The New York Times says making it is "no casual undertaking." Noted food writer David Lebovitz offers a recipe for a stunning version he enjoyed at Honey & Co. in London. Dean & DeLuca sells it online — for $28 a loaf. What is this mysterious bread, and is it really worth it? Take our Chocolate Babka Bakealong challenge, and find out!
Chocolate babka, a dense, rich loaf swirled with an equally rich chocolate/butter/sugar/nut filling, is a classic eastern European Jewish bread. Here in the U.S., chocolate babka has gradually spread from its native big city bakeries into suburban bistros and coffee shops — and thence to the kitchens of those of us who enjoy an interesting yeast bread project.
While we agree baking babka is "no casual undertaking," it's also attainable by bakers of any skill level — even beginner. Simply follow the steps one by one and before you know it, you'll be pulling a couple of gorgeous loaves out of the oven.
Are you ready to take the Chocolate Babka Bakealong challenge? Let's begin.
The following recipe makes two loaves: one to keep, one to give away. But if you'd rather make a single loaf, simply halve all of the ingredients and proceed with the recipe as written.
Chocolate Babka Bakealong challenge
Make the dough
Place all of the following in a large mixing bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer:
1 to 1 1/4 cups lukewarm water
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, SAF Red or SAF Gold preferred
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
*Don't have dry milk on hand? Omit it, and substitute liquid milk for the water.
Combine all of the dough ingredients (starting with the lesser amount of water), mixing until everything is moistened. Add additional water if necessary to enable the dough to come together.
Cover the bowl, and let the dough rest for 20 minutes.
What does this short rest do? It allows the flour to absorb the water, which will make the dough less sticky and easier to knead — and help prevent you from adding too much flour, which would make your babka dry.
After about 20 minutes, mix/knead the dough until it's soft and smooth.
Let the dough rise
Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, and cover the bowl. The dough is going to rise for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until it's quite puffy.
Ninety minutes later, see how nicely the dough has risen? Deflate it gently by picking it up and squeezing it.
Divide the dough in half, and shape each half into a rough log. Set the logs aside, covered, while you make the filling.
Prepare the filling
To make the filling, combine the following in a medium mixing bowl:
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup Double-Dutch Dark Cocoa, Triple Cocoa Blend, or the cocoa powder* of your choice
1/2 teaspoon espresso powder
*Should you use Dutch process or natural cocoa here? We prefer Dutch process for its rich, smooth flavor, but use natural if you prefer.
Stir in 1/4 cup melted butter. The mixture will look grainy and slick; that's OK. Set this aside; it's your first layer of filling. Note: If the filling sits too long it may harden up and become difficult to spread. If this happens, simply rewarm it gently; a microwave works well here.
Next, measure out 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips, and 1 cup diced pecans or walnuts.
For a less-chunky filling, whirl the chips in a food processor briefly, to break them up a bit; or use chocolate mini chips. For best flavor, toast the nuts in a frying pan (no oil), 350°F oven, or toaster oven, watching carefully and stirring often until the nuts start to brown and become aromatic.
Assemble the babka
Shape each piece of dough into a 9" x 18", 1/4"-thick rectangle. Don't be fussy about this; 19" or 20" is as good as 18".
Working with one piece of dough at a time, spread it with half the chocolate filling. Leave about an inch bare around the edges.
Scatter half the chips and nuts on top.
Next: two choices for shaping your babka.
Shape your babka
Roll the dough into a log, starting with a long edge.
Double the log back on itself, like a skinny horseshoe.
Give the horseshoe a twist.
More complex shaping:
Starting with a short end, roll the dough gently into a log, sealing the seam and ends. Use a pair of scissors or a sharp knife to cut the log in half lengthwise (not crosswise) to make two pieces of dough about 10" long each; cut carefully, to prevent too much filling from spilling out.
With the exposed filling side up, twist the two pieces into a braid, tucking the ends underneath.
Repeat with the remaining piece of dough, using whatever shaping method you choose.
Top the babka
Next, make the streusel topping by mixing together the following ingredients until crumbly:
Beat 1 large egg with a pinch of salt until well-combined. (What does the salt do? It helps break down the protein in the egg white, making it less viscous and easier to spread.)
Brush each loaf with some of the beaten egg.
Sprinkle each loaf with half the topping.
Let the loaves rise
Tent each pan with plastic wrap, and let the loaves rise until they're very puffy and have crowned a good inch over the rim of the pan, 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours.
Towards the end of the rising time, preheat your oven to 300°F.
Bake the babka
Place the two pans onto a larger baking sheet, for ease of handling (and to catch any potential streusel-shedding). Bake the bread for 35 minutes. Tent lightly with foil, and bake for an additional 15 to 25 minutes (for a total of 50 to 60 minutes). To ensure the loaves are baked through, insert a digital thermometer into the center of one loaf; it should register at least 190°F.
The finished loaves should be a deep-golden brown.
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.
Slice and enjoy!
And here are what the loaves look like inside. At left is the babka with the more complex shaping method; at right, the simpler one.
With the more complex shaping, the one where you slit the dough log in half, you're never quite sure what kind of interesting pattern you'll see inside. With the simpler method, you'll quite reliably see this double swirl.
Interested in more? See our complete collection of Bakealong recipes.