I think there are about 9 or 10 different varieties of dates grown here in Israel. Dates were always an exotic treat for me as a kid. My father made a delicious apple and date cake, and I would always sneak some of the dates to munch on. My favourite variety of dates is Medjoul, they are luscious pieces of caramel in your mouth. They are so rich that I can only eat a couple at a time.
Babkas are dime a dozen here because of the Eastern European influence on baked goods, but this is the Middle East and there is definitely a twist on things. For example, I don’t think you would find a Babka filled with date filling in Russia or Poland, at least not thirty or forty years ago. Here you find them filled with halva and chocolate, date, chocolate, hazelnut or walnut filling.
This recipe produces a moist and not too sweet babka. I glazed this babka with orange syrup that I had from making candied orange peel. It was a nice added touch to the cake.
Adapted from The Book of New Israeli Food: A Culinary Journey by Janna Gur
4 cups all purpose flour
1 cup, less one tablespoon milk or water
50g fresh yeast
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
100g (3-1/2oz) butter, softened or margarine
1 cup date filling
(if you can't buy pre-prepared date filling, see below)
Grated zest of 1 medium orange
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
Place all of the ingredients except the butter in a mixer fitted with a kneading hook and knead for seven minutes or mix and knead by hand. Add butter and continue kneading for five minutes. The dough should be shiny and very soft. Transfer to an oiled bowl, cover and allow to rise to twice the original size.
Meanwhile mix the date filling and grated zest together and set aside.
Divide the dough in half and roll one piece on a well-floured surface to 20x30cm (9x12 inches) rectangle. Spread half of date filling on the dough and then sprinkle half of the walnuts on top of the date filling.
Roll the dough into a tight log, pinching either end of the log. Slice the log lengthwise and braid the two pieces together. Line a loaf pan with baking paper and tuck in the ends of cake so it fits snugly into the pan. Repeat the process with the second piece of dough.
Allow to rise until doubled. Preheat the oven to 180C (350F). Bake the cakes for 35-40 minutes until deep golden brown.
While the cakes are baking, bring the water and sugar to a boil, and simmer for 20 minutes. Brush the hot cakes with the syrup. They will keep fresh wrapped in foil for 3-4 days or you can freeze them.
1 cup chopped, pitted dates
6 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Combine both ingredients in a saucepan and cook over medium heat about five minutes or until thick. Let cool before using.