These are a few of our favorite things: cinnamon and espresso and yeast and vanilla and..

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Your mission, should you choose to accept it: bake something that includes the five top-selling ingredients on our Baker’s Catalogue Web site.

CHOOSE to accept it? How could I resist picking up this particular gauntlet, and be Iron Baker for a day?

Obviously, the “top 5” ingredients on our site is a moving target, changing not only day-to-day, but minute-to-minute. But the following are perennial top-10s, shifting positions as new recipes and blogs appear, but always staying close to #1: SAF instant yeast, Vietnamese cinnamon, espresso powder, Baker’s Special Dry Milk, and (of course) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour.

Something sweet, yeasty, and filled with goodies, coming up!

Ponder, ponder, ponder… after much thought, I narrowed it down to babka, and St. Louis Gooey Cake.

And in the end, babka was the better fit for this particular ingredient assortment.

Since these are so popular, let’s take a closer look at these key ingredients.

First, King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour – the cornerstone of the test kitchen here. And, of course, our best-selling ingredient by far – if you count the millions and millions of bags we sell at supermarkets every year.

Most national brands of flour are bleached. Do you know what that means?

It means guys at the mill dumping powdered bleach into the flour before it’s bagged.

No joke! Is that what you want to feed your family? Didn’t think so.

One of our King Arthur salesmen was at a mill once, and stuck his hand towards the container of bleach being added to the flour. One of the mill workers called out sharply to watch out – because bleach is dangerous.

So, if bleach is dangerous, why do manufacturers add it to their flour?

Here’s what Tom Payne, our marketing director, says. “Bleaching is done primarily to whiten flour. The reason others do it is they are milling more of the wheat berry (whereas we mill only the heart, the whitest part, the part with the best baking quality and highest protein). Because they mill closer to the bran, they inevitably get little flecks of darker particles in their flour. They bleach it to get a uniform, white color to the flour.

“This method of production worsens baking quality. You have more bran particles in the flour (which cut away at gluten), and less protein as a percentage of weight, because you’re milling non-endosperm parts.”

As Tom says, only the very heart of the wheat berry goes into King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour. Thus, King Arthur costs more than run-of-the-mill flours – and, if you care about consistency and baking quality, it’s worth it.

Maybe you can’t afford the best car on the lot, or fancy jewelry, or a meal at Chez Panisse. But paying $1 extra for a bag of flour that’ll make 6 big loaves of bread? That’s about 17¢ per loaf. You can afford that – yes?

SAF Red instant yeast: an absolute must in the King Arthur test kitchen. I’d guess not a day goes by when someone here isn’t baking with yeast. And when you use as much yeast as we do – you want something you can rely on.

SAF Red is instant yeast, which means it can be added to the dry ingredients in your recipe – no “proofing” (dissolving in water) necessary. It’s convenient, and starts working fast. We store it in the freezer, for ultimate freshness; no need to warm it up before using, just spoon it right into the bowl with your flour.

Is instant yeast different than Fleischmann’s RapidRise? While Fleischmann’s says its RapidRise, instant, and bread machine yeasts can all be used interchangeably, we find that RapdiRise works very quickly, but lacks staying power. SAF works very quickly, and also is good for the long haul: it stays strong and active in yeast doughs that need to rise for several hours, overnight, or even for several days in the fridge.

Milk is a key ingredient in sandwich loaves, sweet breads, and other fine-textured, soft yeast breads. Baker’s Special Dry Milk is specially formulated to yield a higher rise than regular liquid milk or other nonfat dry milks.

Making crusty baguettes or chewy pizza crust? Leave out the dry milk. Making a classic sandwich loaf, or this sweet babka? Reach for the Baker’s Special.

Next: espresso powder, a.k.a. chocolate’s best friend. This super-strong, finely ground coffee dissolves instantly wherever you add it. And when you use just a touch, it doesn’t add coffee flavor of its own; it simply heightens the flavor of chocolate, just as vanilla does.

We discovered this secret in the test kitchen years ago, and have been adding espresso powder to our chocolate recipes ever since.

Ground Vietnamese cinnamon – cassia – is different than the lighter-colored, milder-flavored Ceylon cinnamon typically found in the supermarket spice section. It’s stronger, sweeter, and with a higher oil content, which brings out its flavor, and disperses it more fully throughout whatever you’re baking.

OK, this isn’t named on the “top ingredients” list, but it should! Vanilla Bean Crush is my favorite vanilla in the whole world. Why this particular vanilla? Because it includes crushed pods and seeds, for super-rich flavor.

And because Dave at Sonoma Syrup, who makes the stuff, donates part of the proceeds to breast cancer research. Win-win, in my book.

OK, enough proselytizing. Let’s get to the babka.

