After years of intending, I've baked my second babka in two weeks! This is the kind I always meant to make, the kind filled with chocolate. And like so many things I delay, I wonder why I've waited so long. It wasn't difficult at all. The babka is rich and soft, and the chocolate has a nice bittersweet flavor that isn't overly sweet. The exterior is flaky and breaks off in dozens of shard-like crumbs as you cut it.
The most daunting part might be planning the timing, but you can break it up into stages, even two days, by refrigerating the dough. I made the babka in one straight shot. And most of the time is inactive -- I made the dough, went out to an appointment, came back and shaped it, worked out at the gym, and came home and put it in the oven. Babka is a traditional Easter dessert, so you might want to try it this weekend. Just don't wait as long as I did!
- The dough before its first rise.
- The risen dough.
- The dough rolls out easily, with no sticking or snapping back. A sheet of parchment underneath dusted with flour is helpful.
- Scatter the chocolate-cinnamon-butter mixture on top, and get ready to roll!
- Roll up the dough, then use your hands to elongate it.
- Give the log a bit of a twist.
- Coil the log into a snail shape.
- Stand the coil up on its end, then press down to compact into a loaf shape.
- Move the dough to a loaf pan, then wrap it up for its second rise.
- The dough after its second rise. Ready to bake!
From Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day
Note: Whoa!! That's one heck of a long recipe. Please don't get scared off. I can say with all honesty that it was harder to type up the whole darn thing than to bake it. A mixer makes the work easy, and it's just a few steps here and there.
Also: There are variations to this recipe including an optional streusel topping, and shaping it into a beautiful braid with the filling exposed. I didn't use those, and I'm too lazy to type them up. Search out the book if you're interested.
2 tbs (0.66 oz/19g) instant yeast
¾ cup (6 oz/170 g) lukewarm milk (any kind, at about 95°)
6 tbs (3 oz/85 g) unsalted butter, melted or at room temperature
6 tbs (3 oz/85 g) sugar
2 tbs (1 oz/28g) vegetable oil
1 tsp (0.25 oz/7 g) vanilla extract
4 egg yolks (3 oz/85 g)
3⅓ cups (15 oz/425 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp (0.25 oz/7 g) salt, or 1½ tsp coarse kosher salt
For the Filling
1½ cups (9 oz/255 g) frozen semisweet dark chocolate chips or chunks
1 tsp (0.25 oz/7 g) ground cinnamon
¼ cup (2 oz/56.5 g) cold unsalted butter
Whisk the yeast into the lukewarm milk until dissolved, then set it aside for about 5 minutes before mixing it into the dough.
Cream the butter and sugar together until smooth. If using a mixer, use the paddle attachment and mix on medium speed for 1 to 2 minutes. If mixing by hand, use a large wooden spoon and beat vigorously for about 2 minutes. Add the oil and vanilla to the egg yolks and whisk lightly to break up the yolks, then add the yolks to the sugar mixture in four portions, mixing until each is incorporated before adding the next. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high or continue mixing by hand for another 2 minutes, until the mixture is fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl a couple times during the process.
Stop mixing and add the flour and salt, then pour in the milk mixture. Resume mixing at low speed, or continue to stir by hand, for 2 to 3 minutes, to make a soft, supple, tacky dough. If using a mixer and the mixer begins to struggle, switch to the dough hook; if mixing by hand, use a very sturdy spoon or your hands.
Transfer the dough to a floured work surface and knead by hand for 2 minutes more, adding more flour as need to make the dough pliable. The dough should be a beautiful golden color and feel soft and supple. Form the dough into a ball.
Place the dough in a clean, lightly oiled bowl, cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and leave at room temperature for about 2½ hours. It will rise somewhat, but won't double in size. If it rises significantly in less time, you can move to the shaping step or place it in the refrigerator overnight to be rolled out the next day.
Filling and Baking
Prepare the filling while the dough is rising. Grind the chocolate in a food processor until it's nearly powdered; if you don't have a food processor, chop the chocolate as fine as possible with a knife or metal pastry scraper. Add the cinnamon and pulse or stir a time or two to incorporate. Cut the butter into 8 to 10 pieces, add it to the fod processor, and pulse until the butter is evenly dispersed into the chocolate mixture; or cut the butter into the chocolate mixture with a metal pastry scraper to make a streusel-like chocolate crumble.
Once the dough has risen, roll it into a 15-by-15-inch square on a lightly floured surface. It should be between ¼ and ⅛ inch thick. As you roll, frequently lift the dough with a metal pastry scraper or bowl scraper and dust with more flour underneath to prevent sticking. Sprinkle the chocolate mixture over the dough, breaking up any clumps, so the filling covers the surface of the dough evenly, leaving a ¼-inch border.
Roll up the dough like a jelly roll and place it seam side down on the work surface. With firm but gentle pressure, rock the log back and forth to extend its length until it is 18 to 24 inches long.
For a loaf shape, grease a 5-by-9-inch loaf pan. Carefully twist the log from both ends without tearing it, just enough to accentuate the chocolate spiral. Coil the log into a circular snail shape, then stand the coil on its end so it's perpendicular to the counter rather than lying flat. Press down on the coil to compress it into a loaf shape. Place it in the greased loaf pan or on a parchment-lined sheet pan with the smoothest, domed side up. For a coffee cake style of babka, grease a tube pan such as a Bundt pan or a kugelhopf mold with butter, vegetable oil, or spray oil, making sure to grease the tube. Wrap the log around the tube and press the dough into the pan to connect the ends of the log.
Cover the tube or loaf pan loosely with plastic wrap and let the dough rise at room temperature for 2 to 3 hours, until the babka fills the pan or has increased to about 1½ times its original size. At this point, you can proceed directly to baking or refrigerate the babka overnight. If holding it overnight, remove the dough from the refrigerator about 2 hours before you plan to bake it.
Preheat the oven to 350°. Use a toothpick to poke a few holes in the top of the babka to eliminate possible air pockets between the layers of chocolate and dough.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, then rotate the pan and bake until the top is a rich dark brown, the sides are a rich golden brown, the loaf sounds hollow when thumped on the bottom, and the internal temperature is about 185° in the center. The babka will begin to brown quickly because of the sugar, but it won't burn. The total baking time is 50 to 60 inutes for a loaf, and just 35 to 45 minutes for a tube pan. The sides may feel soft because of air pockets in the spirals. The babka will soften as it cools.
Cool for at least 90 minutes before serving. The babka is best served at room temperature after the chocolate has had time to set.