When chef Peter Reinhart was asked to come up with his version of a king cake, he immediately thought of babka: the rich, yeasted bread-coffee cake with a Russian and Polish culinary heritage. His original recipe has a chocolate-cinnamon filling, but here the chef has kept things simple by using toasted almonds.
With the gifts of the three kings in mind, Reinhart prefers to hide a gold coin in the dough.
Make Ahead: The king babka cake can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
Servings: 12 - 16
- For the cake
- 2 tablespoons instant dry active yeast
- 3/4 cup lukewarm milk
- 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature or melted and slightly cooled
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more for greasing the bowl and baking sheet
- 6 tablespoons sugar
- 4 large egg yolks
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 1/2 cups flour, plus more for the work surface
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup sliced or slivered almonds, toasted (see NOTE)
- Heatproof gold coin (optional)
- For the egg wash
- 1 large egg white
- 2 tablespoons water
- For the glaze
- 1 cup confectioners' sugar
- Light corn syrup (may substitute water or milk)
- Vanilla, almond or lemon extract
- Colored sugar, for garnish (optional)
For the cake: Whisk the yeast into lukewarm milk in a bowl; let it sit for about 5 minutes.
Combine the butter, oil and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Beat on low speed, then increase the speed to medium and beat until the mixture is smooth.
Reduce the speed to low; add the yolks to the bowl one at a time, beating for 30 seconds between each addition. Add the vanilla extract and mix until light and fluffy. Turn off the mixer.
Add the flour and salt, then the milk mixture. Beat on low speed or stir by hand for 2 to 3 minutes to form a soft dough.
Liberally flour a work surface. Lightly grease a large bowl with the oil.
Transfer the dough to the work surface; knead by hand for 2 to 3 minutes, adding flour to the surface as needed to keep the dough from sticking. The dough should be supple and soft. Form it into a ball and place it in the oiled bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let it rise at room temperature for about 2 1/2 hours. It will not quite double in size.
Once the dough has risen, roll it out into a 15-inch square with a thickness of about 1/4 inch. Make sure to keep it dusted well with flour on the bottom so it does not stick.
Sprinkle the toasted almonds evenly over the dough. Roll the sheet of dough like a jelly roll (rolling from one of the long sides), then pinch the seams to seal it. Gently stretch and roll to form a log that is about 24 inches long.
Cut the log down the middle lengthwise, making sure not to cut through one end. Twist the 2 halves over each other to achieve a braided look.
Grease a rimmed baking sheet with a little oil. Loop the dough to form a circle, shaping it so it has slightly squared corners. If desired, insert a heatproof gold coin deep into the dough. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let the dough rise at room temperature for about 2 hours or until it is 1 1/2 times its original size.
At this point, the dough is ready for baking, or it can be covered and refrigerated overnight.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
For the egg wash: Whisk together the egg white and water in a liquid measuring cup. Use a pastry brush to coat the surface of the dough with the egg wash.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, then rotate the baking sheet from front to back and bake for about 10 minutes, until the cake is golden brown and sounds hollow when thumped on the top.
Let the cake cool on the baking sheet for 30 minutes, then use a round-edged knife to dislodge it if needed; transfer the cake to a wire rack to cool completely
For the glaze: Place the confectioners’ sugar in a medium bowl. Whisk in just enough of the light corn syrup and extract of your choice to form a smooth, barely pourable glaze. Use an offset knife to paint or spread the glaze on top of the cooled cake, preferably in wide swaths. Sprinkle with colored sugar, if desired.
Let the icing set before serving.
NOTE: Toast the almonds in a large, dry skillet over medium-low heat for about 4 minutes, shaking the skillet often to keep the nuts from burning. Toast until they are lightly browned and fragrant.
Adapted from Reinhart’s "Artisan Breads Every Day" (Ten Speed Press, 2009).
Tested by Bonnie S. Benwick.
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