Fall in Northern California… is not quite fall. In San Francisco, there are no leaves crunching under foot and the temperature is more or less the same on October 15th as it is on July 15th. In the Midwest it’s an all-sensory experience that makes death pretty appealing: you can see the leaves transforming from green to red and gold, you can hear crackling sounds as they’re raked into piles, and you can smell them burn in the bonfires we use as a temporary heat source for chilly nights. And those chilly nights present people with the opportunity to play a game of chicken with their heating systems — seeing just how long they can go without turning it on. They’re those elements and rituals that help people stay present and stretch out time as far as it can go before winter crushes them.
While I no longer have to prepare for six months of suck and being relegated to my couch as the temperature outside drops to conditions only masochists would subject themselves to, there are fall formalities I can still take pleasure in — like pumpkin everything.
There aren’t many recipes that haven’t used and abused pumpkin as an experimental ingredient: pumpkin cream cheese meatballs, pumpkin tuna croquettes or something festive like green tea pumpkin lasagna rolls. People can get very creative. And coming up with something original that’s not offensive is challenging.. But I thought pumpkin babka might be a fun fall confection – if it turns out right. As a personal challenge, I’m not googling it. I don’t what to know if someone came up with a better method than mine.
In case you don’t know what babka is, here’s a brief explainer:
It’s a sweet bread with links to Jewish and Eastern European culture, but its roots are murky — some believe it’s a Ukrainian creation while others think it’s Italian in origin. I don’t think it really matters; it’s a derivative of brioche. Brioche is an enriched yeast dough (that means it contains egg and butter) with sugar added to make it a dessert bread like cinnamon rolls. In a nutshell, if you know how to make brioche, you can twist it and sprinkle it with spice and sugar to make all sorts of fun desserts.
Today, my idea of fun is:
- ½ cup half and half, warmed
- 2¼ tsp active dry yeast
- 5 TB granulated sugar
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling out the dough
- 1 large egg
- 1 large egg yolk (reserve the white for the filling)
- ⅓ cup pumpkin puree
- 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into pieces, plus 1 tsp for the bowl
Add the rest of the sugar, salt and the flour. Using the hook attachment, beat on low for a few minutes until everything is well-combined.
Add the egg, yolk and puree. When the dough is smooth, add the butter one tablespoon at a time until it’s all incorporated. Form a ball with the dough.
Melt one teaspoon of butter and pour it in a large bowl. Add the ball of dough and coat it with the melted butter. Cover with plastic and let rise for about three hours.
Meanwhile, make the filling and streusel.
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- ¼ tsp salt
- 2 tsp pumpkin spice
- ½ cup unsalted butter, melted
- 1 tb pumpkin puree
- 1 egg white
- ½ cup chopped pecans
Whisk together the dry ingredients. Stir in butter until you have a nice paste. Add the pumpkin puree followed by the egg white and keep stirring. When it’s all smooth and brown, add the pecans. Set aside.
When your dough is ready, roll it out on a lightly floured surface to make a roughly 1’x2’ rectangle.
Using a spatula, spread the filling on the rectangle making sure it goes all the way to the edges.
From the longer edge of the rectangle, roll the dough up to make a long tube of dough. Cut the tube in half. Take the two tubes and make an “X” and twist (the more you can twist, the more interesting your swirly bread will be when you cut into it). Pinch the ends and place in a 9 ½” x 4 1/2 “ loaf pan lined with buttered parchment paper. Cover with plastic and let rise for another 30 minutes (or you can refrigerate it and save it to bake the next day).
Preheat oven to 350°F.
- 3 TB all-purpose flour
- 4 TB granulated sugar
- ⅓ tsp kosher salt
- 1/3 tsp pumpkin spice
- ¼ cup pecans, chopped
- 2 TB unsalted butter, cubed at room temperature
Whisk together everything but the butter. Add the butter. Use your hands to squeeze the butter into the sugar mixture until you have a nice crumble to sprinkle over your dough.
Sprinkle streusel on your dough. Bake bread for about 60 minutes, turning once after a half hour.
When it’s done, the internal temperature for the bread should be 190℉.