I've got this thing with resolutions. I've never been fond of quitting, and I've always been up for a challenge. So resolutions have become the perfect way for me set the tone for the new year.
I like to come up with borderline unreasonable goals, things that seem completely out of character, and then challenge myself to keep up. This has resulted in some pretty amazing and rewarding experiences over the last three years. I completed a half marathon, quit drinking, and transitioned to a plant based diet, all because of the new year.
So naturally, when December rolled around this past year and I began thinking about what I envisioned for 2017, I had some lofty goals. Maybe the new year would involve me visiting a new beach every month (joyous), eliminating sugar from my diet (ridiculous and unfounded) or even attempting to go on a date with a man instead of staying home every weekend while I eat tacos and watch movies (literally impossible).
But none of those things were making me excited. So this year I ended up doing something very out of character. Yep, you guessed it.
Not in a limiting way, or as a means of giving up, but rather as a reward. I'm the kind of person who doesn't really know how to say "no", how to quit, or how to resist a challenge. So I figured I'd give myself a different kind of challenge. Meaning that essentially my resolution this year was to not make a resolution.
And I know that's kind of a cliche, or if anything, a fantastic plot to a future Hallmark movie. But it feels pretty good so far. Because instead of focusing on all the things I can't do, or forcing myself to do something out of character for me, I just do what feels good.
So this means I've been meditating more, baking more, decorating my home, writing and generally prioritizing my own needs rather than focusing on something I arbitrarily focused on at the beginning of the year.
Now, one of the projects born out of my resolution to not make any resolutions was this vegan toasted almond babka. And not that you'd know it was vegan anyway, because the main replacement is the aquafaba for the eggs. It makes virtually no difference in taste, and reduces the calories as well.
So, babka. Something I'd literally never heard of until instagram. It's a sweet yeast cake that originated in Poland, and reminds me of cinnamon rolls or coffee cake. Mainly because it's something super dessert-y that you can eat for breakfast without judgement. It's filled with a variety of things, like chocolate or cinnamon, and twisted so that it rises into a beautiful mass of swirling sugar.
Rather than stick with a more traditional flavor, I chose to use an almond filling. Similar to what you'd find in a pastry in one of those large variety packs from Costco. I chose almond because I had roughly four half opened bags of almond meal in my pantry that really needed to be condensed, but it also makes a fantastic filling for this toasted almond babka.
When I first discovered my love for baking 15 years ago I mostly stuck to boxed cake and brownie mixes, and slowly worked towards making desserts from scratch. Surprisingly I've only become confident using yeast in the last year. I love watching dough rise, and tasting the complex flavors that come with a long rise time. It's added a wonderful level of complexity to my baking and made me so excited to see what I can make next (hopefully a real sourdough).
But this recipe is fairly straightforward. One that takes a day or so to make, so if I were making this for a Sunday brunch I'd start making the dough the night before. Same as I do with cinnamon rolls. You can make the filling and toast the almonds in advance, but I've written the recipe so that you can make them while you allow dough to rise or to come to room temperature. After you bake and allow the toasted almond babka to cool, it tastes best if you eat it with your hands. I like the way you can pull apart each layer.
So maybe I take the whole "no resolutions" thing back, because a new goal for 2017 might just be "eat more babka with my hands." I think I'm okay with that.
Toasted Almond Babka (Vegan)
Yields two loaves
- 1/2 cup plant based milk (I used a coconut almond blend)
- 1 package (2 1/2 teaspoons) active dry yeast
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 4 1/4 cups all purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 3/4 cup aquafaba
- 10 Tablespoons vegan butter, room temperature
- 2 cups almond meal
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 1/4 cup vegan butter
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract *
- 2-4 tablespoons aquafaba
- 1/2 cup sliced almonds
- 1 Tablespoon maple syrup
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
in a microwave safe bowl, heat the milk to lukewarm, and then add yeast and a pinch of sugar to activate. Let the milk mixture sit for 5 - 10 minutes until it bubbles or foams.**
While the milk mixture activates, combine the flour, sugar, salt, vanilla, nutmeg and cinnamon in a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Slowly add in the milk mixture and aquafaba until a soft dough forms, adding extra flour if necessary.
Once the dough comes together, add in the vegan butter in small portions, allowing it to fully incorporate before adding more. Process the dough for 5-7 minutes until it is smooth and stretchy. Place in a buttered bowl and cover, then allow to rise for about 90 minutes. The dough will not double, but should rise. Then, re-cover the dough and place in the refrigerator overnight.***
Remove the dough from the fridge and begin preparing the filling. Use a food processor to combine the almond meal, powdered sugar and butter. Small clumps should form. Then add in the vegan butter, aquafaba and almond extract until you have a thick, but spreadable filling is produced. Add more aquafaba if the filling isn't viscous enough.
Divide the dough in half and, on a floured surface, roll into a large rectangle. Spread half the filling onto the rectangle and then roll it up tightly. Wrap with plastic wrap and place in the freezer for about 10 minutes. Repeat with the other half of the dough and filling.
Remove the rolls from the freezer, and slice in half lengthwise. Rotate each piece to expose the filling and then cross one piece over the other to form an "x". Cross the top and bottom piece to form a helix shape, and then fold the entire thing in half. Place into a prepared loaf pan and cover, allowing the dough to rise for about 60-90 minutes.
While the babka rises, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. In a small bowl combine the sliced almonds, maple syrup and cinnamon. Spread the almonds onto a baking sheet lined with foil, and bake for 5-7 minutes, until they are golden brown.
Reduce the oven to 350 degrees F and then bake the babka for 45-50 minutes. Once removed from the oven, top with the toasted almonds and then allow to cool completely before serving.
* If you prefer a stronger almond flavor, increase extract to 1 teaspoon.
** If the yeast does not bubble or foam, the yeast might be dead. Make sure the milk wasn't too hot, or try another packet of yeast.
*** If you're pressed for time, you can refrigerate the dough for a minimum of 4 hours.
- note that this recipe makes two loaves. If you don't want two loaves of babka you can reduce each aspect of the recipe by half, or store one of the formed cakes in the freezer for up to 3 months before baking.
Additional photos taken by Brianna Brennan.