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Friday, December 11, 2009

Chocolate Babka

Happy Hanukkah! It begins tonight at sundown and we've taken a little time to play dreidel and eat latkes at our house this week. Hanukkah reminds me of our time in New York and in particular the Robbins, our Jewish friends there who introduced us to so many great things, both New York and Jewish. Take the babka. Sure, you might remember the Seinfeld bakery episode, but did you then - and do you now - even know what a babka is?

Let me put you out of your ignorant misery. Babka is a yeasted pastry loaf loaded with layers and swirls of chocolate, and I mean a lot of chocolate.
This photo courtesy of

I like how Smitten Kitchen puts it - the chocolate-to-dough ratio must be "unseemly" and "mind-boggling." In fact, that's how she knew the right babka recipe when she found it - Martha Stewart's recipe calls for 2 1/4 pounds (yes, POUNDS) of chocolate for three loaves. Just the tinest bit of pastry structure - and a few other well-chosen ingredients - keep it from being the enormous hunk of chocolate it was before you started. Smitten's review was good enough to convince me that Martha's recipe was the one to go with.

I'll be honest, this recipe takes a long time - probably 4 to 5 hours from start to finish. But you have a little down time while the dough rises. Of course you'll need that time to finely chop 2 1/4 POUNDS of chocolate (I had just under 2 pounds on hand, and chopping that took about 20 minutes and I did break a sweat.) And yeah, there's a lot of butter in here. You got a problem with that? (said with my best NY attitude.) It's worth it, so worth it. It's as close to the real New York bakery thing I think homemade could come, and by far better than some of the grocery store varieties I've had. It's been a long time since I was this motivated and inspired by a recipe, not to mention pleased with the results!

Martha says: When shaping the babka, twist dough evenly throughout the length of the roll a full 5 to 6 turns. (That's how you get all the crazy layers instead of just a swirl, which is for pansies.) The babka can be prepared up to step 8 and frozen for up to a month before baking. When ready to bake, remove from freezer; let stand at room temperature for about 5 hours, and bake. (I wish I'd done that instead of baking all three. We ate one, gave one away, and froze one, but it would have been better to freeze it before baking.)

Chocolate Babka
1 1/2 cups warm milk, 110 degrees
2 (1/4 ounce each) packages active dry yeast
1 3/4 cups plus a pinch of sugar
3 whole large eggs, room temperature
2 large egg yolks, room temperature
6 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
1 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups (3 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces, room temperature, plus more for bowl and loaf pans
2 1/4 pounds semisweet chocolate, very finely chopped
2 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon heavy cream

Streusel Topping:
1 2/3 cups confectioners' sugar
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  1. Pour warm milk into a small bowl. Sprinkle yeast and pinch of sugar over milk; let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.
  2. In a bowl, whisk together 3/4 cup sugar, 2 eggs, and egg yolks. Add egg mixture to yeast mixture, and whisk to combine.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine flour and salt. Add egg mixture, and beat on low speed until almost all the flour is incorporated, about 30 seconds. Change to the dough hook. Add 2 sticks butter, and beat until flour mixture and butter are completely incorporated, and a smooth, soft dough that’s slightly sticky when squeezed is formed, about 10 minutes. *Do not be discouraged if it doesn't seem like it's going to mix all the butter in! It really did take 10 minutes for my mixer to do it, but then it was perfect!
  4. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead a few turns until smooth. Butter a large bowl. Place dough in bowl, and turn to coat. Cover tightly with plastic wrap. Set aside in a warm place to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
  5. Place chocolate, remaining cup sugar, and cinnamon in a large bowl, and stir to combine. Using two knives or a pastry cutter, cut in remaining 1 1/2 sticks butter until well combined; set filling aside.
  6. Generously butter three 9-by-5-by-2 3/4-inch loaf pans; line them with parchment paper. Beat remaining egg with 1 tablespoon cream; set egg wash aside. Punch back the dough, and transfer to a clean surface. Let rest 5 minutes. Cut into 3 equal pieces. Keep 2 pieces covered with plastic wrap while working with the remaining piece. On a generously floured surface, roll dough out into a 16-inch square; it should be 1/8 inch thick.
  7. Brush edges with reserved egg wash. Crumble 1/3 of the reserved chocolate filling evenly over dough, leaving a 1/4-inch border. Refresh egg wash if needed. Roll dough up tightly like a jelly roll. Pinch ends together to seal. Twist 5 or 6 turns. Brush top of roll with egg wash. Carefully crumble 2 tablespoons filling over the left half of the roll, being careful not to let mixture slide off. Fold right half of the roll over onto the coated left half. Fold ends under, and pinch to seal. Twist roll 2 turns, and fit into prepared pan. Repeat with the remaining 2 pieces of dough and remaining filling. *At this point you can freeze loaves up to 1 month (see note above.)
  8. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Brush the top of each loaf with egg wash. Make streusel topping: combine flour, sugar and butter. Using a fork, stir until fully combined with clumps ranging in size from crumbs to 1 inch. Crumble 1/3 of streusel topping over each loaf. Loosely cover each pan with plastic wrap, and let stand in a warm place 20 to 30 minutes.
  9. Bake loaves, rotating halfway through, until golden, about 55 minutes. Lower oven temperature to 325 degrees.bake until babkas are deep golden, 15 to 20 minutes more. Remove from oven, and transfer to wire racks until cool. Remove from pans; serve. Babkas freeze well for up to 1 month.
As you can see, my pictures are not quite as pretty as Smitten Kitchen's. I cut into it warm - can you blame me? And my kitchen lighting is not great at night. But you can probably get the idea. As it cools to room temperature, so does the chocolate, so it is soft but not messy, and much more servable in slices. Wow, I am SO HAPPY I made this this week!Recipe from


kat said...

shut up! that looks and sounds amazing!

Carol Younce said...

I got to have a slice and it is rich, rich, rich and chocolate heaven! Make it and hide it if you can.

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