Launching The Chocolate Babka Project
Admittedly, by heritage I am more a German kugelhopf than an Eastern European babka. I remember eating homemade kugelhopf and bundt cake at family celebrations in Los Angeles. When I mentioned babka to my German speaking father, he looked puzzled and asked, “What’s a babka?” Babka, much less chocolate babka, was just not in our pastry repertoire.
Scanning through the New York Times digital archives surfaced Polish babka with nuts and cinnamon. That caused Seinfeld-speak to echo in my head: “that’s a babka?” It turns out that several cultures enjoy what I have started calling “cognate bread cakes.” These celebratory, special occasion, egg-rich, yeasty treats reflect diversity that is at once distinct and also universal. They include both babka and kugelhopf, along with challah, kulich, pandora, panettone, and more. They are mixed with home and homeland, often multiple homelands, as well as with religion. They are leavened through dislocations and disenfranchisements and migrations. In a Joseph Campbell sense they are heroic foods, voyagers through time and space, from home to home, from generation to generation, victoriously returning to festive tables season after season.
That research had me wondering when chocolate first schmeared a babka. Though chocolate for drinking may be traced as far back as 1000 BCE, chocolate for eating and baking develops much later. It is said that the British company, Fry’s, crafted the first eating chocolate bars in 1847. Marquis de Sade instructed his wife to bring him chocolate cookies in prison in 1779 and the 1871 The Jewish Cookery Book by Esther Levy published in America includes a recipe for a chocolate pudding, really a cake. Dorothy Shirley made ‘biskit’ from chocolate at least as early as 1694, according to her receipt/recipe book.
In a sense the Babka Chocolate Project started with chocolate as I looked at its connections to religions, cultures, history, and business through many countries, centuries and convictions for my book On the Chocolate Trail: A Delicious Adventure Connecting Jews, Religions, History, Travel, Rituals and Recipes to the Magic of Cacao (2nd edition, 2017). Curiosity about the chocolate fillings in babka led to hosting two babkathons in Brooklyn, babka tastings that coincidentally ended up on Sundays of New York Marathons. That only made me hunger for more. So does the growing list of babka bakers in the New York area, with their varied recipes and plentiful babka spin-offs.
I hope that you will share your stories, your baking tricks, and your insights as the layers of the “Chocolate Babka Project” unfold through outings, research, baking, and tastings at #chocolatebabkaproject.
On the Chocolate Trail in Belize’s Jungle
Mark and I happily signed on for three distinct rainforest chocolate experiences within a 15 mile radius of our home base, the romantic Cotton Tree eco-lodge which is nestled among Mayan villages near the Caribbean in the Toledo District of Belize. Not only did Belize envelop us in an exotic rainforest experience, our tourism contributedRead more ›
Is that coffee or chocolate?
Having just eaten my daily portion of chocolate covered coffee beans, I am primed to consider the questions I hear about coffee when I teach on the chocolate trail. How do the two foods really differ, other than taste? I think back to when the layout for On the Chocolate Trail was being designed andRead more ›
A Chocolate Cake for October’s Tricks: Devil’s Food
Heading into October and its culmination in Halloween, I find myself hankering for Devil’s Food Cake, despite its initially derogatory name. Supposedly in 1690 Pilgrims traveled to Plymouth Rock via Amsterdam. They stayed in a house near the city’s biggest chocolate houses and called that chocolate “the Devil’s food.” Later, a chocolate cake, perhaps simplyRead more ›
How About Some Mindful Chocolate Tasting?
These days comforting chocolate seems more necessary than usual. You could just grab a bunch and stuff yourself to help (maybe?) you feel better. Of course, you could add the chocolate in to your cookies, cakes, and ice creams. Or, you could taste chocolate with a mindfulness that focuses your attention solely on the chocolate,Read more ›
Some Previous Posts
(in alphabetical order)
- A Chocolate Cake for October's Tricks: Devil's Food
- Announcing Second Edition: On the Chocolate Trail
- Book Optioned: Museum Exhibit
- Celebrating Ice Cream Month with Chocolate
- Choco-Travel Tips
- Chocolate Exhibit Hits the New York Times
- Chocolate Trail Broadens: "Semi[te] Sweet: On Jews and Chocolate" Travels
- Chocolate, Coffee, Tea and Me
- Election 2016: Winning Fudge Brigadeiros
- How About Some Mindful Chocolate Tasting?
- Jews on the Chocolate Trail
- Lunch & Learn: Central Synagogue
- Mothers and Survival by Chocolate
- No End to Chocolate Exhibits Part III: Visits #3, 4 & 5
- Of Chocolate Exhibits There is No End: Part 2
- Super Food Chocolate for Super Bowl Sunday: Three Recipes
- Talking Chocolate in February
- Warm Up: 3 Historical Drinking Chocolate Recipes