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Back to Baking: Quarantine Cooking Craze

May 6, 2020 | by Elizabeth Kurtz

Discover the best babka ever and other amazing delights.

Quarantine has brought out both my inner baking creativity and my “I’m so tired of cooking moments” too. This week I focus on the former, with some amazing, and slightly more time-consuming new baking projects or treats that we have tackled as a family.

One reflection on this unusual time is the wonderful moments I’ve spent mentoring my kids (who are on all levels) in the kitchen. For one, it's learning to properly chop an onion and read a recipe through before starting, for another it’s mastering some grilling and sous vide techniques, for one it’s learning the patience and attention to detail with baking and the sensitivities with yeasted doughs and for another we started basic with helping with the groceries. I’m most often the teacher but sometimes just the taster. In these recipes, it was a team effort with the exception of Nana Carole’s pancakes that are a family favorite and a breeze to make by anyone. My freezer is stocked with babkas, chocolate pop-tarts and a salted caramel brownie cake and now we are ready for another puzzle and some serious clean-up.

Simply the Best Babka Ever


Photo by John Uher

Makes 4 loaves

This recipe first appeared in the EMUNAH cookbook, Chef’s Confidential. The recipe was such a hit that we had to include it in my book CELEBRATE, too with some added fillings. This recipe makes enough for you to make some with each filling. Instant or rapid rise yeast does not require proofing in warm water. It works best in this recipe.

Although this is the actual photo as appeared in Celebrate, the babka comes out more layered in filling and the interior is soft and moist.


  • 7 cups all-purpose flour plus 1 additional cup, as needed, divided
  • 6 (1/4-ounce) packages or 41/2 tablespoons
  • instant or rapid rise yeast
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla sugar
  • 11/2 cups margarine, melted
  • 13/4 cups warm water
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • Crumb Topping:
  • 4 tablespoons margarine, at room temperature
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar

To make the babka: Combine flour, yeast, sugar, vanilla sugar, margarine, water, eggs, egg yolks, and salt in a large bowl. Turn out on floured board and knead 5 minutes, adding up to 1 cup of flour if the dough is sticky. Allow to rise in a large bowl covered with plastic wrap for 11/2 hours.

For the crumb topping: Crumble margarine with flour and sugar in a small bowl, using fingertips.

Spray 4 (10-inch) loaf pans with nonstick cooking spray.Divide dough into 8 pieces. Using a rolling pin, roll each piece into a 1/2-inch-thick rectangle, the length of the loaf pan. Spread filling of choice (see measurement on filling recipe) onto each rectangle, within 1 inch of borders. Roll from long side, like a jellyroll. Twist 2 rolls around each other and place a twist in each pan. Using all the crumbs, sprinkle a quarter of crumb topping on each babka. Let rise for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Bake for 30 minutes. Cool for 15 minutes in pan, then remove and cool completely on wire rack.

Chocolate Babka Filling

  • 1 cup margarine, melted
  • 1 (4.1-ounce) box instant chocolate pudding
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

In a small bowl, combine margarine,chocolate pudding, egg, water, sugar, and cocoa. Use an eighth of this recipe for each section of dough.

Cinnamon Babka Filling

  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 4 tablespoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup margarine, melted, or 1/4 cup coconut oil, melted

In a small bowl, combine brown sugar, cinnamon, and melted margarine. Use a quarter of this recipe for each section of dough.

Vanilla Babka Filling

  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla sugar

In a small bowl, mix oil, sugar, confectioners’ sugar, and vanilla sugar. Stir until fully blended. Use a quarter of this mixture for each section of dough.

Chocolate Fudge PopTarts


Makes about 16

Confession...I’ve never bought a poptart in my life, but as a kid, they looked soooooo good. I had to try this recipe. I first saw this recipe on the instagram account Half Baked Harvest. It's one of my favorite go-to creative recipe sites however, at the time I had never tried one of her baking recipes, let alone one that had multiple steps like this one. Her recipes and pics are sensational and the instructions, if you like to read through something meticulously, are very thorough and helpful. I made a few tweaks to make these pareve (although the dairy version is even better) and to simplify it a bit. My kids are not sure what’s going on in my house, but they are not asking any questions if these keep appearing on the countertop.


  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2/3 cup non-dairy creamer or vanilla soymilk (or milk or cream)
  • 1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted margarine, cubed (I used Earthbalance but betterine works too)- for dairy version use butter)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon salt


  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) cold margarine, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg, beaten, for brushing


  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 ounces dark or milk chocolate, melted
  • coarse salt or sugar, for sprinkling

To make the chocolate fudge filling. In a small saucepan, stir together the cocoa powder, non-dairy creamer, and 3/4 cup chocolate chips. Set over medium heat and cook, stirring, for 5-8 minutes, until the chocolate is melted and the sauce has thickened slightly. Remove from heat, stir in the remaining 3/4 cup chocolate chips, the margarine, vanilla and salt until smooth. Transfer to the fridge to cool and thicken, at least 30 minutes.

