Marmite Babka

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Yes, as you can see from the photos, I burnt this a little. But you won’t! At no point in the instructions do I tell anyone to burn anything. Admittedly, I didn’t tell myself to burn anything and yet here we find ourselves. But I hate food waste, and the recipe did work perfectly well, the variable factor was me, putting something in the oven and then promptly forgetting about it. In fact, I hate wasting food so much I wrote an essay about it for Tenderly, which was spurred on from an extremely disastrous cake I tried making last week. The premise was: wasting food sucks anyway, but during COVID-19 lockdown it feels appallingly guilt-ridden. If I’ve learned anything from attempting to monetise my every complete thought, there’s no better way to process an emotion than in essay form! I’m not even being flippant – because I wrote that whole essay, I was so much more quickly able to be pragmatic about this burnt babka.

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Babka is a traditional Jewish dessert – often more of a leavened cake than mere sweetened bread – and this recipe, with Marmite swirling through the dough, is obviously deeply untraditional, though made with great reverence for its provenance. If you’re unfamiliar with Marmite, it’s a black, salty, vitamin-enriched yeast spread, which I concede sounds horrific, but as with most foodstuffs based on sodium it’s super compelling to the taste buds. There are variants, which inspire vehement allegiance from some – for example, Vegemite, or the Marmite you get in the UK, which curiously, tastes exactly like Vegemite. Despite their being so closely aligned in spirit, Vegemite tastes utterly disgusting to me, but if it inherently appeals to you, then by all means make this recipe using it instead. I don’t want it near me, but I can understand how someone would feel the same way about Marmite.

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Non-stop caveats and burnt bits aside, how does the Marmite Babka actually taste? Amazing! The dough is soft and feathery with a light, crisp pastry-like crust, and as you can see from the photos, a gratifyingly perfect swirl of Marmite throughout. Salt being the dear friend of sugar, the Marmite naturally pairs wonderfully with the sweetness of the dough, and the finished babka is barely savoury – I’d happily eat it for dessert. This is partially due to the coconut oil and tahini I added to mellow out the salinity, and honestly, it was a struggle to not simply eat the filling mixture on its own. I also can’t emphasise enough how half-hearted the dough-twisting process is for such good-looking results.

This is really not a practical recipe – it takes forever to make, though little of that involves effort from you, and once it’s baked the twisted pull-apart nature of it means it’s quite easy to make a whole loaf disappear in one sitting. But I woke up with the strong urge to make this idea which came into my head, and since having drive to do anything seemed like an avenue of joy rather lost to lockdown, I had no choice but to act upon it. If you want something more sensibly utilitarian to put in the oven, I recommend my Social Distancing Bread.

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Marmite Babka

A recipe by myself.

  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup lukewarm water
  • 3 cups high-grade/bread flour
  • 1/2 cup aquafaba (brine from a can of chickpeas)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 heaped tablespoon Marmite
  • 2 heaped tablespoons coconut oil, softened
  • 2 heaped tablespoons tahini

1: Place the yeast, sugar and water in a large mixing bowl, swirl the bowl to combine them, and leave to sit for five minutes to get a little bubbly.

2: Stir in 1/4 cup of the flour, and sit for another five minutes.

3: Tip in the remaining flour and the aquafaba and stir to form a shaggy dough. Now, knead in the olive oil – drizzle some oil over, pull and push with your knuckles and the heel of your palm, and repeat until the oil is gone. The dough will be dense, and not particularly springy, but should be a fairly cohesive and smooth ball by the time you’re done.

4: Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap (sorry!) and leave in the refrigerator for six hours, or overnight.

5: Once the time is up, remove the bowl from the fridge and let it sit for about an hour to get to room temperature (I recommend setting your alarm early, staggering out to remove the bowl, and then going back to bed.) Don’t worry if it hasn’t risen dramatically, as long as it’s bigger than when it went in.

6: Mix the Marmite, coconut oil and tahini together in a small bowl.

7: Take the dough and roll it out to a large, even-ish rectangle about 1-2cm thick. It helps to do this on a piece of baking paper, which you can then use when you bake the bread.

8: Spread the Marmite mixture evenly over the entire dough rectangle, then roll it up from one side into a long cylinder. Slice this cylinder in half lengthwise, then twist these two halves around each other by lifting up one piece and shuffling the other underneath and so on. Don’t overthink it.

9: Transfer the dough into a baking-paper lined loaf tin – I just lifted up the piece of baking paper that it was sitting on and transferred the whole thing into the tin – cover again and leave to rise again for 40 minutes.

10: Bake at 180C/350F for 45 minutes or until cooked through. Check regularly to make sure it’s not burning – like mine did!! – and place a piece of tin foil over the loaf if it looks like it’s browning too quickly.

11: Leave the loaf to rest for a few minutes and then eat the lot.

Note: this was based on a recipe for babka I made for Tenderly which has photos of the rolling/cutting/twisting process if that’s helpful.

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music lately:

Rumble, by Link Wray. One of those perfect pieces of music you can listen to and feel the approaching shadows of so many songs to come since.

Ladies Who Lunch, performed by Audra McDonald, Christine Baranski and Meryl Streep yesterday, live-streamed from their respective houses for Stephen Sondheim’s 90th birthday celebrations. This should be too much – the three of them performatively drinking for the camera, singing Sondheim’s sardonic song disparaging rich women while very much being rich women during a global pandemic. But it was just right, and deliciously so – a demonstration of what real performing is, and how it doesn’t always need a stage. The whole concert itself was incredibly moving in places, a little not-for-me in others, but this was certainly the most instantly memorable part.

So What’cha Want, Beastie Boys. I love this song so much, I love them so much, and I want that lumbering drumbeat to follow me around everywhere.

Next time: I totally forgot that I was going to blog about pesto seitan! After spending so long asking the universe for a good seitan recipe! You can really see how I could accidentally leave a loaf of bread in the oven too long, huh.

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis.

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