Put the following in a mixing bowl:

2 large eggs
6 1/4 cups (26 1/2 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/3 cup Baker’s Special Dry Milk or nonfat dry milk
2 tablespoons instant yeast
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, Vietnamese preferred
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Reduce the salt to 2 1/4 teaspoons if you use salted butter.

Add 1 to 1 1/4 cups lukewarm water. Use the greater amount in winter or in a dry climate; the lesser amount in summer or a humid climate.

Combine all of the dough ingredients, just till everything is moistened. Cover the bowl, and let the dough rest for 20 minutes. This will give the flour a chance to absorb the liquid, making it easier to knead.

Scrape the dough into the center of the bowl…

…then knead for about 7 minutes. It’s OK if it sticks a bit to the sides of the bowl.

Just scrape the sides, and knead a few more strokes to fully incorporate all the bits and pieces into a nice, round ball.

Cover the bowl, and let the dough rise till doubled, 1 to 1 ½ hours.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly greased work surface; a rolling mat makes cleanup easy.

Divide the dough into two equal pieces. I know, these don’t look equal – unfortunate camera angle!

Set the pieces aside, covered, while you make the filling.

OK, back to our filling. Combine the following in a bowl:

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, Vietnamese preferred
1/3 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon espresso powder

Add 1/4 cup melted butter.

Stir to combine. The mixture will look chunky and oily; that’s OK.

Shape each half of the dough into a 9” x 18”, ¼”-thick rectangle. Don’t be fussy about this; 19” or 20” is as good as 18”.

Smear each piece of the dough with half the filling, coming to within an inch of the edges.

Scatter 1/2 cup chopped nuts over each piece; I’m using pecans here.

Then scatter 1/2 cup chocolate chips over each piece of dough.

Starting with a short end, roll each piece gently into a log.

It’s OK if some of the filling falls out; just tuck it back in as best you can.

Seal the bottom seam and ends; all you really need to do with the ends is tuck them under.

Place each log of dough into a lightly greased 9” x 5” loaf pan.

Tent each pan with plastic wrap, and let the loaves rise till they’re very puffy and have crowned a good inch over the rim of the pan, 2 to 2 1/2 hours.

Towards the end of the rising time, preheat your oven to 300°F.

Just before baking, brush each loaf with a glaze made from 1 large egg beaten with a pinch of salt. Pop any air bubbles with a toothpick.

See those flecks of vanilla bean in the dough? I know, I’m kind of over the top about this; I just like the look.

Now, this may feel just plain wrong; but cut a deep vertical slash the length of each loaf.

Cut through at least three layers. this will allow the loaf to expand straight up, rather than blow out at the sides.

Bake the bread for 35 minutes.

It should be golden brown and shiny – egg glaze at work!

Tent lightly with foil, and bake for an additional 15 to 25 minutes (for a total of 50 to 60 minutes); the loaves should be a deep-golden brown.

Remove them from the oven.

To ensure the loaves are baked through, insert an instant-read thermometer into the center of one loaf. It should register at least 190°F.

Remove the loaves from the oven, and immediately loosen the edges with a heatproof spatula or table knife.

Let the loaves cool for 10 minutes, then turn them out of the pans onto a rack to cool completely.

This isn’t a “smooth” coffeecake; it’s craggy and slightly misshapen, melted chocolate and nuts separating the layers of tender bread.

No, not beautiful.

But with chocolate, espresso, cinnamon, flour, vanilla, and butter – you just can’t go wrong.

Read, rate, and review (please) our recipe for Chocolate Babka.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...

comments

  1. Wei-Wei

    This looks amazing! I’m not too sure about the cinnamon-chocolate pairing, though… but still. I’m thinking I need to get a loaf pan ASAP!

    Cinnamon-chocolate is one of those unexpected combinations that simply seems to work, for whatever reason. And you actually can do this without a loaf pan; just bake it on a baking sheet. It might spread a bit and explode out the side, but it’ll taste just as good, Wei-Wei… I know you’re adventurous – go for it! PJH

    Reply
  2. HMB

    Oh, this is dangerous — I am going to ruin my laptop drooling on the keyboard. This looks delish, and that tip abount the cut on top to prevent a blowout is great — but I’m also drooling from the smell of your deli rye rolls (recipe in the recent KAF catalog), which I just stuck in the oven. We are going to have some killer sandwiches in the brown bags tomorrow!!!