For the dough: In a food processor, combine the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, margarine and salt. Pulse until the mix clumps together to forms pea-size balls. Add 1/2 cup cold water, 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough comes together and forms a ball. If the dough feels dry, add 1-2 tablespoons additional water. Do not over-blend.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Roll out into a 1/8-inch thickness. Cut the dough into rectangles, about 4 x 3 inches. Place a tablespoon of the chilled chocolate fudge on one half of the rectangles, leaving a 1/4 inch border. Brush the edges with the beaten egg. Lay the other half of the dough over the filling and seal the edges by crimping with the back of a fork. Repeat until you've used all the dough, you will have leftover fudge.

Place the pop tarts on parchment-lined baking sheets. Cover the baking sheets and place in the fridge for 1 hour or the freezer for 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Bake the pop tarts for 15-20 minutes. The pop tarts will still leak a little (it makes them look homemade). Cool completely before frosting.

Make the frosting. In a medium bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla, and 3 tablespoons water until smooth. Stir in the melted chocolate. If your frosting is too thick, thin with 1-2 tablespoons additional water.

Spoon a thin layer of the frosting on top of the cooled pop-tarts. Allow frosting to harden 10 minutes. Sprinkle with coarse sugar or salt. Place on a baking sheet and allow the pop tarts to harden, uncovered, about 2 hours. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Nana’s Carole’s Pancakes


Makes 20 pancakes

These are hands down the best pancakes ever! It’s my mom’s recipe and a treat when my kids visit her. Now we make them at home too, it’s so easy to make pancakes from scratch. Mom sometimes adds fresh blueberries or bananas while cooking and she always serves them with warm maple syrup (no artificial syrup here please). This recipe calls for buttermilk which is one of the secrets to fantastic pancakes. Buttermilk adds a creaminess and a tart twist to the otherwise neutral flavored ingredients. I highly recommend making the batter the night before cooking them and storing it in the refrigerator. It gives the buttermilk time to work its magic. Don’t worry if it's clumpy, don’t overmix it, and it all melts in the cooking process.

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter (I have also used less to reduce fat content w/out noticing much difference although you do need the fat)
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ cup sour cream
  • 2 - 2 ½ cups buttermilk (depending upon how thick or thin you like your pancakes. I prefer thinner ones so use more than 2 cups)

Sift or stir flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda in a bowl. Set aside.

Melt butter in the microwave in a large 4 cup Pyrex measuring cup. Cool a bit, then add eggs and sour cream. Mix with a fork to incorporate, then add buttermilk. Add wet ingredients to dry ones and fold in so all is mixed but don’t overmix. It’s ok if it's a bit lumpy. Let rest for at least 10 minutes or longer (overnight works well, too).

Heat griddle on med- low heat, grease with non-stick spray or a little butter, when heated take a paper towel and remove most of the Pam spray. You want the griddle to be very lightly coated.

When drops of water sizzle on the griddle, it’s ready for batter. Spoon about 3 tablespoons batter for each pancake, my griddle holds about 4 - 5 each. Cook, undisturbed for about 2 minutes, flip and cook on the second side. First batch always takes twice as long it seems than the pancakes following. Make sure griddle’s heat remains constant & doesn’t get too hot, because pancakes can burn quickly. Nothing like light, fluffy hot off the griddle pancakes.

Blueberries or sliced bananas can be added to each pancake while it’s 1st cooking on the griddle & before it’s been turned. This controls the amount of fruit in each pancake.

Homemade Cinnamon Buns


Photo by The Little Epicurean

Makes 12

I get a lot of requests for this recipe. It’s not only good but kids enjoy making this yeasted dough recipe and are proud of the results. This is a classic but feel free to add pecans or other fillings.


  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 2 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup + 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup whole milk, room temp (or non-dairy creamer for pareve version)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large yolk
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 5 tablespoon unsalted butter/margarine, softened

Cinnamon Sugar Filling

  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter/margarine, softened
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt


  • 1 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 4 tablespoon milk or non-dairy creamer
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
  • pinch of kosher salt

Dough: Sprinkle yeast over warm water. Add 1 teaspoon sugar and stir to combine. Let sit for 5-7 minutes to allow mixture to proof (bubble and activate).

