Babka

A few weeks ago I was catching up on some blog reading when I came across a post from my friend Pamela over at Cookies with Boys for this chocolate babka.  I’d never had babka before, and honestly, I wasn’t even sure what it was.  Luckily, a quick description was provided over at King Arthur Flour’s site (the recipe source), which explained that babka is a traditional eastern European bread often shaped in a twist and topped with streusel.  This recipe is a simplified version, a good place to start I think.  The pictures drew me in and a quick look at the recipe revealed that it involved sweet yeast dough and chocolate – count me in!  I think I managed to restrain myself for about one day before I jumped into the kitchen and got baking. 

Babka

This recipe is not difficult, but here’s my one warning – it’s time consuming, so I wouldn’t advise starting at 10 pm (thankfully I did not do that this time).  Most of the time is inactive – waiting for the dough to rise – so there’s not a lot of hands-on work to do.  I think it’s the perfect project for a lazy weekend day when you’re just going to be lounging around the house.  And the payoff is so worth the effort.  This bread is fantastic!  It’s incredibly tender and oh so rich and sweet.  There is cinnamon in both the dough and the filling, and while I didn’t think it was overwhelming, I could definitely detect it in the final product (I’m only telling you this as I know some people aren’t fans of the chocolate/cinnamon combo – I liked it).  The only changes I made to the recipe were to halve it and skip the nuts.  I’m already planning to make the babka again this weekend so Shane can try it.  I was house-sitting for his parents when I baked it the first time so he missed out on all the fun :)  

Babka

Chocolate Babka
from King Arthur Flour

(Note: There are step by step pictures over at King Arthur Flour’s site, which are better than anything I’d be able to whip up so head on over there if you’d like to check out the process.)

Dough
1 to 1 1/4 cups lukewarm water*
2 large eggs
6 1/4 cups (26 1/2 oz) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (1 1/8 oz) nonfat dry milk
2 tablespoons instant yeast
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz) sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
10 tablespoons (5 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
(*Use the greater amount in winter or in a dry climate; the lesser amount in summer or a humid climate.)

Filling
1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz) sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup (1 oz) Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon espresso powder
1/4 cup (2 oz) unsalted butter, melted
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup diced pecans or walnuts, toasted if desired

Glaze
1 large egg beaten with a pinch of salt until well-combined

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine all of the dough ingredients, mixing just until everything is moistened.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let the dough rest for 20 minutes.  Then switch to the dough hook and knead the dough until it is soft and smooth, about 7 minutes.  The dough may still be slightly tacky. 

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise until doubled in size, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Gently deflate the dough, and divide it in half.  Set the pieces aside, covered, while you make the filling.

To make the filling: Combine the sugar, cinnamon, cocoa, and espresso.  Stir in the melted butter.  The mixture will look grainy and oily.

Shape each half of the dough into a 9 x 18, 1/4-thick rectangle.  Spread half of the filling over each rectangular piece of dough, leaving about a one inch border on all sides.  Scatter half of the chocolate chips and nuts over each piece of dough.  Starting with a short end, roll each piece of dough gently into a log, sealing the seam and ends. Place each log into a lightly greased 9″ x 5″ loaf pan.

Tent each pan with plastic wrap, and let the loaves rise until they’re very puffy and have crowned about one inch over the rim of the pan, 2 to 2 1/2 hours.  Toward the end of the rising time preheat oven to 300 F.  

Just before baking, brush each loaf with the egg glaze; pop any air bubbles with a toothpick. Then, cut a deep vertical slash the length of each loaf, cutting through at least 3 layers.  Bake the bread for 35 minutes then 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.  You can verify the loaves are baked through by using an instant-read thermometer to check the temperature in the center of the loaves – it should be 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.