The summer solstice breathed energy into the heart of Times Square at sunrise this morning with thousands of disciples inhaling the light and expelling the darkness. The instructor managed to focus the crowd and be almost oblivious to the surrounding neon extravaganza. It was a collective meditation that enthused me by proxy. Historically, my downward dog was never really up to scratch despite sporadic sessions of good intent, but the freshness of the morning and the celebration of the day gave promise of greater inspiration to come.
Breads Bakery is one of my favorite temples of indulgence that offers more physical sustenance than spirituality – although with chocolate these boundaries are not so clearly defined. For the solstice, Sean and I joined a tour of enthusiasts who were invited to share the specialness of ‘the back’ of the bakery. Here we found Adir, the chief pastry maker and his girlfriend Sharon, a mechanized rolling pin whose intimate time with the chef left no room for contenders. Days can start at one am, and with a record set of 530 chocolate babkas sold in one day, Sharon and Adir look to be an item for some time to come.
The secret of the chocolate babka is in the practice. The ingredients are important – the pastry must be many layered and baked with butter that will provide the right flavor and flakiness. Nutella is the proven spread that with just the right thickness and added chips will not fuse with the pastry during the baking process but provide rich ripples of chocolate under a crispy crust. But to reach true nirvana with the babka, the maker must have a generosity of spirit.
The passion of Adir for his craft was as obvious as his skill. Thanks to Sharon the pastry was a perfect thickness, Adir then lacquered on the nutella with lightening precision and an enthusiastic young adherent assisted with the sprinkles. The discipline of the roll was all in the wrists, with repetition guiding the energy flow from muscular to the metaphysical. Plaiting was a blur of consciousness but weighing meant every piece would bake to perfection. When you are making 160 of these a day there is no time to waste, especially when there are also croissants, pretzels, foccacias and bountiful breads to oversee. But the whole process was all the more interesting because of the openness of the instructor. There were no secrets and while this is not something I would necessarily try at home, I can imagine having a new mantra if ever I get back to the mat. In the meanwhile, disciples of the chocolate babka can practice at Breads Bakery every day…