These days I make bread nearly every time I’m at work. Whenever I tell people this fact, they all eagerly perk up. Fresh bread is absolutely amazing. Bread has been around forever and it still fascinates people. It has real staying power. Aside from those carb-free, gluten-hating people that should be…we won’t get into that.
There was a time when I didn’t make bread. A time when it remained a mystery to me. Bread was something I would only buy at the store. The ins and outs of this creation were to hard for me to understand. At least, that’s what I believed. Freshly baked bread wasn’t something I had in my house unless it came right from the local bakery. It was mostly Wonder or something from Thomas. I’ll be honest, to this day, I still get cravings for a bologna sandwich with mayo and lettuce sandwiched between squishy soft pillows of air.
When I reached the point as a graphic designer where I really wasn’t loving it anymore, I was seeking out other hobbies to have in my life to make it a tad more fulfilling. In came bread. Actually, it was really baking and pastries. I was always fascinated by them and thoroughly enjoyed the process, the smell and the end result and decided to buy a book from the Culinary Institute of America and work my way through it, teaching myself pastries. That’s what weekends are for. And with an office full of people, I had a great way to get rid of everything I made.
Naturally, all was easier said than done. Did I go through, page by page? No. I’m not even sure if I’ve ever actually made anything from the book. The Internet made it too easy to see a more delicious, less basic sounding recipe in my path and then, of course, that would get stuck in my head and I would have to make it. So, instead of trying to make a plain, white bread, as my first loaf of bread…ever, I ended up stumbling upon a Cheddar Sriracha Bread. I had just fallen in love with Sriracha and so, yeah, why not. It didn’t appear hard.
And the truth is, it wasn’t. And that is something I’ve come to realize. After learning about bread in culinary school and then spending a year making croissants, brioche, challah, cinnamon rolls and more, I got to really get a good feel for bread. Do I know everything there is to know about it? Hardly. There are so many variations, techniques, flours that all you can do is experiment. And eat. Fresh bread is always welcome.
But back to the Sriracha bread. For a first loaf, it wasn’t all that bad. I did take a photo..even before Instagram came into existence. Just looking at the photo, I can see that I used to small a loaf pan and that it wasn’t rolled up right enough, among other things. So when the opportunity recently arose to come up with spicy brunch recipes for Got Milk? Campaign, I jumped at the chance to create another Sriracha bread. I could put all my knowledge to use.
Since it always help to do something trendy, I loved the idea of making this a Babka bread. Which, is just a slightly enriched, slightly sweet dough that is then rolled out and filled, rolled up again and scrunched into a loaf pan. I think it’s gained in popularity mostly for looks alone. I grew up having Babka bread every Easter, however, I think it’s possible I just called it that because my polish great grandmother either made it or bought it, because, it’s not quite like the babkas I’ve seen today.
That pointless fun fact aside, the beauty of babka, and with the trend of splitting it down the middle and twisting it, is that you get a very tight swirl of filling throughout. It’s gorgeous. But that gorgeousness means flavor in every single bite. When I look at the slice of the bread I made many many moons ago, there’s a giant hole in the middle and a line of filling and then you’ve basically got plain ol’ bread. Not that there’s anything wrong with that (somehow i’ve worked in two Seinfeld references without even trying), but let’s face it, when you’re looking for flavor and a recipe has a specific flavor in the title, it better taste like it. Every time.
At the very end of it all, I felt triumphant. I proved that I could make a delicious and beautiful Cheddar Sriracha bread.
Here are some things to keep in mind, because bread is sort of a living creature and every environment is going to slightly affect the outcome. So even if you weigh everything out exactly, the humidity that day, the temperature, the draftiness of your home, the age of your yeast are ALL going to have an effect. Rising times vary. Going by feel is the ultimate way to see if it’s ready. If the dough feels soft and pillowy, it’s ready.
Cheddar Sriracha Babka Bread
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What could be more glorious than a swirl of sriracha & cheddar cheese throughout your bread so that every slice is spicily delicious? Nothing. Well, maybe a glass of milk to help wash it all down.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, whisk together the yeast, milk, dark brown sugar and 1 ½ oz of the flour. Let this mix sit for about 10 minutes, until it starts to look foamy.
Turn the mixer on to low speed and add in the butter, egg, salt, paprika and flour. Once the mixture has come together, turn the speed up to medium low and let it knead for about 10–15 minutes, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl if necessary. The dough should be smooth, the sides of the bowl clean and if you grab a small piece of dough and wiggle it and the slowly stretch it with your fingers, it should get very thin without breaking (so you can sort of see through it).
Once kneaded, take out of the mixer bowl and spray the bowl with pan spray. Form the dough into a nice ball and place back in greased mixing bowl. Spray the top of the dough and cover the bowl with plastic. Place somewhere warm to rise until doubled in size, about 1–2 hours. After this rise you can roll it out OR you can (gently) punch the dough down and place in your fridge overnight (covered with plastic).
Before you roll out your dough, prepare your 9-inch loaf pan. Cut a piece of parchment to fit in it, allowing some overhang. Grease your pan with butter or pan spray. Place the parchment into the pan and then grease the parchment as well.
After the dough has risen, lightly flour a large work surface. Dump the dough out onto the table and lightly flour the top. Use a rolling pin to roll the dough out to a large rectangle that is roughly 13-inches deep by 19-inches long.
Use an offset spatula (or your hand or a spoon) to evenly spread out the sriracha, leaving 1-inch of un-sriracha’d dough on the top of the rectangle. Sprinkle the cheddar cheese over the sriracha.
Starting at the bottom right corner of the dough, carefully fold up and tuck working towards the left. Then do the same, but this time from the left to the right. Repeat this until you’ve rolled the dough up all the way and you have a wonderful spiral of sriracha and cheese.
Roll the dough right up to the edge of the clean dough, using your fingers to pinch it closed to seal it nicely. If your rolled up dough log is a little uneven, gently roll with your hands to even it out a bit. (It will all get scrunched up in the loaf pan so it’s not a huge deal.)
With the seam side facing up, use a sharp knife to cut down lengthwise, splitting the roll in half. Pinpoint the middle of each roll and cross them over each other, forming a skinny X with the cut sides facing up. Taking the dough below the middle, twist the two halves over each other, keeping the cut side facing up, alternating between the half that is on top. Repeat with the cut halves on top of the middle until you’ve got a twisted bit of long dough with sriracha and cheddar staring back up at you.
Carefully scrunch up the twisted bread dough like an accordion and place into the prepared loaf pan, tucking the ends under the bottom a bit. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot to proof until doubled in size, about 1–2 hours.
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Once the dough has risen, place in center of oven and cook for 35 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack until just slightly warm to the touch. The cheese should be nicely browned and the top will have a nice crust. Run a paring knife (or small flexible offset spatula) along the sides of the pan that don’t have parchment paper and loosen up any bits cooked to the edges. Use the parchment overhang to remove the bread from the loaf pan and let finish cooling. Slice & serve warm.
While mixing, if you find that your dough is dry and not coming together, add more milk to the mix, a teaspoon at a time. If you find that the dough is too wet and sticky and is pooling at the bottom, add more flour, 1 teaspoon at a time until it pulls away from the bottom.
You can shape the loaf, place in the loaf pan and wrap in plastic and let it sit in the fridge overnight. It will take a bit longer to rise in this case.
Once baked and fully cooled, wrapping the bread in plastic and storing in the fridge will make it easier to slice.