the stream and I just HAD to get some shots. Perhaps against my better judgment, I began to hike down the steep hill. About halfway down, I was beginning to slip and lose my balance, but I was still safe. “I haven’t fallen yet!” I thought to myself “I’ll be fine.” Ignoring all of Mother Nature’s warnings, I continued to descend….which then quickly turned to me falling down the hill. With my camera raised above my head in an attempt to save it, I slid and tumbled down the hill towards the creek below.
Alone, muddy, and wet at the bottom of a hill in the middle of the woods, I sat in disbelief. I had come here for a good time, a lovely stroll through the woods, and now I was muddy from head to toe. But the camera was safe! So I was fine. I took my pictures and made the hike back up the hill, slipping and sliding along the way. Not one of my best decisions. Then a few days later, I went on a walk through another wooded area with a friend (safety in numbers!) This time consisted of far less falling down hills. We walked, skipped stones by the creek, and hunted for mushrooms. It was a great way to relax and rejuvenate before final exams.
Random change of subject, but I wanted to announce that I’m going to be in ANOTHER magazine! I know, who would put this punk food blogger in a magazine?? Well, the lovely folks over at Makers Magazine that’s who! They’re are going to feature my croissants and cold brew coffee butter recipe and photo in the July issue of the magazine! I am beyond exciting and I want to give my sincerest thank yous to Makers Magazine and all of you lovely friends who have been so supportive and kind through this whole blogging journey I’ve been on. I can’t thank you enough.
With exams being over and the craziness of summer starting up. When I think of summer, I think of fresh herbs from Momma Crawford’s garden. We have grown basil, cilantro, parsley, sage, and so many others in the past. I always look forward to summer so I can use up all those beautiful and vibrant colored herbs in my cooking and baking. Unfortunately, we can’t grow ever herb and spice in our small garden, so that’s when I discovered Oaktown Spice Company. They have so many unique spices, herbs, and salts which make me very happy! When I found out they sell organic lavender, I knew I had to order a jar!
So I may or may not have made a loaf of Babka due solely on the fact that I liked the way the words sounds. Don’t judge me. Babka is an Eastern European sweet yeast bread. Imagine brioche bread layered in chocolate fudge, and you got yourself a killer Babka. For my recipe, I infuse my cream in both and dough and the dark chocolate fudge filling with lavender. I loved the way the subtle aromas and tastes of lavender worked with the richness of the dark chocolate. Taking my first bite, it tasted like a chocolate cinnamon roll (which isn’t a bad idea! Future recipe?). It was buttery, warm, and oozing with chocolate realness. The perfect dessert to kick off a summer-long season of baking! You can choose to exclude the lavender and just have a chocolate Babka, whatever floats your Babka loving boat.
Lavender & Dark Chocolate Babka
For the dough
½ cup lavender infused whole milk* or regular whole milk
1 package (7 grams) active dry yeast
1/3 cup granulated sugar, plus a pinch
4 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
For the fudge filling
½ cup granulated sugar
1 cup lavender infused heavy cream
Pinch of salt
6 ounces dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
For the chocolate streusel
½ cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 ½ teaspoons cocoa powder
½ teaspoon salt
4 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup dark chocolate chips
For the syrup
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup lavender infused milk
1 ½ cup confectioners’ sugar
For the glaze
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon heavy cream
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of cinnamon
For the lavender infused milk + cream
1 cup whole milk
1 ½ teaspoons lavender
1 cup heavy cream
1 ½ teaspoons lavender
The Night Before
For the lavender infused milk + cream. In a small sauce pan heat milk over medium heat until steam begins to appear. Take off the heat and stir in the lavender buds. Cover and let sit for 25-30 minutes. Strain milk through a fine mesh strainer. Store in an airtight container and refrigerate overnight. Repeat the same with the heavy cream. Store mixtures separately.
For the dough. In a small bowl, heat the milk in the microwave until it’s lukewarm, but not too hot (about 110 degrees). Add yeast and a pinch of sugar and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes until slightly foamy.
In an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook, mix together the flour, 1/3 cup sugar, salt, vanilla, lemon zest, and cinnamon. Beat in the yeast mixture and eggs until the dough comes together, about 2 minutes. Add half the butter and beat until the dough is smooth and elastic, 3 to 5 minutes. Beat in the rest of the butter and continue to beat until the dough is smooth and stretchy, another 5 to 7 minutes. If the dough sticks to the sides of the bowl, add additional flour, 1 tablespoon at a time.
Form the dough into a ball and place in a greased bowl. Cover with a tea towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free place 1 hour and 30 minutes. Press the dough down with your hand, re-cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight.
The Next Day
For the fudge filling. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine sugar, infused cream and salt. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sugar completely dissolves, about 5 minutes. Scrape mixture into a bowl. Stir in chocolate, butter and vanilla until smooth. Let cool to room temperature. Set aside.
Butter two 9-inch loaf pans, then line with parchment paper. Remove dough from refrigerator and divide in half. On a floured surface, roll one piece into a 9-by-17-inch rectangle. Spread with half the fudge filling over the dough. Starting with a long side, roll into a tight coil. Transfer the coil onto a dish towel or piece of plastic wrap and stick it in the freezer for 10 minutes. Repeat with the other piece of dough.
Slice one of the dough coils in half lengthwise to expose the filling. Twist the halves together as if you were braiding them (think a like a strand of DNA), then fold the braid in half so it’s about 9 inches long. Place into a prepared pan, letting it curl around itself if it’s a little too long for the pan. Cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until puffy (it won’t quite double). Repeat with the remaining dough.
For the streusel. In a bowl, stir together flour, sugar, cocoa powder and salt. Stir in melted butter until it is evenly distributed and forms large, moist crumbs. Stir in the chocolate chips. Streusel can be prepared up to 3 days ahead and stored, covered, in the fridge.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Use your fingers to clump streusel together and scatter all over the tops of the cakes. Transfer to oven and bake until a tester goes into the cakes without any rubbery resistance and comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes.
For the syrup. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar, lemon juice, vanilla, and the remaining infused milk. Whisk together occasionally until the sugar dissolves and little wisps of steam begin appearing. Remove from the heat and stir in the confectioners’ sugar. Set aside.
For the glaze. In a small bowl, stir together the confectioners’ sugar, lemon juice, heavy cream, vanilla, and cinnamon until well combined. Set aside.
As soon as the cakes come out of the oven, use a skewer or paring knife to pierce them all over going all the way to the bottom of the cakes, and then pour the syrup on top of the cakes, making sure to use half the syrup for each cake. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before drizzling the glaze over top and serving.