In the Seinfeld episode “The Dinner Party,” Jerry and Elaine missed out on the last chocolate babka at a NYC bakery. They were both so distraught and struggled to find a better confection to bring to their friend’s dinner party.
That is literally the only thing I knew about Chocolate Babka and, trust me, it was convincing enough to do some research.
What is Babka? It is a traditional Eastern European Jewish bread. It is made from a doubled and twisted length of yeast dough and is typically baked in a high loaf pan. Instead of a fruit filling, the dough contains cinnamon and/or chocolate.
Babka is a dessert, but is not as sweet as cake, leaning more towards cinnamon rolls without the icing. It is an amalgamation of bread and chocolate with a dash of cinnamon. Babka dough is yeast based, with a sweet and buttery flavor. A loaf of babka typically has swirls of chocolate with indulgent pull apart layers.
The chilly winter weather always puts me in the baking mood. But when it’s the weekend and I’m snuggly inside, not much is going to convince me to leave the house. So, pantry staples like flour, butter, yeast and chocolate chips are going to have to do. I found several Babka recipes and tested my own version simply from the ingredients already in my pantry and fridge. I had to make some omissions and am still very happy with the results. I didn’t have milk, so I used a can of full-fat coconut milk. Espresso powder was used in one recipe given that it enhances the chocolate flavor. But since I did not have any at home, I omitted it.
Chocolate Babka, like any other yeast risen bread, is time consuming. Most of the time is spent waiting for it to rise, so this is a lazy weekend dessert for me. It’s a step above chocolate chip cookies, but uses almost the same ingredients! I mean, you can’t go wrong.
Like I said, it was a chilly day when I made Babka. After an hour and a half of letting two bundles of dough rise, I found them deflated instead of doubled. As you can imagine, I was hot and bothered. There are so many reasons that yeast dough does not rise, such as the yeast is expired or the milk was too hot and did not activate the yeast. I did some reading on how to salvage dough that didn’t rise and liked the idea of warming the oven. So I heated the oven to 100˚F and then turned it off. Yeast likes warmth and moisture, so I covered the bowls of dough with a damp towel and set them in the warm oven. After 1 hour, they doubled in size!
I was so relieved.
It is only a few weeks into January and we have been on a new year diet. I have been wanting to make Babka for so long and this diet did not stop me. Much like Seinfeld, I planned on bringing it to a friend’s dinner party.
Don’t worry, I tasted just enough to know that the crust was buttery and flaky with intense dark chocolate in every bite. The recipe I tried suggested to bake the Babka on 375˚F for 35-45 minutes. After 40 minutes the outside was dark golden and the middle was raw. To avoid burning the bottom, I would suggest next time to cook it at 350˚F for 45-55 minutes.
- 4 cups flour
- 2 ¼ teaspoons yeast
- 1 cup whole milk, warm to the touch (substitute with full fat coconut milk)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
- ¼ cup sugar
- ¼ cup honey
- 1 egg
- 2 egg yolks
- 10 tablespoons butter, softened
- 12 oz bittersweet chocolate
- ¾ cup butter
- ½ cup sugar
- ¼ cup cocoa powder
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 2 tablespoons espresso powder
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 1 egg wash
- Combine the yeast and warm milk and let sit until foamy, about 5 minutes.
- In a mixer, add the egg, egg yolks, vanilla, sugar, and honey and mix to combine.
- Add in the milk and yeast mixture and blend until fully incorporated.
- Gradually add in the flour and mix until fully incorporated.
- Gradually add in the butter and mix until fully incorporated.
- Cover with a towel and let rest for 30 minutes.
- Turn dough onto floured work surface and knead until smooth.
- Divide the dough into two equal parts and place in bowls and cover each with plastic wrap. Let the dough sit at room temperature for at least two hours, or when it has doubled in size. (If the house is drafty, heat oven to 100˚F and then turn it off. Yeast likes warmth and moisture, so cover the bowls of dough with a damp towel and set them in the warm oven.)
- Preheat oven to 350˚F. (Remove bowls from oven rising before preheating)
- For the chocolate sauce, combine bittersweet chocolate, butter, sugar, cocoa powder, cinnamon, espresso powder, and brown sugar in a medium sized mixing bowl and microwave for 1-2 minutes. Stir to combine and set aside.
- Once the dough has doubled in size, transfer to a floured work surface and roll both pieces of dough into a rectangle roughly 10×15-inches.
- Cover the dough with half of the chocolate sauce leaving an ½ inch – 1 inch of room on all sides. (I used all the sauce and it was too much- spread a thin layer and use leftover sauce for pancakes or cupcakes a different day.)
- Gently roll the dough up length-wise and repeat with second piece of dough and remaining chocolate sauce.
- Using a knife, carefully cut each log vertically in half making sure the seam is side down.
- Lay one piece of dough with chocolate swirls facing up horizontally and lay another piece over it vertically so you have a rough ‘plus sign’.
- Lay another piece horizontally over the vertical piece and above the other horizontal piece.
- Lay the final piece vertically on the right of the other vertical piece having it go over the top horizontal piece but weaving it under the lower horizontal piece.
- Starting with the bottom vertical piece on the right side, bring it to the left layering it over the other vertical lower piece.
- Follow this method around the dough clockwise.
- Once returned to the bottom lower vertical pieces. Take the original piece you crossed over (the lower left vertical piece) and cross that over to the right layering it over the last piece you used. Continue this counterclockwise until back at the bottom or you are unable to layer the dough anymore.
- Tuck in the excess pieces of dough under the bread.
- Transfer the bread into a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and brush with egg wash.
- Bake for 45-55 minutes, until lightly browned and cooked through.
- Serve warm and gooey with coffee!