Sadly, my Baba isn't around anymore to bake this delicious bread (and I'm vegan now anyways), so it was up to me to figure out a vegan version for this year's loaf.
Not too bad for a first try, right? I think Baba would've been proud. :)
I have to say that Jennifer McCann's recipe for vegan chocolate babka turned out to be a god-send! I couldn't have done this without her dough recipe.
Here is the adapted recipe:
1/4 cup warm water
1 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
1/2 cup sugar
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I used whole wheat)
1 tsp. kosher salt
3/4 cup plain nondairy milk
4 TB plain mashed potatoes
8 TB nonhydrogenated margarine, at room temperature
2 cups ground walnuts or pecans
2 TB corn starch
2 TB applesauce
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 TB liquid sweetener (I used agave nectar)
2 TB plain nondairy milk
1 TB margarine, melted
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. vanilla
Oil a cookie sheet and set it aside.
Whisk the warm water and yeast together in the bowl of a stand mixer. Measure out the sugar and sprinkle a pinch of it into the water. Allow the yeast to proof for five minutes.
Meanwhile, sift the flour and salt together, and in another bowl mix the nondairy milk and mashed potatoes together (no lumps).
Add all the sugar, flour mixture, and milk mixture to the yeast and mix on low speed for 3 minutes using the dough hook attachment. Turn the mixer speed up a notch and add the margarine a tablespoon at a time. Mix for 10 minutes. When you first add the margarine the dough will look like a mess, but hang in there and it will come back together into a smooth ball. (I don't have a mixer so I kneaded it by hand and it worked out fine - Jennifer was right, the dough does look like a mess at first but after a few minutes it comes together beautifully!)
Form the dough into a ball and place in an oiled mixing bowl. Turn the dough over so that it is coated in oil. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm, draft-free place to rise for 2 1/2 hours.
While the dough is rising make the walnut filling. First, measure the cornstarch into a bowl, then add the applesauce and stir until it forms a smooth paste. Add all of the remaining ingredients except for the ground walnuts, and mix well with a spoon. Stir in walnuts.
Scrape dough from the bowl onto a lightly floured surface. Press the air bubbles out and use a lightly floured rolling pin to roll the dough out into a 16"x12" rectangle. Spread evenly with the walnut filling. Roll the dough up, cinnamon-roll style, and pinch the ends together to seal.
If you like, you can place the loaf on the baking sheet as is, or you can coil the whole thing up like a spiral. If you make a spiral, you can brush it with some water to help it stick to itself, and tuck the end of the spiral under the loaf so that it doesn't come undone when you bake it.
Cover the loaf loosely with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for about 40 to 50 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350º during this final rise.
Bake the loaf for 30 to 35 minutes, until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.