    The aromas coming from the kitchen just build anticipation, don’t they? I’m so glad it’s cooling off enough (at least here) to make it possible to turn on the oven again… PJH

    Reply
  3. Jane

    No, not beautiful? I beg to differ. This looks like a perfect reason to gift myself with y’alls “secret ingredient” package…

    Beauty is in the eye of the baker, right? :) PJH

    Reply
  4. erinhibshman

    This looks amazing PJ! I can picture this on a cool morning with a nice cup of hot coffee. I always enjoy seeing the top sellers and I also have to say that I have all of these in my pantry already – the King Arthur Products are DEFINITELY worth the little extra money! My baking has never been better since I made the switch!

    Thanks for your feedback, Erin – always appreciated! PJH

    Reply
  5. Devon

    I knew it was time to reorder vietnamese cinnamon and double dutch dark cocoa! I have been a bread baking disappointment for a long time- things never came out quite right. Since I bought the SAF instant yeast I have had MUCH better luck!! The secret ingredients are completely worth it!
    Devon if you are still having problems with your bread call our Baker’s Hot Line-we will be happy to help you. JMD@KAF

    Reply
  6. lishy

    Amazing! I love cinnamon chocolate and coffee flavors together, so this is perfect for me. Yum yum yum! I think this will need to be made for this weekend, as we always make a special breakfast treat for weekends. I think this will fit the bill quite nicely, thanks for a great use for all those wonderful ingredients I always keep on hand.

    Reply
  7. kellyluna

    *thud* That was me passing out. This looks amazing. Definitely need to give this one a try! You had me at cinnamon and chocolate. Oh, and espresso…and yeast.

    Reply
  8. Rebecca

    Wow! This looks awesome. I definitely want to try this when my order with espresso powder and cocoa comes in the next few days. I think the hardest part of most KAF recipes is just waiting for the ingredients to make it to your doorstep… ;) Thanks!

    Think you’ll like this, Rebecca – it’s an interesting combination of breakfast/dessert…. PJH

    Reply
  9. marbarre

    This looks amazing and is on the list to bake for company this weekend. And I just happen to have all the ingredients on hand.
    But I have a request. I was up last week taking a class and I purchased a loaf of “hazlenut” bread in the Baker’s Store. Wow! It was eaten alive in one day with clamors for more….any chance of getting that recipe since I can’t drive up every day to get more? I’m glad you enjoyed that wonderful bread. it is one of my favorites, too. Unfortunately i can’t give you that recipe as it is proprietary. This would be quite similar , however. Russenzopf Mary@ KAF

    Reply
  10. sarah m.

    cinnamon and chocolate is indeed one of the best ‘unknown’ food pairings out there. I add cinnamon to almost every chocolate dessert I make, esp. my chocolate cherry bread pudding. adds that bit of oomph that sets it over the top.

    Reply
  11. Pamela

    Yum! My babka just came our of the oven and it’s stunning! Can’t wait to try it.

    Wow, that was fast, Pamela! Enjoy – PJH

    Reply
  12. pusty

    hi, can you make this in the zo bread machine thanks chris.

    Yes, you can make the dough in the machine; once it’s done kneading, though, take it out and let it rise in a greased bowl. This is too much dough to let it rise in your Zo. PJH

    Reply
  13. Kathy

    Yum! I was just looking for babka recipes … now there is no excuse not to make it. Do you have suggestions for a cheese filling instead of chocolate? (There are cheese babka recipes elsewhere on the Net, but I really trust your recipes & recommendations.) Thanks in advance.

    Kathy, here’s a cream cheese filling that should work well. PJH

    Reply
  14. aamoe

    this is cruel and unusual punishment… i’m sitting here at work, looking at these pictures and my mouth is watering at the thought of how my kitchen will smell … too bad i have a very busy weekend booked but NEXT weekend I’m giving this a try!! Boy does this look GOOD!

    Step away from the computer….. :) PJH

    Reply
  15. jackiebozeman14599

    Wow–the recipe states 4-15 hours of total time. Why so long? Can these be mixed one day and put in the fridge overnight? Also, can the loaves be frozen, either before baking or after? There are only 2 of us in my household and, although I’m sure we could each scarf down one apiece, I’m trying to keep the scale from going up :-)
    I am unsure about 15 hours. Thank you, I will have to check on that. Yes, you could mix it at night and place in the frig until morning. It will rise slowly. Remove and continue with the recipe (divide dough, etc.). It will take longer to rise in the second rise since you are beginning with a cold dough. So, be patient. I prefer to freeze once baked. Defrost overnight at room temperature. You could wrap in foil to reheat in a preheated oven. I bet it will be excellent! Elisabeth @ KAF

    Reply
  16. lillabit2001

    This looks really yummy! Now I need to find a place to take most of the results, so that when I bake it, I won’t eat it all myself! I’m curious about St. Louis Gooey Cake, though. Will we be seeing that recipe anytime soon? It sounds good, if one can judge by the title.
    I am not sure about the “when” or the “if” for the St. Louis Gooey Cake. PJ? Elisabeth @ KAF