In the bowl of a stand mixer, with hook attachment (for breadmaking), whisk together yeast mixture, remaining 1/4 cup sugar, milk, egg and yolk. Whisk salt into flour. Add 2 cups of flour to the mixing bowl. Mix on low speed until flour is incorporated. Add another 1 cup of flour. Continue to knead on low speed, adding softened butter 1 tablespoon at a time. Add remaining cup of flour and knead until the dough is smooth and cleans the sides of the bowl. If dough is too sticky, add additional flour a little at a time until desired consistency is achieved.

Transfer dough to a lightly greased bowl. Cover with damp cloth and let dough rest at room temperature for about an hour until the dough has doubled in volume.

Punch down risen dough. Transfer to a lightly floured working surface. Roll dough into a 20 x 14 inch rectangle. Spread softened butter over dough.

Make the Cinnamon Sugar Filling: In a bowl, mix together sugar, brown sugar and cinnamon. Distribute cinnamon sugar filling and gently press into dough. Sprinkle with salt.

Roll dough into a tight log, starting at the longest side. Slice the log into 12 equal parts. Lightly grease 9 x 12-inch baking pan. Cover pan with plastic wrap and let rolls rest for 30-45 minutes at room temperature to allow rolls to rise.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Remove plastic wrap and bake rolls for 30-35 minutes until golden brown on top. Allow rolls to rest for 5 minutes to slightly cool.

For the Glaze: In a bowl, combine powdered sugar, milk, vanilla, orange zest and salt. Mix until smooth. If the glaze is too thick, add additional milk 1/2 tablespoon at a time. Spread over warm rolls and serve immediately.

Brownie Ice Cream Cake with Salted Caramel Drizzle


Serves 10

I’m including this recipe because I wanted to share one of the most delicious and versatile salted caramel sauce. I serve it on ice cream, pareve or dairy, atop basic brownies or brondies, baked apples, or any apple or pear dessert, cheesecake, and over a hot cup of coffee or hot chocolate. It’s a basic recipe that is wonderful on this showstopper below but also added to any of your favorite others. Caramel can be tricky so follow the directions closely.

For the brownies:

  • 1 cup 2 sticks unsalted margarine
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup chocolate chips

For the Ice Cream Layer:

  • 1.5 quart of pareve vanilla ice cream softened
  • 2 cups chopped toffee candy bars divided (I use Viennese crunch)
  • Salted Caramel Sauce, for serving (recipe below)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9″ x 13″ pan and set aside.

In a medium saucepan set over low heat, melt the margarine, and sugar and stir to combine, until sugar melts into margarine. Increase heat and bring to slow boil, stirring constantly. The mixture will become shiny looking as you stir it.

Transfer the sugar mixture to a medium-sized mixing bowl. Stir in the cocoa, baking powder, salt, and vanilla. Whisk in the eggs, stirring until smooth. Slowly add the flour. When slightly cooler add chocolate chips. Stir.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Bake the brownies for about 27-30 minutes, until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out with moist crumbs. The brownies should feel set on the edges, and the center should look very moist, but not uncooked. Remove them from the oven and cool completely.

When the brownies are completely cool, put the softened ice cream into a medium bowl. Stir in 1 1/2 cups chopped toffee candy bars. Evenly spread the ice cream over the cooled brownies. Garnish with the additional candy bar chunks.

Cover the ice cream brownie bars and place in the freezer. Freeze until ice cream hardens, at least 2 hours and up to three months.

When ready to serve, remove the pan from the freezer and let it sit for about 10 minutes before slicing. Run a sharp knife under hot water and cut the bars into squares. The bars will be hard to cut so make sure you get the knife super hot in between each cut. Drizzle the bars with salted caramel sauce.

Salted Caramel Sauce

Makes about 1 ½ cups

  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted margarine or butter at room temperature, cut into pieces
  • 1 cup non-dairy creamer, or heavy cream at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon coarse salt

Heat the sugar over medium high-heat in the bottom of a heavy 2-3 quart saucepan. When the sugar starts to melt, start whisking the sugar. The sugar will clump up, but keep whisking. It will continue to melt. When the sugar is melted, stop whisking. You can swirl the pan to move the sugar around.

Continue cooking the sugar until it reaches a deep amber color. Make sure you watch the pan very closely. It does take a few minutes to start to color but then quickly can burn so watch the fire.

As soon as the sugar reaches the dark amber color, carefully add margarine. Stir until margarine is melted.

Remove the pan from the heat and slowly pour in the heavy cream. Whisk until cream is incorporated and caramel is smooth. Whisk in coarse salt.

Let the caramel sauce cool for about 10 minutes in the pan. Pour the caramel into a large jar and cool to room temperature. Put the salted caramel sauce in the refrigerator. Store in the refrigerator for about a month.


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