I'm way behind on my magazines but this cover of Food & Wine has been haunting me since it arrived. Chocolate babka is one of my favorite things. It has always remained firmly in the category of items that I buy rather than make, but now I'm wondering why that is, because, let's be honest, there's a lot of bad babka i the world.
As a kid we would buy ours at the local supermarket. The one that sold it was not our usual market so I only got babka if my aunt happened to make a special stop in that neighborhood and remembered to pick up some babka. It was always chocolate. The fact that we had to slice it ourselves made it special right out of the wrapper. I loved the play of textures, the crispy crust that sort of crumbled off of the loaf. If it was fresh, the interior would be moist and almost creamy in texture with ribbons of chocolate swirling through the pastry. Even as a kid, I knew this wasn't bread, it was a loaf of pastry, something special and ethereal, permeated with the scent of sugar and almonds. If it was towards the end of it's shelf life the babka would be dry almost all the way through, dehydrating in it's perforated plastic packaging but then I simply toasted it and slathered it with sweet butter. Still wonderful but in an entirely different way.
Many years later we were at the beach house in Rhode Island and Barbara brought up some chocolate babka from the Riviera Bakehouse in Ardsley, NY. As she unwrapped it my memories came rushing back. And yet, it was different, more tender and more flavorful than I remembered. It had a richer chocolate flavor and more than a hint of almond swirling through the filling. It was better than I remembered and eating it made me happy. It brought me back to my childhood and it was delicious. Every so often, when we're visiting Alex's parent's, I make a trip to Ardsley for babka. Maybe next time I feel nostalgic I'll pull out my flour yeast and see if I can recreate a memory.
February 17, 2005