I have turned out to be a remarkably provincial sort of woman. Though I went away to college in the midwest, crave travel, and married someone from Elsewhere, we moved back to Pittsburgh early on. I now live in an apartment only about 8 city blocks from the house where my parents lived when I was born. I am Squirrel Hill, born and bred. Hey, buddy, I got me some terroir. (Sounds cooler than "stick-in-the-mud.")
The Waldorf Bakery of Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh is long gone, and I'm not sure exactly when it disappeared, to widespread cries of dismay. Nor do I remember its beginnings, which I suspect preceded my own. It had always been there, as far as I knew. I believe it fell victim to over confident expansion plans, much like Sodini's Restaurant, which my parents had considered their neighborhood bistro. I know its demise occured before Rosenbloom's Bakery went up in smoke (literally), leaving all of Squirrel Hill wondering where our next real rye bread would come from. Certainly, it was still in business long after the closing of Weinstein's Restaurant- which I viewed as the height of elegance as a child. (Don't get me started.) I'm kind of hoping some Pittsburghers with better memories will stop by and comment, to fill me in on the relative dates of all these food-related goings on. I haven't found a photo of the Waldorf, though the most recent, homely pre-fire face of Rosenbloom's was available online.
The Waldorf was, at one time, a part of a row of shops including Authenreit's (sp?)- a real five and ten cents store- and the original National Record Mart store, where I bought my first 45 rpm record. (Though I lived only 5 blocks away, I had to have an adult come with me- the streets were too busy for me to cross alone. It was Chantilly Lace, by the ill-fated Big Bopper.) Now the row of shops has a Panera, a Bruegger's and a Barnes and Noble.
While the bread at the Waldorf was okay, they were really known for their sweet things, including excellent home-made candy; they had dark chocolate covered orange peel to die for. Many of their cakes were fabled, but my favorite reliable purchase was the chocolate coffee cake. Buttery, flaky, sweet enough for a dessert treat, not too sweet for breakfast with coffee, and you could go crazy with any stale remainder, toasting it, and even, sometimes, buttering that toast. When I was a child-bride of 23, I always bought one if we had company I didn't know well-everyone liked it.
For some time now, I have realized that this coffee cake was, in fact, a babka (greater, rather than lesser); the Waldorf was sort of intentionally (I think) non-ethnic; it certainly had a clientele from all over the city. But then, so did Rosenbloom's, and various other specifically Eastern European and/or Jewish-identified shops. I really don't know why it wasn't labeled a "babka"-perhaps they just thought some people wouldn't know what that was. You just kind of had to see one in the glass case to know you wanted it, anyway.
All this babbling was brought on by Joan Nathan's recent babka article in the NY Times. I do believe that's a permalink for you there. It includes the recipe I used, from one Anne Amernick, which has a filling which besides the chocolate, contains apricot. Instead of pound cake crumbs, I used the cake crumbs I had, from an excellent pannetone (how I do love Costco). It had bits of candied peel, very tiny, and sultanas in it, which I did not remove, feeling that they couldn't hurt in a babka filling. Also, I finely grated a little bittersweet chocolate over it while it was still hot- for pretty, as the Amish supposedly say, and also to advertise the chocolate inside. I think they did that at the Waldorf, but possibly I'm imagining this.
Initially it was my plan to do it in a bundt pan, so as to make it more Waldorf-ian and glamorous. The recipe offers the option of a bundt, or a more mundane, 2 loaf end product. I reluctantly went with the loaves, because Ms. Amernick- or Ms. Nathan-or their "adapter" at the Times- called for a streusel which gets applied before baking, but, according to the recipe after the bread goes into the pan to rise. Re the bundt pan- this is an anomaly, no? I mean, who wants a bundt cake which is larger on top than bottom. And anyway, how the hell could you hope to remove it from the bundt pan without turning it upside down, and dumping the streusel everywhere?*
I am an admirer of Ms. Nathan, and choose to believe this is not her doing. Recipe writing is certainly a demanding craft, and not one that I'm especially good at, myself. So I shouldn't be throwing stones. But I've got to say that Maida Heatter or Dorie Greenspan (goddesses of baking recipes, both) would not leave a person in such a fix. The Waldorf version was bundt shaped, and had streusel on top. I can only assume that either 1) the streusel went into the bundt pan first, or 2) at some point during the baking, the cake came out of the pan, got put on a baking sheet , streusel applied, and finished baking. I did not want to risk all those eggs and butter guessing which one to try.
There is however, much though I hate to admit it, having enjoyed my grousing, a silver lining. I can show you the inside, whilst keeping one whole cake in the freezer to serve to friends in one piece. This has the added virtue of keeping me from eating the whole damn thing myself. Maybe. These are the first photos with my new camera and new computer. Clearly, I am way over-enamoured with the gizmos for changing stuff around and need to spend some time to learn to use this equipment in a non-geeky manner. But in the meantime, it gives you some idea what the loaf looks like, inside and out. As you can see, I didn't roll tight enough- so there are gaps. Tastes very, very nice, especially the second day, but not as good as the Waldorf one, not at all.
Further babka experiments must insue. I am eagerly awaiting the advice of experienced babka-ists, as well as corrections from Pittsburghers who remember the old stuff better than I. Happy New Year, y'all. Pittsburgh is 250 years old this year. For europeans, that is as the blink of an eye. But for us here, a good long time, where the Allegheny and Monongehela meet to form the Ohio River.
*Actually, it turns out that the streusel is pretty well soldered on, but we still have the big on top problem with the bundt.