This recipe is not for the faint of heart. It’s a two-day process that involves yeast, a fair amount of hands-on time, a stand mixer, and lots of rising. Mine took much longer to rise than the directions indicated, but in the end, I had two beautiful loaves chocolate babka. My boys can’t get enough of them.
I was thrilled to have this recipe succeed. I have tried to make chocolate babka in the past during a dark period when yeast was definitely not my friend, and I failed miserably. These days yeast and I get along much better.
Growing up, I never ate babka. I don’t think I knew babka existed until I heard about it on a Seinfeld episode years ago. Remember that one? These days I think of it as a treat to be purchased from Jewish bakeries, and I also think of it as being a bit dry. Not this babka. When the loaves come hot out of the oven, you pour a sugar syrup over them that keeps them moist for a couple of days. The syrup might keep them moist for longer than that, but the loaves were devoured before extended testing could ensue.
I like this recipe because it doesn’t contain nuts. The boys are not huge fans of nuts in their baked goods. Next time I make this, I’ll attempt to braid the dough a little more before putting it into the pans to rise, hoping to achieve more striation. Next time, I’ll also weigh all of the ingredients as I did this time. It worked well.
Until I started reading about babka, I didn’t realize that in many European countries, babka is an Easter treat, so this recipe is timely.
The boys are asking for another batch of these already.
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Recipe from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it from the Chocolate Krantz Cakes in Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
4 1/4 cups (530 grams) all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
2 teaspoons instant yeast or rapid rise yeast
Grated zest of half an orange
3 large eggs
1/2 cup water (cold is fine) and up to 1 to 2 tablespoons extra, if needed
3/4 teaspoon fine sea or table salt
2/3 cup unsalted butter (150 grams or 5.3 ounces) at room temperature
Sunflower or other neutral oil, for greasing
4 1/2 ounces (130 grams) dark chocolate (or approximately 3/4 cup chocolate chips)
1/2 cup (120 grams) unsalted butter, cold is fine
Scant 1/2 cup (50 grams) powdered sugar
1/3 cup (30 grams) cocoa powder
1/3 cup water
6 tablespoons (75 grams) granulated sugar
DAY 1: Make the dough: Combine the flour, sugar, yeast and zest in the bottom of the bowl of a stand mixer. Add eggs and 1/2 cup water, mixing with the dough hook until it comes together; this may take a couple minutes. It’s okay if it’s on the dry side, but if it doesn’t come together at all, add extra water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough forms a mass. With the mixer on low, add the salt, then the butter, a spoonful at a time, mixing until it’s incorporated into the dough. Then, mix on medium speed for 10 minutes until dough is completely smooth; you’ll need to scrape the bowl down a few times. I usually found that after 10 minutes, the dough began to pull away from the sides of the bowl. If it doesn’t, you can add 1 tablespoon extra flour to help this along.
Coat a large bowl with oil (or scrape the dough out onto a counter and oil this one) and place dough inside, cover with plastic and refrigerate. Leave in the refrigerator overnight. [Dough will not fully double, so don’t fret if it doesn’t look like it grew by more than half.]
DAY 2 Make filling: Melt butter and chocolate together until smooth. Stir in powdered sugar and cocoa; mixture should form a spreadable paste.
Assemble loaves: Coat two 9-by-4-inch (2 1/4 or 1kg) loaf pans with oil or butter, and line the bottom of each with a rectangle of parchment paper. Take half of dough from fridge (leave the other half chilled). Roll out on a well-floured counter to about a 10-inch width (the side closest to you) and as long in length (away from you) as you can when rolling it thin, likely 10 to 12 inches.
Spread half of chocolate mixture evenly over the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border all around. Brush the end farthest away from you with water. Roll the dough up with the filling into a long, tight cigar. Seal the dampened end onto the log. I found that transferring the log to a lightly floured baking tray in the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes made it much, much easier to cut cleanly in half. Repeat with second dough.
Trim last 1/2-inch off each end of log. Gently cut the log in half lenghtwise and lay them next to each other on the counter, cut sides up. Pinch two of the top ends gently together. Then, lift one side over the next, forming a twist (or a braid) and try to keep the cut sides facing out (because they’re pretty). Don’t worry if this step makes a mess, just transfer the twist as best as you can into the prepared loaf pan. In one batch, mine was long enough to “S” inside the pan and I nested the trimmed ends of the log in the openings. Don’t worry if it looks like the dough isn’t completely filling the pan. When it rises and bakes, it will fill in any gaps.
Cover with a damp tea towel and leave to rise another 1 to 1 1/2 hours at room temperature. Repeat process with second loaf. Mine actually too much longer than this to rise, so allow for extra time. I put my loaves in a slightly warm oven (100 degrees F), and they rose a little faster this way. Make sure they have risen completely before baking them. The risen dough should almost fill the pans.
Bake and finish loaves: Heat oven to 375°F (190°C). Remove towels, place each loaf on the middle rack of your oven. Bake for 30 minutes, but there’s no harm in checking for doneness at 25 minutes. A skewer inserted into an underbaked babka will feel stretchy/rubbery inside and may come back with dough on it. When fully baked, you’ll feel almost no resistance. If you babka needs more time, put it back, 5 minutes at a time then re-test. If it browns too quickly, you can cover it with foil.
While babkas are baking, make syrup: Bring sugar and water to a simmer until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and set aside to cool somewhat. As soon as the babkas leave the oven, brush the syrup all over each. It will seem like too much, but will taste just right — glossy and moist. Let cool about halfway in pan, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool the rest of the way.
Do ahead: Babkas keep for a few days at room temperature. I also understand that they freeze and defrost very well.
Yield: 2 loaves
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Two years ago: Easy Cold Sesame Noodles with Shredded Chicken
Three years ago: Homemade Marshmallow Peeps
Four years ago: Soft Chocolate Cookies with Peanut Butter Frosting
Five years ago: Orange Pound Cake
Six years ago: Sugar-Crusted Popovers
Seven years ago: Whoopie Pies!
Eight years ago: Wheatberry Salad