What is so charming about a chocolate babka that you feel immensely proud each time you make one? Is it the soft dough that comes together quite simply, the quiet rise of the dough that is therapeutic or the chocolate filling you could eat all day? I have no answers to all of these questions but only a fabulous recipe I insist every passionate baker must try at least once.
This chocolate babka has got such a hold on me that it has got me immersed into Jewish baking now and I can’t wait to get my hands on more recipes such as these. Baking dessert breads might quickly become my new obsession and I look forward to that.
What is a Babka?
Babka, a traditionally Jewish recipe, is a sweet braided bread and some even call it cake . Made with the usual bread ingredients, what sets it apart is the brioche like dough made with cubes of butter mixed with the flour. This makes the dough insanely soft and fluffy. The bread usually has a filling like cinnamon, chocolate and even Nutella now. Tell me please, what is not to like?
How to make a chocolate babka
The recipe might look fairly long as does the list of ingredients but the babka is quite simple to make. In terms of time, the dough, the syrup and filling get done fairly quickly, and the only time they require is for the dough to rest and rise. So it actively doesn’t need so much of your time. To make the chocolate babka, you first
- make the dough and let it chill in the fridge
- make the chocolate filling and set it aside
- take out the dough, roll it out, spread the filling and braid it
- let the dough rise
- bake it
- make the syrup and pour over the baked bread. THAT IS IT!!!
Babka tips and tricks
- The recipe might look lengthy and laborious but it actually is fairly simple. The syrup and the chocolate filling take barely any time to get ready. The dough comes together rather quick and the only time it needs is for resting and proofing.
- Use good quality yeast. This is important for all bread recipes. If you aren’t sure the yeast is active, it is advisable to put some in a glass of warm water and set aside for 10 minutes. If it turns frothy and bubbly, your yeast is good to go.
- For the butter that goes into the bread, cut into cubes and bring to room temperature before adding to the bread, so it incorporates well into the flour. If the cubes are chilled, they’ll remain as blobs in the dough and this will be a problem when you roll out the dough.
- Once you’ve made your dough, refrigerate it overnight. This will make it so much easier to work with the dough, especially to roll it out and spread the filling.
- If you want to use a filling that needs zero effort, use Nutella. The chocolate filling I’ve used is delicious and not high on demands, but I am all for simplifying recipes.
- If you are using the chocolate filling, make sure it has completely cooled down before you spread it out on the dough. If it’s hot or warm, it will turn your dough into a mushy mess, quite quickly.
- You can also make the filling in advance and refrigerate it. Just microwave it in two 10 second spurts or more, just until it is of a spreadable consistency. Again, not too hot.
Adapted from Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.
For the dough
3 3/4 cups all purpose flour plus extra for rolling and dusting
1/2 cup castor sugar
1 tbsp dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
a pinch of salt
150 gms butter, cut into cubes and brought to room temperature.
For the filling
1/3 cup icing sugar
200 gms chocolate
1/3 cup cream
115 gms /1/2 cup/1 stick butter
1/3 cup cocoa powder
For the syrup
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
Make the dough
- Babka is best made with a stand mixer or by using a cake beater with the dough attachment on.
- Mix the flour, sugar and yeast in the mixing bowl. Lightly mix for a minute.
- Add the eggs, one by one, followed by the water and salt. Mix lightly until it comes together. This should take 2-3 minutes.
- Toss in the butter, few cubes at a time, allowing it to combine with the flour. Once you’ve added all the butter, continue mixing for about 10 minutes. You might need to scrape down the sides of the bowl in between to ensure all the ingredients come together.
- This will leave you with a dough that looks elastic and shiny. If it’s a bit sticky, don’t worry.
- Grease a large bowl with a bit of oil. Dust your hands with some flour. Scrape the dough out of the mixing bowl and place in the greased bowl. Cover with cling film and leave to rest in the fridge, until the dough is firm enough to work with, preferably overnight.
Make the filling
- Take all the ingredients for the filling and place in a saucepan. Bring to boil on a low flame, stirring continuously to ensure it doesn’t burn. Continue to heat until all the ingredients have melted and combined.
- Transfer to a container and allow to rest in the fridge.
Roll the dough
- Grease two loaf tins with butter and line with parchment paper, letting the paper overhang on the sides. This will make it easier to take the babka out.
- Take out the well rested dough. Divide into 2 equal portions.
- On a well floured surface, roll out the dough into a large rectangle. Spread the chocolate filling all over, using a spatula. Ensure the filling is at a spreadable consistency. (read tips and tricks)
- Starting at the longer side, using both hands, roll the dough tightly as you can, till the other end, to make a cigar shaped roll.
- Using a knife, cut the dough into two ropes, lengthwise and then shape into a braid by lifting one piece over the other and then the other way around.
- Lift the braided dough and place as is in the prepared tin. Repeat the process with the other half of dough and place in the other prepared tin.
- Leave the loaves to rise at room temperature for about 2-2.5 hours or until the dough has doubled in size.
- Bake in a preheated oven at 175 C for 35-40 minutes.
Make the syrup
- While the bread is baking, make the sugar syrup.
- Mix the sugar and water in a saucepan, bring to a boil and allow to simmer for 5 minutes.
- Divide into two portions, one for each loaf and pour the syrup over the baked babka as soon as it is out of the oven.
- Let the cakes cool down completely before you take them out of the tin.
- You can freeze leftovers . Just warm up the bread in the microwave for 10-15 seconds before serving.