Happy Monday, loves! As we all wipe the sleep out of our eyes, drink our morning coffees, and otherwise try to get over this Monday hump, let me introduce you to Chocolate Babka. He’s beautiful, isn’t he? Doughy, chocolaty, and braided to perfection. I got the recipe straight from Deb of Smitten Kitchen, one of my personal idols. I love the simplicity of her site and photography, and how she always manages to create beautiful, inspiring food that pops out of the screen.
I haven’t made one of her recipes in a while (has anyone tried her Red Wine Chocolate Cake? You should), so when I recently popped on over to the blog and saw this Chocolate Babka, I knew I had to make it. How could you not? Though at first it looks like a complicated recipe, it’s pretty simple. That beautiful braiding? Just roll up the dough like a sticky bun, cut it in half, and twist it on itself. That’s it! (Reminds me of my Estonian Kringle, another must-try).
The real dilemma with this bread is how not to eat the whole thing in one sitting. You start pulling off little twisty bites and just can’t stop. Which isn’t a huge problem seeing as the entire recipe has only 1 stick of butter, 6 tablespoons of chocolate chips, and less than 3/4 cup sugar. It’s remarkable. I almost want to call it a healthy loaf, but I’ll resist. I will say that this chocolate babka is better for you (better being relative) than most pumpkin or banana breads in terms of both fat and calories.
This homemade babka would be perfect served with a nice cup of coffee or a PSL (I hear people love those? I’ve never tried one. Whatever). Just make sure you’re around other people when you make your babka, because I can assure you you’ll eat a majority of it yourself if you’re alone.
Spread the calories, that’s my motto. A friend in need deserves a babka indeed.
OK. Maybe not. I tried.
What is babka?
If you’ve never been lucky enough to try babka before, you’re probably a little confused about what makes this braided loaf so special. Pronounced ‘Bahb-kah’, this sweet treat is a dense bread that’s usually swirled with either chocolate or a cinnamon sugar filling. Babka originated in Eastern Europe and has been a staple at Jewish bakeries for years. However, it has become extremely popular in recent years (on the East Coast, at least!), and can now be found in most bakeries and grocery stores around the holidays.
Babka is slightly dry, but the filling is typically quite melty and gooey—especially if you serve it warm straight from the oven! It really is a unique cake-like bread, and I highly recommend trying it at least once in your life to see what all the fuss is about.
How to make babka
I won’t beat around the bush here—babka is a labor of love. Each of the individual steps isn’t tough to do, but the dough needs a lot of time to rise and there are no shortcuts you can take with this recipe. The quick and dirty on how to make this chocolate babka is as follows:
Make the babka dough
Babka uses an enriched dough, which means there’s eggs, butter, and sugar in it. To make the babka dough, you’ll first need to combine the dry ingredients, eggs, and water in the bowl of a standing mixer. Mix until combined (this will take a few minutes). Then, add in the butter a tablespoon at a time and continue kneading the dough for about 10 minutes until it’s completely smooth and begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl.
The babka dough will need to rest in your fridge for at least 6 hours, but overnight is best. Unlike most bread doughs, babka will not double in size, so don’t panic if your dough doesn’t rise a bunch in the fridge! Remember: you’re making a dense, cake-like loaf of bread here.
Make the chocolate babka filling
This is the easiest bit—hoorah! To make the gooey chocolate filling, you simply have to melt chocolate and butter together, and then stir in a little powdered sugar and cocoa powder. This should form a thick-ish paste that you’ll need to spread over the babka dough once it’s been chilled overnight and rolled out.
Assembling the loaves
This is the part of making homemade chocolate babka that intimidates people the most. Stick with me, you’ll be totally fine! To create that iconic babka swirl pattern, you’ll need to first roll the dough out into a long, thin rectangle. Spread the chocolate filling over the dough, leaving a border around the edge (this will prevent the filling from seeping out).
Roll the dough into a long, tight cigar and then seal the babka log with some water. You then need to trim the ends of the long log, and afterwards cut it lengthwise—you’ll be left with two long, skinny logs. Lay the skinny logs next to each other with the cut side facing up. You can then twist the logs together to form the babka braid (I’ve shared more detailed instructions in the recipe card below).
Once you’ve braided the babka, let it rest in the loaf pan and leave it to rise for another hour or so. Then, just pop it into the oven and bake!
Make the syrup
While the babka bakes, you’ll need to make a simple syrup to brush over top of it. As soon as the babka is taken out of the oven, brush it with the syrup—it’ll seem like a lot, but it’s necessary to achieve that glossy sheen on top. Plus, it adds a little moisture to the dense loaf.
How to freeze babka
Babka thaws surprisingly well after being frozen! To freeze a loaf of babka, let it cool completely on your counter before wrapping it in a few layers of plastic wrap. Then wrap it in a layer of tin foil and put it in your freezer. It’ll keep for up to a month this way.
When you’re ready to eat the frozen babka, place it on your counter (in all it’s plastic wrap, etc) and let it thaw to room temperature. Then, take it out of the plastic wrap you froze it in and rewrap it in a single layer of tinfoil. Place it in a 325ºF oven for 8-10 minutes to warm it through before serving.
In other news, I’m heading home to Boston this week for a much anticipated getaway. I miss fall in New England so much, and can’t wait to be back with friends and family. I’ve got more than a few activities planned for this week, so be sure to follow me on Instagram for Boston updates 🙂
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 package (2 1/2 teaspoons) fast active yeast
Grated zest of 1/4 of an orange
2 large eggs
1/4 cup water (cold is fine) and up to 1 to 2 tablespoons extra, if needed
3/4 teaspoon fine sea or table salt
1/3 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
Sunflower or other neutral oil, for greasing
For the chocolate filling
2 1/4 ounces dark chocolate (or approximately 6 tablespoons chocolate chips)
1/4 cup unsalted butter, cold is fine
Scant 1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/3 cup cocoa powder
For the syrup
3 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
Make the dough: Combine the flour, sugar, yeast and zest in the bottom of the bowl of a stand mixer. Add eggs and 1/4 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 fridge for at least half a day, preferably overnight. [Dough will not fully double, so don’t fret if it doesn’t look like it grew by more than half.]
Make filling: Melt butter and chocolate together until smooth. Stir in powdered sugar and cocoa; mixture should form a spreadable paste.
Assemble loaves: Coat a 9-by-4-inch (2 1/4 or 1kg) loaf pan with oil or butter, and line the bottom with a rectangle of parchment paper. Take the dough from fridge. 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 the 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.
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 the top ends gently together. Lift one side over the next, forming a twist and trying 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. Even if you don’t (and choose to bake them separately in a little pan, as I did in other batches), the dough will fill in any gaps by the time it’s done rising and baking, so don’t worry.
Cover with a damp tea towel and leave to rise another 1 to 1 1/2 hours at room temperature.
Bake and finish the loaf. Heat oven to 375°F (190°C). Remove towel, place 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 babka is 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 babka leaves the oven, brush the syrup all over it. 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 before eating (an adorable suggestion from Ottolenghi — don’t worry, we know you’re going to eat it warm).
Do ahead: Babka will keep for a few days at room temperature. Longer, I’d freeze it. They freeze and defrost really well.