This Eastern European coffee cake is very popular all over Europe and North America and with good reason. A buttery dough is filled with a rich chocolate spread, sprinkled with nuts and braided to bake it into a gorgeous little loaf which tastes even better than it looks.
I had my first babka when I was in culinary school in New York and spotted this beauty in the bakery window I used to get my coffee from. The dark swirls of chocolate looked so good that I decided to get a slice. And I am so glad I did! It was rich, buttery and so chocolatey. I was hooked!
Since then I have baked several hundred babkas (i’m not even kidding). Its a great weekend baking project and once you get the hang of it, you will be baking this for friends and family who will forever be grateful because every single person i have known, falls in love immediately.
Yield: 2 loaf-sized chocolate babkas
540 grams all-purpose flour
90 grams granulated sugar
2 teaspoons instant yeast
Grated zest of 1 small lemon
1/2 cup water
3/4 teaspoon table salt
150 grams cold butter
Olive oil, for greasing
150 grams dark chocolate
120 grams unsalted butter
50 grams confectioners sugar
35 grams cocoa powder
1/3 cup water
75 grams granulated sugar
Make the dough: Combine the flour, sugar, yeast and zest in the bottom of the bowl of a stand mixer. Add eggs and 1/2 cup water, mixing with the dough hook until it comes together; this may take a couple minutes. It’s okay if it’s on the dry side, but if it doesn’t come together at all, add extra water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough forms a mass. With the mixer on low, add the salt, then the butter, a spoonful at a time, mixing until it’s incorporated into the dough. Then, mix on medium speed for 10 minutes until dough is completely smooth.
Coat a large bowl with oil and place dough inside, cover with plastic and refrigerate. Leave in fridge for at least half a day, preferably overnight.
Make filling: Melt butter and chocolate together until smooth. Stir in powdered sugar and cocoa; mixture should form a spreadable paste. Add cinnamon, if desired. [If you’re wondering what happened to the pecans and granulated sugar, see my third note below.]
Assemble loaves: Coat two 9-by-4-inch (2 1/4 or 1kg) loaf pans with oil or butter, and line the bottom of each with a rectangle of parchment paper. Take half of dough from fridge (leave the other half chilled). Roll out on a well-floured counter to about a 10-inch width (the side closest to you) and as long in length (away from you) as you can when rolling it thin, likely 10 to 12 inches.
Spread half of chocolate mixture evenly over the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border all around. Brush the end farthest away from you with water. Roll the dough up with the filling into a long, tight cigar. Seal the dampened end onto the log.
Trim last 1/2-inch off each end of log. Gently cut the log in half lengthwise and lay them next to each other on the counter, cut sides up. Pinch the top ends gently together. Lift one side over the next, forming a twist and trying to keep the cut sides facing out and transfer the twist into the prepared loaf pan.
Cover with a damp tea towel and leave to rise another 1 to 1 1/2 hours at room temperature. Repeat process with second loaf.
Bake and finish cakes Heat oven to 190°C. Remove towels, place each loaf on the middle rack of your oven. Bake for 30 minutes.
Make syrup: Bring sugar and water to a simmer until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and set aside to cool somewhat. As soon as the babkas leave the oven, brush the syrup all over each. Let cool about halfway in pan, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool the rest of the way before eating.