The hostess of the Christmas lunch expected chocolate but I didn’t feel that was the right occasion for a 100% chocolate concoction. After all, the thirty guests were mostly Italian and used to ending Christmas lunch with a panettone. So I borrowed from Russia.
Never mind that a babka is usually made at Easter or, in the version I picked, typical of the Eastern European Jewish tradition. I liked the idea of crossing boundaries and, mostly, of a brioche-like cake laden with dark chocolate.
The recipe I favour is Martha Stewart’s, with a few modifications – I don’t care much for the streusel that goes on top and I slightly decreased the amount of chocolate but I left the rest intact. If it seems long and winded, it’s only because the methodology is slightly lengthy to explain. Once you make it once and have the twisting down, it will be easy forevermore. For Christmas, Easter or Sabbath.
RECIPE – Makes 3 loaves
1 1/2 C Milk, warm
2 packages Active yeast (1/4 oz each)
1 3/4 C Sugar (+ a pinch)
3 Eggs, room temp
2 Yolks, room temp
6 C All Purpose Flour
1 ts Salt
1 3/4 C Butter (3 1/2 sticks, an ungodly amount, I know), cut into small cubes, room temp
2 pounds Semi Sweet Chocolate, chopped (if you find them, buy pastilles which are easier to chop)
2 1/2 T Cinnamon
1 T Heavy Cream
- Pour warm milk into a small bowl and sprinkle the yeast and a pinch of sugar over it. Let stand for about 5 minutes, until foamy.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together 3/4 C sugar, 2 eggs and the yolks. Add to yeast mixture and whisk to combine.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine flour and salt. Add egg mixture and beat until incorporated. Change to dough hook. Add 2 sticks of butter and beat on medium until you have a soft, slightly sticky dough, with the butter completely incorporated, about 10 mins.
- Turn the dough onto a lightly floured board and knead a few turns. Place it into a large buttered bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let it rest in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
- Place chopped chocolate, remaining cup of sugar and cinnamon in a large bowl and stir to combine. Using a pastry cutter or your hands cut in remaining 1 1/2 sticks of butter until well combined. Your filling is now ready. Set aside.
- Butter 3 9×5 loaf pans and line them with parchment paper. Beat remaining egg with one tablespoon of cream and set aside. Punch back the dough and transfer it to a clean board. Let rest 5 minutes and then cut it into 3 equal pieces. Keep 2 pieces covered with plastic while, on a floured board, roll the first piece onto a 16” square, about 1/8” thick.
- Brush the edges with the prepared egg/cream mixture. Spread 1/3 of the chocolate filling evenly on the dough, leaving a 1/4” border. Roll the dough up tightly like a jelly roll. Pinch ends together to seal. Twist evenly 5 or 6 turns (don’t worry, the dough will stretch nicely). Brush top of the roll with egg wash. Press 2 T of the chocolate filling on the left half of the roll. Fold right half of the roll over the left. Fold the ends under and pinch to seal. Twist the roll 2 turns and fit into the first pan. Repeat with the rest of the dough.
- Brush the top of each loaf with egg wash. Loosely cover each pan with plastic wrap and let stand in a warm place for 20/30 minutes.
- Bake loaves at 350, rotating halfway through, until golden, roughly 55 mins. Lower the temperature to 325F and bake the babkas until deep golden, 15 to 20 mins more.
- Remove from oven and let cool before unmolding. You can freeze them up to one month.
When you cut into them, the dense chocolate filling wrapped around the buttery dough will draw oohs and aahs! Thoroughly delicious and the leftovers are perfect for breakfast.