The ‘lesser’ babka

ELAINE:  No, but they got the chocolate (babka). We’ll be going in with a lesser babka.

JERRY:    I beg your pardon? Cinnamon takes a back seat to no babka. People love cinnamon. It should be on tables at restaurants along with salt and pepper. Anytime anyone says, “Oh! This is so good. What’s in it?” The answer invariably comes back, Cinnamon. Cinnamon. Again and again. Lesser babka – I think not.

By Diane Harari

‘The Dinner Party’ – the Seinfeld episode about Jerry and Elaine’s ill-fated attempt at securing the last chocolate babka for a dinner party – introduced a generation of Australians to the concept of the chocolate babka…and it’s potentially inferior cousin, the cinnamon babka.

But what actually is a babka, where can you get them, and where does cinnamon sit in the overall hierarchy?

The babka is best described as ‘a little slice of heaven’. It’s the ultimate comfort food, and so densely calorific that you can actually see the fat travelling straight to your thighs!

The humble babka has its roots in eastern European cooking. It’s a yeast cake that is usually filled with a rich chocolate mixture. For the uninitiated, imagine a sweet, thin pizza dough, that is liberally smeared with a rich chocolate ganache, then rolled up haphazardly as a swiss roll and cooked in a fluted round cake-tin. Except the pastry is made with butter. Lots and lots of butter, so that the top layer bakes to a superb buttery crispness, giving way to the softer folds of decadent chocolaty cakeiness inside.

I’ve got to be honest, it’s not an attractive looking cake. It’s invariably lopsided, and it frequently cracks under the weight of its filling before you’ve even cut into it. And it never slices properly…but once you’ve tasted it, that all falls by the wayside. It’s a universal winner.

I have taken many a babka to an afternoon tea party, only to have my Anglo friends give me the awkward-but-enthusiastic ‘Oh thank you, This looks really interesting. What is it?’. But once they’ve tasted it, they ask for it again and again. (Embarrassingly, my own children seem to adopt a ‘whatever’ attitude to the babka, possibly because it has all the complexities and nuances of a good olive, and something that younger tastebuds may have to grow into).

But what of the cinnamon babka…the so-called ‘lesser’ babka? I have to admit, I’ve never seen a cinnamon babka in Melbourne. And even though I’m a huge cinnamon fan, I can’t see how the luxurious spice would work in the humble babka. How would they get clumps of rich pastiness into the cinnamon mixture?

So I called my cousin Deb who moved to New York a couple of years ago, and asked her if she’d ever had a cinnamon babka. Apparently she saw one in Dean & Deluca’s Deli once, but she didn’t buy it because it was so expensive. They wanted something like $15.

Fifteen dollars??!!! That’s a babka bargain. Babkas in Melbourne are sold by the kilogram. And those babies are heavy, usually costing upwards of $30 per cake.

There are only a handful of places in Melbourne that make babkas. Max Brenner do individual servings, but otherwise you need to head south of the river to St Kilda, Balaclava and Elsternwick. But if you’re prepared to invest in the calories, you simply can’t go past Aviv Cakes in Glenhuntly Rd, Elsternwick. It’s simply the best babka in Melbourne.




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