Saturday, December 22, 2012

Chocolate Babka

Several years ago as I was flipping through the Christmas issue of Gourmet magazine I happened across a picture of something called a Chocolate Babka. I had never tasted a Babka, but the picture of the yeasty egg and butter rich loaf—swirled through with large and small chunks of dark chocolate—made me want to taste one right then and there. When I tried it I found it to be even more delicious than I had imagined. I have been making this particular babka to eat and give to friends ever since. It is a perfect addition to a holiday breakfast or brunch...and would also make a delicious late-night treat with which to greet tired and hungry holiday travelers.

I have only made one significant change to the original recipe: I give it a second rise in the refrigerator (after the first rise and before the formed loaf gets its final proofing). Without this time in the refrigerator the dough is unmanageably soft and sticky. But after a short stint (four hours or—even better—overnight) in the refrigerator, the butter firms up and the dough rolls out quickly and easily...without excessive amounts of flour.

Ease of handling is not the only benefit of chilling the dough. Subjecting any yeast dough to a long cool rise will develop and enhance the flavor, and this loaf is no exception. Beyond that, chilling the dough overnight makes this an easy yeast bread to make for a Christmas breakfast or brunch. If you have all of your filling ingredients ready the night before, then the only thing left to do in the morning is to roll and form the loaf before setting it to rise. Without too much difficulty, you should have a warm Babka that is ready to serve by the time everyone is up and the gifts have been opened.

As delicious as it is, you shouldn't feel limited to flavoring your babka with chocolate. Babkas come from a long European tradition of rich holiday yeast breads that are typically studded with dried fruits and candied peel (Panettone, Stollen, Kugelhopf, etc). I believe it is the Americans who came up with the chocolate version (and also began baking babkas in a loaf pan rather than a fluted tube-style pan.) If you look around, you will discover babkas that are filled with all manner of dried fruits, nuts and spices, as well as those that are filled with chocolate. You will also find that many babkas are topped with a streusel—which I think emphasizes the fact that they really are a coffee cake...perfect for breakfast.

Last year I used this recipe to make individual portion sized "Baby Babkas". To me one of the most enjoyable ways to eat a babka is to tear it apart with your hands (rather than cutting it into slices). Having one's own little babka allows everyone to have this pleasure. The Gourmet recipe will make 16 baby babkas; I have included notes at the end describing a couple of ways to form them.

A "baby babka" with a very Christmas-y filling of
white chocolate, almond paste & dried cranberries

Before I close, I wanted to mention that it had been my intention this holiday season to write a lot more posts than I have. As it turned out, my days were much busier than I anticipated—leaving very little time for the blog. So, in the event that I am not able to write another post before Christmas day, I want to take the opportunity now to send my holiday wishes to everyone who takes time out occasionally to visit my blog: This year, I hope that you find yourself at a table surrounded by those you love best and that you experience the joy and the peace that are at the heart of this wonderful season.

Merry Christmas!

Chocolate Babka

3/4 c. warm whole milk (105° to 115°)
1/2 c. plus 2 t. sugar
1 T. active dry yeast
3 2/3 c. all-purpose flour (415 grams) plus additional for dusting
2 whole large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1 t. vanilla extract
3/4 t. salt
1 1/4 sticks (10 T.) unsalted butter, cut into pieces and softened slightly, but cool

1 large egg yolk
1 T. whole milk

5 T. unsalted butter, divided
2 (3 1/2- to 4-oz) bars fine-quality semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped and divided
1/4 c. sugar, divided

Stir together warm milk and 2 teaspoons sugar in bowl of mixer. Sprinkle yeast over mixture and whisk to blend. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.

Add 1/2 cup flour to yeast mixture and beat at medium speed until combined. Add whole eggs, yolk, vanilla, salt, and remaining 1/2 cup sugar and beat until combined. Reduce speed to low, then mix in the remaining flour, about 1/2 cup at a time. Increase speed to medium, then beat in butter, a few pieces at a time, and continue to beat until dough is shiny and forms strands from paddle to bowl—4 to 5 minutes. (Dough will be very soft and sticky.) 

