I have an epic recipe for you today. I actually made this back in April as an easter treat for my friends and family, but I haven’t had the guts to blog about it until today. That’s because this recipe is hard. It’s not impossible, but it’s a lot of ingredients, and a lot of steps, and a lot of work. And it’s horribly indulgent. Tons of chocolate and butter and bread. But the real horror is that it is AMAZING. This recipe is not yummy. It’s not delightful. It’s heaven on your tongue. And once you make it, you will want to make it again and again, despite the wreck that it leaves your kitchen, despite the fact that you have to take a day off to do it, despite the fact that you need to walk everywhere you go for the next month to offset the calories. And even more so, EVERYONE YOU FEED IT TO will beg you to make it again. They will plead. They will make sad faces. When you get invited to a party, someone will say “hey remember that thing you made? with the bread and chocolate? can you bring that??”
Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m going to tell you how to make Babka.
Yes, I got the idea to make Babka from watching Seinfeld with my little brother, Lou. But unlike Jerry and Elaine, you will not have to make the heartbreaking, agonizing choice between chocolate and cinnamon. The recipe I found (from Smitten Kitchen, but of course) is for chocolate babka, but it has just the perfect cinnamon kiss. It’s the best of both worlds.
A note: this recipe theoretically makes three loaves. But babka dough and filling can be a little difficult to work with, and the twisting that you are meant to do is nearly impossible with a big loaf (at least for me). I also make these for sending home to PA (for my Seinfeld loving brother and chocolate loving mom) and a big loaf doesn’t ship super well. So I made six mini loaves, using those little mini foil disposable bread loaf pans. I feel like it worked out really well.
1 1/2 cups warm milk, 110 degrees
2 quarter ounce packages of active dry yeast
1 3/4 cups, plus a pinch, of sugar
3 whole large eggs plus 2 large egg yolks, room temperature if you get it together early enough to set out your eggs (I never do)
6 cups all purpose flour, plus a little more for your work surface, of course
1 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 sticks (1 3/4 cups) unsalted butter, cut into one inch pieces, room temperature, plus about another half a stick for the bowl and the loaf pans (so. much. butter.)
2 1/4 pounds (yes. pounds.) semisweet chocolate, very finely chopped
2 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon (I probably use a little bit more than that)
1 tablespoon heavy cream
(Deb also gives you the option of making a streusel topping, but I skipped it this time. It’s a lot of extra work and while it is delicious, I think the babka holds up just fine with out it.)
Essentially what you’re making here is bread, which you then will fill with chocolatey goodness. I find thinking about it that way to be exceptionally helpful, and also can help you remember to try and maintain an appropriate level of care with the dough at the beginning. Bread dough can be a little touchy and this is no different.
1. Pour warm milk into a small bowl. Sprinkle yeast and pinch of sugar over, and let stand until foamy. Theoretically this should take about five minutes, but it always takes longer for me. Don’t be afraid to give this mixture a little stir to get all the yeast milky and active.
2. Whisk together 3/4 cup sugar, 2 eggs and egg yolks. Then add this sugary egg mixture to your yeast mixture, whiskey to combine.
3. Using the paddle of your electric mixer, combine flour and salt. Add the egg mixture and beat on low speed for about 30 seconds. The mixture should be just incorporated.
4. Switch to a dough hook. Add two sticks of butter and beat until the flour mixture and the butter are completely incorporated. Your dough is going to be soft and sticky and smooth. This is going to take about 10 minutes.
5. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead a few times until smooth. Swearing in Croatian is optional, but encouraged when kneading (that’s for you mom!).
6. Butter a large bowl. Place dough in bowl and turn to coat (there is so much butter flavor in this dough, guys. It’s heavenly.) Cover tightly with plastic wrap. I also wrap my dough up (like a baby!) in a blanket or some towels or something. to make sure it’s really warm. Then put it in a warm place to rise until doubled, about an hour.
7. While your dough is having a nap, you can start on the filling. If you have a food processor (a good one, mind you; a cheap or not super powerful one will just turn your chocolate into a combination of dust and huge pieces) you can probably use it to chop up your chocolate nice and fine. Since my food processor is no good and also in storage at the moment, I did it by hand, with an mezza luna. Essentially, I just sort of chipped off flakes of chocolate. It worked out quite well, I think.
8. Stir the chocolate, remaining cup of sugar, and cinnamon together in a large bowl. Then using two knives, or a pastry cutter if you have one, cut in the remaining 1 1/2 sticks of butter until well combined.
(Something fun: if you have extra filling (which you might) don’t throw it away (all that expensive chocolate and butter!). It’ll keep in the fridge a few days and is awesome sprinkled over bread or waffles and then toasted in the toaster oven. It’s kind of like Nutella, without the hazelnuts or the illusion of health.
9. Butter your pans and line them with parchment paper.
10. Beat the remaining egg with 1 tablespoon of cream to make an egg wash. Set aside
11. Punch back the dough and transfer it to a clean surface. Let it rest for about five minutes, then cut into 6 equal pieces. Keep the pieces covered with plastic wrap until you’re ready to work with them to prevent drying out.
12. Roll out the first piece of dough into a square (probably about 8×8). It should be about 1/8 inch thick.
13. Brush the edges of your square with the reserved egg wash. Crumble about 1/6th of the filling in the middle leaving a one inch border. Roll dough up like a jelly roll. Pinch the ends to seal. Twist the dough a few times (Deb says 5 or 6, I could manage 3 without structural damage.) Brush the top of the roll with egg wash.
14. Now at this point you have a choice. The first three rolls I made, after the twisting, I just set them in the pan and called it a day. The second three, I did the last step of the recipe which is this: add about 1 tablespoon of the filling on the left half of the loaf, then fold the right half over the top. Fold the ends under, pinch, and twist two more times. This version is a little harder to work with, but also way more decadent. Basically it’s up to you what ratio of bread to chocolate you are interested in. I heard good things about both (and tasted deliciousness in both!)
15. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Let the loaves stand, covered loosely with plastic wrap, in a warm dry place for 20 to 30 minutes. This is a good time to do the dishes.
16. Bake loaves, rotating halfway through for 55 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 325, and bake until the babkas are golden brown, about 15 or 20 minutes more. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack.
These are incredibly good pretty much immediately. I like to let one cool juuuuust long enough that it will hold together and then cut into it and eat it warm and gooey. It’s great with milk or red wine or coffee. If you have a toaster oven, putting a piece in there for a little bit is excellent. Or you know, just on its own. Seriously, you cannot go wrong with babka.