    Reply
  17. lemoncardamom

    “perfection” is highly overrated; spontaneous beauty is in the “artisan” nooks and crannies the bread takes on its own; it is absolutely gorgeous, jump-out-at-you; I do so enjoy your personal observations and notes and wow! “in 1 bowl” – that is fantastic!!! Thank you for sharing…it’s in the beater bowl, resting…

    Trusting it worked out well for you? How can you go wrong with chocolate and yeast though, eh? :) PJH

    Reply
  18. milkwithknives

    THANK YOU for the Fleischmann’s/SAF comparison! I’ve always got a one pounder of the SAF in my freezer, so it’s good to know I’ve got the best. I also appreciate the explanation on the bleached flour, which I always instinctively steered away from anyway. But it’s good to know the actual details and reason for the bleaching process. Hey, if it’s dangerous to get it on your fingers, of course you’d want to put it in your mouth! (head shaking)

    No nuts allowed for us, so I’m thinking about trying this with toasted oats switched in. The photos with the loaf’s intestines blasting out are truly drool-worthy, and this is on my to do list for sure.

    I always thought bleaching was, like, “oh, let it rest out in the sun for awhile…” NOT. Ewww… I think the toasted oats would be fine. Baking will soften them a bit, and they should blend in nicely while adding their “toasty” flavor. Good idea! PJH

    Reply
  19. pauline1014

    I have both the SAF Red and the SAF Gold on hand. Would you recommend using the Gold since this is a sweeter bread?

    Yes, go for the Gold in this case, Pauline – PJH

    Reply
  20. eiregirl56

    As a Seinfeld fan, I have wanted to find a recipe for it ever since the episode aired that featured Chocolate Babka (Elaine wanted to buy one so she could impress the host of a party she was attending).

    Thank you! I will be serving this in the very near future…it looks delicious!

    I never saw Seinfeld, but did read about that episode while researching babka recipes. I wonder if Elaine would have found this one impressive enough?? PJH

    Reply
  21. robnjul

    This looks so *good*! Can it be made without nuts? Would I need to sub something else?

    Just leave out the nuts, that’s fine. You could substitute dried cranberries or apricots, if you like – or, as another reader suggested, toasted oats. Enjoy – PJH

    Reply
  22. Kathy

    PJH: Thank you for the cream cheese filling link. Much appreciated. Now, it’s off to make the dough …..

    Hope it works out well for you, Kathy- PJH

    Reply
  23. Lenore

    Thanks for the free shipping offer. Just placed a large order (for me anyway), including items mentioned
    here.

    Everyone becomes a little giddy when we run a free shipping promotion. Ordering multiples makes a whole lot of sense. Thank you for your order, Lenore. And thank you for saying thank you! Elisabeth @ KAF

    Reply
  24. susanbaty

    Another wonderful looking recipe! My babka is baking even as I write this! Quick question: Is letting the dough rest after the ingredients have been combined a trick specifically for this dough, or is this something I should be doing for other doughs (or even just other sweet doughs)? Thanks!

    It’s not necessary, but can be helpful for all doughs, Susan. It takes awhile for flour to absorb liquid fully. So if you give the dough time for the flour to absorb the liquid before you knead, you won’t think, “Oh, this dough is so sticky, let me add some more flour.” Which would make your bread dry and affect its rise. So it’s especially good for whole grain doughs, and also if you knead dough by hand rather than machine; whole grains absorb more water, yet do it more slowly; and kneading by hand, you’re more likely to be bothered by a sticky dough. Bottom line: you can do this for all doughs if you like, as it helps with ease of kneading, and prevents you adding too much flour. PJH

    Reply
  25. miriambr

    300°F? Is this correct? I MUST make this, but I’d like you to verify the oven temperature beforehand. Thanks in advance.
    Thanks for checking in. Yes, the temperature in the recipe is correct. Happy baking! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  26. mormorjenny

    What’s not to love here? I changed the chocolate filling to a simple ganache of 1 1/4 C Guittard semi-sweet chocolate chips + 1/4 C heavy cream + 1 Tb. corn syrup spread at room temperature. This will be a favorite of my family!

    Reply
  27. MacGuffin

    This looks like a TERRIFIC recipe but I’d just like to make the point that cinnamon from Ceylon isn’t “typically found in the supermarket spice section.” Cinnamon from Ceylon is, in fact, true cinnamon and while it’s quite different to cassia, finding it for sale usually requires a little effort (both Penzeys and Frontier carry it). The cinnamon to which you refer is actually, like Vietnamese cinnamon, cassia, and is usually from Indonesia.
    Thanks much for helping clarify. ~ MaryJane

    Reply

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