I was looking at some photographs and noticed that 50 weeks ago, I was wearing sandals. Sandals! With jeans and a sweater and no coat! In March! I realize last winter was an exceptionally mild one, and I swear I'm not going to talk about the weather, but still, I'm putting that out there.
I'm also putting out a krantz cake and putting up water for coffee. You might want to stick around.
Although sandals do feel very far away, it's not dark at dinner any more, which is nice. In fact, it is, right now, bright enough at my desk that I should probably pull the window shade. I'm choosing not to, and so squinting awkwardly, just to let more light in.
Still, March makes me fidgety. It feels like I'm already signed up for the new that's coming, with the old stuff hanging around. March gives me a short attention span.
In the middle of doing laundry over the weekend, I started stripping the wallpaper off the last room in our house that has any left over from the original owners — save for the wallpapered closets. It takes a special type of commitment to paper a closet, and an exceptional type of twitchiness to remove it. I haven't finished getting all the wallpaper down, because I stopped the job to bake a cake; an intensely satisfying, yeasted cake, with a butter-and-egg-rich dough that requires a long knead and an even longer rise. Sometimes, it is needed to bake a chocolate krantz cake, not only because of the desire to eat one (although, yes, please!) but because of the need for the busyness of making one.
The krantz is from the Jerusalem: A Cookbook, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. I've been meaning to write about it for a while now. It is a book that honours the cooking of Jerusalem and the heritage of the authors, and in the celebration they consider the breadth of that food legacy. I'd first thought I would mention their mejadra, a rice that's full of lentils and spices and crispy onions, the kind of dish that's welcome year-round. When I saw the two men speak last year in Toronto, it was Tamimi who said something to the effect of "I think there's nothing more comforting than a bowl of lentils and rice." I'm one to agree.
At the same time, I couldn't stop thinking about their salad of spicy beets, leeks and walnuts. That recipe has tamarind water in the dressing, and the green of cilantro and arugula, and it is one that sums up one of the many reasons Jerusalem is such a winner of a book for me, with the use of ingredients in combinations and ways I'd never considered. As Ottolenghi and Tamimi cover the ground of many influences, I found an appealing familiarity to the recipes; their yogurt and cucumber condiment is akin to the raita we Indians make, there are lamb koftas, and a cardamom rice pudding with pistachios that makes me think of kheer. Then, there are recipes that take you someplace completely different. They start on a common path, then veer off road into a new direction; when the authors blacken eggplants like my father does, theirs is with lemon and pomegranate while Dad dresses his with ginger and chilies. Both use garlic. Throughout the book, Jerusalem pulls you along in different directions, with such signposts of recognition along the way.
Any and all of those recipes warrant praise and they could have easily carried a conversation, but, as I said, a chocolate krantz cannot be denied.
It is with good reason. A krantz requires attention, but offers awards as you go. Once it's made and rested, the dough rolls out pleasurably smooth, draping like a down comforter, with both fluff and heft. It gets covered edge-to-edge with dark chocolate and nuts, coiled as you would for a roulade, then split down its length and twisted into a simple braid. The effect of the shaping is graphic and striking, and looks far more complicated than it is. The loaves are set aside so the dough puffs and the stripes burst. Once they're baked the cakes are finally lacquered with a sugar syrup. It may take multiple bathings for your loaves to soak up the all the liquid, and there's a sense of accomplishment when they do.
The cake isn't particularly sweet without that glaze, so even with the bathing, it is not intensely so, rather almost elegantly, surprisingly restrained. And, what's more, the liquid slips into all the twists of the dough, softening the crisp peaks and seeping into the squidge of the crumb, and smoothing out the filling so it comes across as a Nutella-ish frosting. As you can imagine, that all amounts to a very, very good cake. The loaf is tender, and pulls apart with an exceptional delicacy, while the nuts provide the perfect crunch against the softness of the crumb and chocolate.
I'd like to try these cakes with marmalade, and some whole wheat flour in the dough. That's next on my list. After the wallpaper.
CHOCOLATE KRANTZ CAKES
Excerpted with permission from Jerusalem: A Cookbook (Appetite for Random House, 2012). The recipe below is as written in the book, with my notes following after. You might also know this type of sweet, yeasted cake as a babka.
From Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi:
Making a krantz isn’t easy or quick. You need to let the dough rise overnight and then fill and shape it, which is quite an elaborate process. But, and it is a big but, we were guaranteed by two of our recipe testers, Claudine and Alison, that it is well worth it! (Their exclamation mark.)
Although this recipe makes two fairly large cakes, there isn’t really any risk of anything going to waste. They are just the sort of thing everyone hurls themselves at as soon as they come out of the oven. They will also keep for up to two days at room temperature, wrapped in foil, and up to a couple of weeks when frozen.
For a fabulous alternative to the chocolate filling, brush each dough half with 6 tbsp / 80 g melted unsalted butter and then sprinkle with 1⁄2 cup / 120 g light muscovado sugar, 1 1⁄2 tbsp ground cinnamon, and scant 1⁄2 cup / 50 g coarsely chopped walnuts; then roll as described in the chocolate version.
