PERRYSBURG — Sink your teeth into a slice of Ari Collins’ sweet babka bread and the first tantalizing taste to savor is the rich chocolate.
It’s quickly followed up with a spice — quite unlike anything expected in a baked good.
The Perrysburg High School freshman excels at experimenting in the kitchen, often spending hours switching up recipes and coming up with unusual combinations.
Her Spiced Chocolate Babka is taken from an original recipe from Paul Hollywood in the “The Great British Bake Off” show.
“I changed the dough flavor. It’s flavored with Chinese Five Spice, and then I changed the filling to go with that,” Collins said. “It gives it a different, unusual flavor.”
That’s an understatement — the combination of the spice and the sweet is exquisite.
The spice blend, which can be found in any grocery store, is made up of cinnamon, cloves, fennel and peppercorn. It’s supposed to encompass tastes including sweet, bitter and salty.
Collins said patience is required for the mixing and finishing processes in the babka. It takes about an hour of hands-on work, and another two hours to proof.
“It’s hard to understand when you first read it, but it makes sense if you’ve made it once. When you slice it down length-ways, you have to make sure the short end is closer to you,” she added. “And you have to really make sure that the edges, the ends of it, are sealed really well when you’re making the plait.”
Collins said she enjoys the way ingredients come together in baking.
“Sometimes people don’t think past what something is. It can just be something totally different.”
Collins said she just started baking seriously in November.
One of the first recipes that she tried was mini-pineapple upside down cakes.
“I didn’t have the right cake mold, but they still turned out OK,” Collins said.
She also tried bagels and more babkas. Doughnuts are the next challenge.
“I’ve been at home a lot,” she said. “I watch ‘The Great British Bake Off’ constantly, and it just inspires me to make stuff.
“It’s funny and I like the presenters. They always have interesting ideas.”
Mom Stephanie Kies said the British humor in the program is a little bit different, and the competitors are serious, yet friendly.
“Watching her watch it, she’s learned so much,” Kies said. “I’m just so impressed by her. I look at a recipe, and if it has 10 steps … I turn the page. And she’s just fearless. It doesn’t even faze her — she just starts making it.”
If the recipe doesn’t work, Ari thinks it out. For example, if the dough didn’t rise, the salt must have touched the yeast.
“She just really grasps the concept of how things work, which is just really impressive to me,” Kies said.
Science is not one of her favorite subjects at Perrysburg High School, but she does like math and enjoys French class. She plays cello and tennis.
She’s a student journalist for the online newspaper at the high school: eSomethin.com. Collins also writes poetry and takes a psychology College Credit Plus course at Bowling Green State University.
Possible career paths include poetry, fashion journalism and teaching.
She lives with her mom, stepfather Jared and three siblings.
Collins’ grandmother, Linda Smith, recommended her for the cook’s corner feature. Collins said she just baked her a French loaf earlier this month.