OK, baking fans, we have a real project for you if you're up for the challenge. Set aside your basic banana bread, because it's time to move on to a recipe for the patient pros. Yes, patient, because this recipe for chocolate babka will take several hours to complete. Once you've made it, though, all the hard work will be worth it.
Traditional babka, which is a sweet bread-like cake, has Jewish and Eastern European origins. It's most commonly made with a cinnamon sugar swirl, but chocolate has become a more prominent flavor in recent years. The babka really isn't that difficult to make, but it's an extensive recipe that requires many steps and many hours of letting the dough rest.
If you'd like, you can spread the process out over a few days, which is what I did when I made it. On day one, I made the chocolate filling and the streusel topping and stuck both in the fridge. It works out really well to chill the chocolate fudge filling so that when you use it, it'll have more of a paste-like consistency that's easier to work with. Some of your ingredients also need to be at room temperature when you start working with them, like butter and eggs, so on day two, I got out those ingredients and let them sit overnight. There's also a step after making the dough where the recipe recommends letting it rest overnight if you have the time. I opted to let mine rest for just a few hours before baking, but if you go for the overnight adventure, you're on to day four before you begin baking.
Once you have all the components ready to go and your dough has risen and rested a couple times, you're at the tricky part of rolling the dough into a coil, cutting it, and getting it into the bread pan. I tried to get my dough to the correct size, but I might have been winging it on the second loaf. (I was definitely winging it.) The recipe does make two full loaves, but if you don't want to bake both at once, you can coil the second loaf and store it in the fridge for a month or two before baking it. When you're ready to bake that loaf, take it out and bring it up to room temperature before cutting it and finishing the recipe from there.
I also want to point out that the final step of the recipe is to pour a simple syrup over the cake to let it soak in, and it's really important to do that. Because this is a cross between bread and cake, it can be a little dry, and the syrup really helps moisten it and keep it gooey!
1/2 cup whole milk
1 package (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast
1/3 cup granulated sugar, plus a pinch
4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, more as needed
1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (optional)
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
4 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing bowls and pans
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup heavy cream or half-and-half
Pinch kosher salt
6 ounces extra bittersweet chocolate, preferably between 66 and 74 percent cocoa, coarsely chopped
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup water
- Prepare the dough: In a small saucepan or a bowl in the microwave, warm the milk until it’s lukewarm but not hot (about 110 degrees). Add yeast and a pinch of sugar and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes, until slightly foamy.
- In an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook, or in a food processor, mix together flour, 1/3 cup sugar, the salt, the vanilla, the lemon zest (if using) and the nutmeg. (If you don't have a mixer or processor, use a large bowl and a wooden spoon.) Beat or process in the yeast mixture and eggs until the dough comes together in a soft mass, about 2 minutes. If the dough sticks to the side of the bowl and doesn’t come together, add a tablespoon more flour at a time until it does, beating very well in between additions.
- Add half the butter and beat or pulse until the dough is smooth and elastic, 3 to 5 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed. Beat in the rest of the butter and continue to beat or pulse until the dough is smooth and stretchy, another 5 to 7 minutes. Again, if the dough sticks to the sides of the bowl, add additional flour, 1 tablespoon at a time.
- Butter a clean bowl, form the dough into a ball and roll it around in the bowl so all sides are buttered. Cover the bowl with a clean towel and let it rise in a warm, draft-free place (inside of a turned-off oven with the oven light on is good) until it puffs and rises, about 1 to 2 hours. It may not double in bulk but it should rise.
- Press the dough down with your hands, re-cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight (or, in a pinch, for at least 4 hours, but the flavor won't be as developed).
- Prepare the filling: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine sugar, cream, and salt. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until sugar completely dissolves, about 5 minutes. Scrape mixture into a bowl. Stir in chocolate, butter, and vanilla until smooth. Let cool to room temperature. Filling can be made up to a week ahead and stored, covered, in the fridge. Let come to room temperature before using.
- Prepare the streusel: In a bowl, stir together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, and salt. Stir in melted butter until it is evenly distributed and forms large, moist crumbs. Stir in the chocolate chips. Streusel can be prepared up to 3 days ahead and stored, covered, in the fridge.
- Prepare the syrup: In a small saucepan, combine sugar and 2/3 cup/158 milliliters water. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then simmer for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally until the sugar dissolves.
- Butter two 9-inch loaf pans, then line with parchment paper, leaving 2 inches of paper hanging over on the sides to use as handles later.
- Remove dough from refrigerator and divide in half. On a floured surface, roll one piece into a 9-by-17-inch rectangle. Spread with half the filling (there's no need to leave a border). Starting with a long side, roll into a tight coil. Transfer the coil onto a dish towel or piece of plastic wrap and stick it in the freezer for 10 minutes. Repeat with the other piece of dough.
- Slice one of the dough coils in half lengthwise to expose the filling. Twist the halves together as if you were braiding them, then fold the braid in half so it’s about 9 inches long. Place into a prepared pan, letting it curl around itself if it’s a little too long for the pan. Cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until puffy (it won’t quite double). Alternatively, you can cover the pans with plastic wrap and let them rise in the refrigerator overnight; bring them back to room temperature for an hour before baking.
- When you're ready to bake, heat the oven to 350 degrees. Use your fingers to clump streusel together and scatter all over the tops of the cakes. Transfer to oven and bake until a tester goes into the cakes without any rubbery resistance and comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes. The cakes will also sound hollow if you unmold them and tap on the bottom. An instant-read thermometer will read between 185 and 210 degrees.
- As soon as the cakes come out of the oven, use a skewer or paring knife to pierce them all over going all the way to the bottom of the cakes, and then pour the syrup on top of the cakes, making sure to use half the syrup for each cake.
- Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before serving.
- 2 loaves
- Prep Time
- 12 hours 45 minutes
- Cook Time
- 50 minutes
- Total Time
- 13 hours, 34 minutes, 59 seconds