Where I live, in Los Angeles, there are billboards around town trumpeting the arrival of the full series of Seinfeld on Hulu. Each board includes a quotable quote from the show. I wasn’t really much of a Seinfeld watcher, but stopped at a light beneath one of these signs, I ruminated on the eps I had seen… George as the marine biologist, the close talker, Susan’s father’s love affair with John Cheever, the puffy shirt – and the babka, the chocolate babka.
Babka. Bab-ka. Baaab-ka. I’ve never made a babka. I’m not sure I’ve even had a babka, or a baba, or huh? I sped home to learn more about this mysterious bread coveted by Jerry and Elaine.
I read quite a few recipes and histories: Ukrainian origin, typically chocolate or cinnamon (although my Ukrainian friend swears her mother made it plain), adapted by other Eastern European traditions. In brief, a rolled brioche. Got it.
I find brioche the most heavenly of doughs. So soft and puffy, so strong and easy to shape. The recipes I read varied only slightly in their treatment of a basic brioche dough (a little lemon zest here, a bit of cinnamon there), so I worked with my tried and true recipe.
Note: Softened butter. I’ve always let it sit on the counter or played Russian roulette with the microwave. I hadn’t planned ahead for this babka so I Googled “softened butter,” et voila, a YouTube video where you put the cold butter into a large Ziploc and smack it around with your rolling pin. Ha! Never knew, works a treat. And fun! (Full disclosure, I smacked a brick of butter with a rolling pin in France, but there was no Ziploc and no witness.) You can also smack the butter between two sheets of waxed paper.
As it went, I ended up making two recipes (four loaves) over the weekend. Thatsa lotta babka! I used the same brioche for both, but varied the fillings:
- Babka One – spread the rolled dough with softened butter and sprinkled with chopped dark chocolate and sugar
- Babka Two – nipped from the Smitten Kitchen’s Better Chocolate Babka and made a spreadable filling of melted dark chocolate, butter, cocoa and powdered sugar
Babka One was good, but the chocolate seemed to weigh down the dough and I ended up with a loaf-long cavern and large hunks of chocolate. It tasted good, but I don’t love dark chocolate enough to have that version be the final word on IB4B babka.
Babka Two was, in a word, heaven. Heaven in a loaf pan, heaven on a cutting board, heaven in my mouth. SK suggests a pinch of cinnamon in the filling – perfection. My filling appeared more liquid than the paste in the pic on the SK site, so rolling up the babka log was a bit of a challenge, but still, fun and well worth it.
My babkas on both tries had glorious muffin tops. A slightly larger loaf pan would likely fix that. But who cares – as I say about all muffin tops, there’s simply more to love.
Make these a day ahead as they do take some time and I think are best enjoyed first as breakfast. Then go ahead with elevenses, luncheon, snack and tea. Then slice the second loaf for a bed time snack.
You’ll see – heaven in your mouth.
Chocolate Babka Two
Two loaves – or one serving, you know, depending
- 3/4 cup warm milk (105–115°F)
- 1/2 cup plus 2 teaspoons sugar
- 3 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour plus additional for dusting
- 2 whole large eggs, room temperature
- 1 large egg yolk, room temperature
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 10 Tbs (1¼ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
- 5 oz (130 grams) dark chocolate (60%-70% cacao)
- 1/2 cup (120 grams) unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup (50 grams) powdered sugar
- 1/3 cup (30 grams) cocoa powder (I used Hershey’s because I was out of Valhrona)
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (SK says it’s optional, it’s not)
- Beat together 1 large egg yolk and 1 Tbs whole milk
Stir 2 teaspoons sugar into warm milk and sprinkle yeast over. Let stand about 5 minutes until foamy.
Pour yeast mixture into bowl of an electric mixer and add 1/2 cup of flour; beat at medium speed until combined.
Add whole eggs, yolk, vanilla, salt, and remaining 1/2 cup sugar. Beat until combined.
Reduce speed to low, then mix in remaining flour, about 1/2 cup at a time, until combined.
Increase speed to medium and beat in softened butter, about a tablespoon at a time. (I cut open the Ziploc and scraped out tablespoon sized bits using a small offset spatula.)
Continue to beat for another 4-5 minutes after all the butter is in until the dough is shiny and pulls lacy strands from beater to bowl.
Dough will be super soft and sticky, and you will want to curl up in it.
Scrape dough into a lightly buttered bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature (warmer is better than in the AC), until doubled, about 2 hours.
While the dough is rising, melt the butter and chocolate together in a 4-cup or larger measuring cup, stirring until smooth. Combine powdered sugar, cocoa and cinnamon, and sift over melted chocolate mixture. Stir to a smooth paste. Set aside.
Line each loaf pan with a long strip of parchment paper cut the width of the short side of the pan and extending over the ends. Butter sides of pan. (You can, as I did, cut another piece of parchment to fit the long way in the loaf pan, but it’s really just extra work.)
Gently punch down dough and then halve.
Roll out one piece of dough on a well-floured surface into a rectangle about 18×10 inches, with the long side facing you. (Don’t worry if it looks like it’s rolled thin. It is.)
Pour half of the chocolate filling mixture down the center of the dough rectangle, then spread with a small offset spatula, leaving about a ½-inch border on all sides. (Why does the top pic look like it’s from the70s? Flour on my iPhone lens.)
Brush the long edge opposite you with some of the egg wash.
Slowly and gently, starting with the long side closest to you, tightly roll the dough over the chocolate filling. Because the dough is so soft, this will be more like nudging it over. Work slowly, from side to side, and try to make as tight a roll as you can.
Once rolled slice off ends. Then, form roll into an oval, pinching ends together.
Have your prepared loaf pan at the ready. Then twist your oval once to make a figure eight, and then again. Drop your twisted dough roll into your prepared loaf pan, nudging a bit here and there to get it all nicely nestled in.
Repeat with second piece of dough.
Cover loaf pans loosely with plastic wrap and set aside to rise again for about 1½ hours. They should just reach the top of the pans.
Preheat oven to 350.
Brush babkas with remaining egg wash and give a light sprinkle of turbinado sugar (if desired).
Bake for 30-35 minutes until golden brown and hollow when tapped on the bottom. Check on your babkas at 25 minutes and then keep an eye out. Mine were perfect at 30 minutes.
Let cool in pans on rack for about 5 minutes, then lift from pans using the parchment ends.
Peel off parchment, place on rack and let cool completely.