Makes 2 loaves.
For the dough
- 4 cups / 530 g all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
- 1/2 cup / 100 g superfine sugar
- 2 teaspoons fast-rising active dry yeast
- grated zest of 1 small lemon
- 3 extra-large free-range eggs
- 1/2 cup / 120 ml water rounded 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2/3cup / 150 g unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 3/4-inch / 2cm cubes
- sunflower oil, for greasing
For the chocolate filling
- scant 1/2 cup / 50 g confectioners’ sugar
- 1/3 cup / 30 g best-quality cocoa powder
- 4 oz / 130 g good-quality dark chocolate, melted
- 1/2 cup / 120 g unsalted butter, melted
- 1 cup / 100 g pecans, coarsely chopped
- 2 tablespoons superfine sugar
For the sugar syrup (enough for both cakes)
- 2/3 cup / 160 ml water
- 1 1/4 cups / 260 g superfine sugar
For the dough, place the flour, sugar, yeast, and lemon zest in a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook and mix on low speed for 1 minute. Add the eggs and water and mix on low speed for a few seconds, then increase the speed to medium and mix for 3 minutes, until the dough comes together. Add the salt and then start adding the butter, a few cubes at a time, mixing until it is incorporated into the dough. Continue mixing for about 10 minutes on medium speed, until the dough is completely smooth, elastic, and shiny. During the mixing, you will need to scrape down the sides of the bowl a few times and throw a small amount of flour onto the sides so that all of the dough leaves them.
Place the dough in a large bowl brushed with sunflower oil, cover with plastic wrap, and leave in the fridge for at least half a day, preferably overnight.
Grease two 2 1⁄4-lb / 1kg loaf pans (9 by 4 inches / 23 by 10 cm) with some sunflower oil and line the bottom of each pan with a piece of waxed paper. Divide the dough in half and keep one-half covered in the fridge.
Make the filling by mixing together the confectioners’ sugar, cocoa powder, chocolate, and butter. You will get a spreadable paste. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface into a rectangle measuring 15 by 11 inches (38 by 28 cm). Trim the sides to make them even, then position the dough so that a long side is closest to you. Use an offset spatula to spread half the chocolate mixture over the rectangle, leaving a 3⁄4-inch / 2cm border all around. Sprinkle half the pecans on top of the chocolate, then sprinkle over half the superfine sugar.
Brush a little bit of water along the long end farthest away from you. Use both hands to roll up the rectangle like a roulade, starting from the long side that is closest to you and ending at the other long end. Press to seal the dampened end onto the roulade and then use both hands to even out the roll into a perfect thick cigar. Rest the cigar on its seam.
Trim about 3⁄4 inch / 2 cm off both ends of the roulade with a serrated knife. Now use the knife to gently cut the roll into half lengthwise, starting at the top and finishing at the seam. You are essentially dividing the log into two long even halves, with the layers of dough and filling visible along the length of both halves. With the cut sides facing up, gently press together one end of each half, and then lift the right half over the left half. Repeat this process, but this time lift the left half over the right, to create a simple, two-pronged plait. Gently squeeze together the other ends so that you are left with the two halves, intertwined, showing the filling on top. Carefully lift the cake into a loaf pan. Cover the pan with a wet tea towel and leave to rise in a warm place for 1 to 11⁄2 hours. The cake will rise by 10 to 20 percent. Repeat the whole process to make the second cake.
Preheat the oven to 375°F / 190°C, making sure you allow plenty of time for it to heat fully before the cakes have finished rising. Remove the tea towels, place the cakes on the middle rack of the oven, and bake for about 30 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.
While the cakes are in the oven, make the syrup. Combine the water and sugar in a saucepan, place over medium heat, and bring to a boil. As soon as the sugar dissolves, remove from the heat and leave to cool down. As soon as the cakes come out of the oven, brush all of the syrup over them. It is important to use up all the syrup. Leave the cakes until they are just warm, then remove them from the pans and let cool completely before serving.
- I did not have a lemon on hand, so used the seeds scraped from half a vanilla bean instead. I also used walnuts rather than pecans, as that's what was around.
- I used less sugar syrup, mixing mine at about a scant 2/3 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water. I steeped the empty vanilla pod leftover from the filling in the syrup as it simmered and cooled.
- Just so the photos don't confuse the directions, I rolled my dough larger than specified, in the aim of getting more turns in the swirl and thinner ribbons of chocolate. While pretty, the tactic makes for a trickier assembly. My pans were 8-by-4-inches.
- Speaking of assembly, if your kitchen is chilly, keep an eye on the chocolate filling. If it seems to be firming up, give it a quick warming over low heat; it needs to be glossy and just this side of liquid when it comes into contact with the cold dough, or it won't be sticky enough to keep everything together when you roll it all up.
- I found that these cakes baked best when the oven rack was placed in the lower third (or just under the middle) — this may be the result of the irregularity of my oven, yet still worthy of a note.