It’s a Molly Mash-up! I took her Pimiento Cheese Babka recipe from her new book Molly on the Range. Deleted the pimiento cheese because I gave my mom a hard time about eating pimiento cheese sandwiches my whole life. (I can’t go back on my word now.) And added in Molly’s Chocolate Halva—a chocolate tahini spread (think fancy nutella). For the final Molly touch, I gave these buns a wash of liquid honey and sprinkled them with all the sprinkles. Molly makes food happy, which is why I’m still bummed I met her for the first time with only half a smile.
It was because of the novocain, which was because of the pomegranate seed that chipped my molar that had been repaired 15 minutes prior to our lunch. My face was partially paralyzed. Two years later, come to find out I’ve cracked the molar below it too. It wasn’t the pomegranate seed after all. I’m a night-time clencher who should be wearing a night guard. Who needs more sprinkles in her life because teeth make me nervous. And I guess life (read: motherhood) does too.
So while the plaster dried on our fireplace, I braided and baked babka without a clench in the world, following Sarah’s knot tutorial. Hal came home from school and grabbed herself a knot, her second lunch of the day. I joined her for my first.
But I think it’s the sprinkles and illustrations that keep her flipping. Like the one of her house in the suburbs, where she paints a picture of her childhood that I could never put into as good of words. “I went to public school and played AYSO soccer. My childhood smelled of normalcy and fruit by the foot.” Her childhood was mine too. She microwaved hotdogs and cheese (recipe on page 5 of her book) while I microwaved beanie weenies or individual Tombstone pizza to the same tune of Baby-Sitters Club flashing on our tube television.
Molly goes on to talk about camp as a teenager, Juilliard and NYC into her early 20s, breakfast in Israel, and days on the sugar beet farm. I guess I’ve had my head stuck in her book too. Her book is 1,000% Molly, who is just so likable, but you’ll find pieces of yourself in it too.
She’ll have you saying babka and halva, marzipan and hawaij, hotdish and alliums. You’ll dog-ear “Spaghetti and my Ex-Boyfriend’s Meatless Balls” (page 79) and find yourself adding sprinkles to everything. Because Molly’s food and stories make you smile, even with novocain and a chipped tooth.
- 2 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast*
- 3/4 c. warm water
- 1/2 tsp. + 2 tbsp. pure cane sugar
- 3 1/4 c. all-purpose unbleached flour
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- 2 large eggs
- 1/3 c. neutral oil
- 2 tbsp. honey
- Chocolate Halva
- 2/3 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips (Molly says milk)
- 1/2 c. tahini
- 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
- 1/8 tsp. kosher salt
- 1 tbsp. honey
- 1 tbsp. water
- Egg Wash
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tbsp. water
- 1 tbsp. honey
- 1 tbsp. water
- sprinkles (jimmies, flaky salt, sesame seeds, pepita seeds, pearl sugar)
- Make the babka dough, aka Molly's Challah. Into a bowl or liquid measuring cup, add yeast into warm water (not hot water). Stir in 1/4 teaspoon of the sugar and allow it to proof and get foamy. Into the bowl of a standing mixer, add the remaining sugar, flour, and salt. Give it a quick stir. When the yeast is ready, whisk in the eggs, oil, and honey to the mixture. Pour the liquid into the dry ingredients. Using the dough hook attachment, mix on medium-low speed for 7-10 minutes. Dough will be smooth yet slightly sticky to touch. Add in a bit more flour in at a time if dough is too sticky. Transfer dough to an oiled bowl. Spray the top of the dough with oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap. This will make for easy removal. Allow to rise in a warm spot for 1 hour. On cold chilly days, I get my oven warm, not hot (it only takes a second), and allow it to rise in there.
- Meanwhile, make chocolate halva. In a double boiler, melt the chocolate. Remove from the burner being careful not to get water into the chocolate. It will seize up. It's as bad as it sounds. Whisk in the tahini, extract, and salt until smooth. Taste and add a bit more extract and salt to even out the flavor. Remove to a container and store at room temperature. This can be made days in advance.
- Once the dough has doubled in size, follow Sarah's braiding technique by cutting the dough into 8 equal parts. Roll each out on a lightly floured surface to a 4" x 12" rectangle. Spread about 1 1/2 tablespoons of halva onto the rectangle, leaving a 1/2" clear space along one long side of the rectangle. Roll the rectangle into a log starting with the long side with the halva spread to the very edge. Shape as Sarah instructions and place on a parchment or Silpat lined baking sheet. Allow to rise for another 30 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 375°. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and water. Just before baking, brush the tops with the wash. Bake for 22-25 minutes. The internal temperature should read 190° and the seams connecting the knots should look cooked through and not doughy.
- To add sprinkles, heat honey and water until a simmer. Brush tops with liquid honey and sprinkle away. Let's all hope Molly starts selling her sprinkle mix. It's magic! Otherwise, raid your pantry for anything that resembles a sprinkle.