Yeastapalooza, Part I

A co-conspirator and I dedicated a good chunk of last weekend to a science experiment involving different kinds of bread dough. The goal—besides blini for dinner and two freezers full of chocolate babka and cinnamon rolls—was to check out what different moisture content, varieties of fat, and egg treatments would do to dough. All of these doughs involved eggs and butter, but the cinnamon rolls also had sour cream. The blini isn’t really a “bread” at all, but since it contains eggs, flour, and yeast, we thought we’d give it a try. We had originally planned to include Jilly’s amazing hobo bread in the mix but then reason got the better of us.

This post has the potential to be very long, I’m just going to link to the recipes to the chocolate babka and the cinnamon rolls. Let’s focus on the big picture:

chocolate babka = wet dough, with 2 eggs, 1 extra egg yolk, a lot of milk, and 10 T butter

cinnamon rolls = sturdy dough, with 4 eggs, less milk/water compared to the flour, and 1/2 c sour cream

blini = really wet, more of a batter, really, with separate eggs and whites, milk, and just a smidgeon of flour and corn meal

The blini were delicious, but for the purpose of the experiment let’s focus on the real yeast breads. I promise I’ll post more info on the blini tomorrow.

The Doughs

The co-conspirator and I mixed everything in a KitchenAid stand mixer—no hand kneading for us.

Both mixed beautifully. The babka dough (above) stayed fairly wet, but, honestly, the doughs didn’t look that different when we set them out to rise.

The top two bowls have the babka dough; the bottom two have the cinnamon rolls dough. You can sort of see that the cinnamon roll dough keeps its shape better, but the real difference was in the leavening. The cinnamon roll dough rose a lot faster, both because it had so many eggs, and because the sour cream resulted in a lighter dough. In other words, the two eggs and the yeast in the babka dough had to work very hard to lift up all that butter and the extra yolk. It was sort of cold, so it took a good two to three hours for them to double…

…after which we punched it down. Now you’re looking at the cinnamon roll dough. See how nice and firm it is? This is important, because in both doughs, you have to roll them out. Compare:


Notice how the cinnamon roll dough keeps its shape? It’s easy to work with, and a cinch to roll up. With the babka dough, on the other hand, it’s like you’re working with sand. Very sticky, gooey, sand. I probably put too much flour on the counter because I didn’t have the patience for it. We put sugar and soaked currants on the cinnamon rolls and rolled them up like croissants. With the babka, you brush the dough with butter, coat the edge with an egg wash, and cover the whole thing like chocolate.

The babka instructions are a hair confusing, so I remembered to take pictures for those of you who, like me, lack imagination:


First, we divided each recipe’s worth of dough in half (we were making a double batch, so for us, that made 4 parts). After you roll out the dough and sprinkle it with chocolate, you roll it up, then join it into a loop, then twist it into a figure 8. Then, you put two coils into a bread pan lined with parchment paper. Got it? As you can see,the dough is thin and fragile, and the chocolate sometimes broke through. That’s OK.

The cinnamon rolls are more straightforward. Just roll them up and set them on a baking sheet:

Again, note the firm texture. No cracking, and because the dough was so firm to begin with, no temptation to add extra flour.

The Breads

So, was it worth it?

Let’s start with the rolls. They looked great, as you can see. But the taste? Disappointing. I found the dough heavy and the rolls hard within half an hour of coming out of the oven. I thought I had simply overcooked them, but my co-conspirator confirmed: there’s something not quite right about this recipe. We think it’s a couple of things. The ratio of flour to liquid is almost certainly too high, but we’re also suspicious of sprinkling the cinnamon/sugar mixture directly on the dough without brushing it with butter. Without the butter, the sugar sinks into the dough, and everything just gets hard, rather than delicious. My co-conspirator thought it also needed a lot more cinnamon, but I was pretty happy with the spiciness. Frosting would probably help.

But the babka! Granted, it’s hard to go wrong with that much butter and chocolate, but I couldn’t believe how light and flaky this was. Major deliciousness. Let’s go to the close-up:

Can you see the lovely crumb on this guy? It just melts in your mouth. It’s now been three days since I baked mine, and it’s still moist and wonderful. My co-conspirator managed to get even more flavor out of hers by finishing with a slow final rise overnight, but I was impatient and baked my babka Saturday afternoon. I have no regrets.

What’d We Learn?

Butter is a miracle product.

Wet doughs are worth the effort.

Sugar without butter is not so great.

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