Scrape dough into a lightly buttered bowl and cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rise in a draft-free place at room temperature until doubled in bulk, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Gently deflate the dough with a buttered or oiled spatula. Cover again with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Lightly butter two 6 cup loaf pans. Line the pans with 2 pieces of parchment paper (1 lengthwise and 1 crosswise).

Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Cut the dough in half. Return one piece to the refrigerator while you roll out the first loaf. Beat together yolk and milk and set aside.

Melt 2 1/2 T. of the butter. Roll out the first piece of dough on a well-floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into an 18- by 10-inch rectangle and arrange with a long side nearest you. Spread the butter over the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border across the long edge furthest from you. Brush the unbuttered edge with egg wash. Sprinkle half of chocolate evenly over buttered portion of the dough and then sprinkle with half of sugar (2 tablespoons). Starting with long side nearest to you, roll dough into a snug log, pinching firmly along the seam to seal. Bring ends of log together to form a ring, pinching to seal. Twist entire ring twice to form a double figure 8 and fit into one of lined loaf pans. 

Make another babka with remaining dough, butter, egg wash, chocolate and sugar in same manner. Chill remaining egg wash, covered, to use later. Loosely cover the pans with buttered plastic wrap (buttered side down) and let the babkas rise in a draft-free place at room temperature until the loaves look puffy and an indentation remains when the dough is lightly pressed—1 to 2 hours.

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350° (if using Pyrex pans, preheat the oven to 325°).

Brush the loaves with the remaining egg wash. If desired, sprinkle the loaves lightly with Turbinado sugar. Bake until tops are deep golden brown and bottoms sound hollow when tapped (when loaves are removed from pans), about 40 to 55 minutes. Transfer loaves to a rack and cool to room temperature. Babkas will keep, wrapped in plastic wrap and then foil, frozen for 3 weeks.

(Recipe from Gourmet, December 2006)


Streusel Topping: Many babka recipes add a streusel topping. If you would like to top your babkas with streusel combine 3/4 c. confectioner's sugar and 2/3 c. all-purpose flour in a bowl. Rub in 6 T. of butter. Squeeze so that you have some large clumps in addition to small crumbs. This is enough streusel for 2 loaves. Scatter the streusel over the egg-washed loaves (omit the Turbinado sugar) and bake. (Streusel adapted from Martha Stewart)

Filling Variations: Don't feel limited to a chocolate filling. Fillings can include nuts, dried fruits, spices, etc. Be creative. The "Baby Babkas" pictured in this post have chopped white chocolate (4 oz.), grated almond paste (2 oz.) and dried cranberries (1/2 c.) soaked in a small amount of orange juice and drained (quantities are for half a recipe or 8 baby babkas).

Baby Babkas: Instead of 2 loaves, make 16 "baby" babkas. Divide the dough and roll out and fill as described for loaves. Instead of rolling the entire sheet of dough jelly roll-style, cut each 18- by 10-inch rectangle horizontally into two strips; roll up each of these strips jelly roll-style and cut each of these narrow "rolls" into four equal pieces. Twist each piece attractively into a small bun. Alternatively, cut each 18- by 10-inch rectangle in half vertically and then cut each half into four equal strips horizontally.

Roll each of these miniature strips up jelly roll style and coil them up like a snail, tucking the end under. Place each "baby babka" into a well buttered 6-oz. ramekin.

Let rise as for the large loaves. Apply egg wash and sugar. Baking time will be shorter—25 to 30 minutes total. Cool for 5 minutes before removing from the ramekins.

Printable Recipe


Mary said...

I've made a variant of this recipe many times. Yum, yum, time to make it again. It's not limited to Christmas.

Thank you for the tip about refrigerating the dough. I have struggled with it in the past and think this will help.

The first time I made it I inadvertently doubled the amount of butter. It was AWESOME! I'll never do it again, though.

Paige said...

That's hilarious about the butter...I may have to try it.