Made of a rich brioche dough and a chocolate filling, this babka always feels homey, warm, and comforting. An all-time favorite in our home!
Thanks to my Jewish heritage, I was introduced to babka as soon as my first teeth came in. You may be asking yourself what babka is. Well, it’s a traditional cake my mom makes for special occasions – always in bulk and with a variety of different fillings. It’s made of a rich brioche dough with a cinnamon or chocolate filling. Sometimes they’re topped with streusel. In Israel, there are so many variations of this cake, and they’re always so scrumptious and rich. I know one recipe that uses croissant dough instead of brioche, and another that’s loaded with so much white, milk, and dark chocolate that after just one piece, you feel like passing out. Except for me. I’ll take another piece, please.
When it comes to babka, I’ve mainly used 2 recipes my entire life (i.e., the last 5 years); one is rich, and the other is richer. If you know me by now, you can guess which one I’ve been making more. 😉 But I decided it’s time to try a few more, just to make sure you’re getting the best.
After comparing a ridiculous amount of recipes, first by ingredients and quantities, and then by actually baking a few, my heart was set on one. The funny thing is, it’s almost identical to the one I usually make.
This wonderful recipe is taken from the cookbook Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. If you’d like to treat yourself to a new unique cookbook, I would highly recommend this one. It’s filled with amazing recipes and heartfelt stories that take you on a diverse culinary journey.
Usually, when I want to follow a recipe, I end up making so many changes that it turns into a completely different recipe than the original. This time though, I had a good feeling about it, so I decided to follow the recipe as-is. The result? Perfection.
- Although it’s possible to leave the dough at room temperature for the first rise, it’s highly recommended to place it in the fridge for at least 8 hours so it sets properly and is easy to work with. Mine rolled out so smoothly and beautifully after refrigeration that I wanted to keep playing with it forever!
- After you roll the dough and spread the chocolate over it, it’s time to shape it into a traditional babka. Here are a few of my shooting attempts of the process to help you understand how it’s done.
- Sometimes, to make things simple, I will use a chocolate spread such as Nutella instead of making the filling myself. You can do the same if you prefer.
- The sugar syrup not only makes the cake shiny and beautiful, but also keeps it fresh for longer.
- Speaking of freshness, as with bread, this cake will start drying out after 24 hours, but the good news is that it freezes well.
- Instead of water, you can use milk or a combination of water and milk.
- You can add a bit of cinnamon, 1/4 to 1 teaspoon, to the chocolate filling.
- While some like babka because of the dough, to me it’s all about the filling, so the more chocolate, the better. That’s why I added a combination of chocolate chips and chunks on top of the filling for extra flavor and texture. Omit it if you prefer a subtler, not-too-sweet cake.
- If the chocolate filling becomes firm, warm it up a bit in the microwave or over low heat. Don’t use it hot, though, since it can warm the dough and cause it to melt.
- 3¾ cups (530 g/18.7 oz) all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
- ½ cup (100 g/3.5 oz) granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon (10g) instant yeast
- Grated zest of 1 small lemon (optional)
- 3 large eggs
- ½ cup (120 ml) water
- ¾ teaspoon fine sea salt
- ⅔ cup (150 g/5.3 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into small cubes
- Neutral oil (sunflower, canola) for greasing
- ½ cup (50 g/1.7 oz) powdered sugar
- ⅓ cup (30 g/1 oz) unsweetened cocoa powder
- 130g (4 oz) dark chocolate, melted*
- ½ cup (120 g/4 oz) unsalted butter, melted
- ⅔ cup (120 g/4 oz) chocolate chips or chunks OR 1 cup (100g/3.5 oz) pecans, coarsely chopped (optional)
- ½ cup (120 ml) water
- ½ cup (100g) granulated sugar
- Making the dough: Place flour, sugar, yeast, and lemon zest in a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook and mix on low speed until combined. Add eggs and water, and mix on medium speed until dough comes together, 2-3 minutes. Add salt, then butter, adding a few cubes at a time, mixing until incorporated. Continue mixing for about 10 minutes on medium speed, until dough is completely smooth, elastic, shiny, and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. During mixing, you will need to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
- Place dough in a large bowl brushed with oil, cover with plastic wrap, and leave in the fridge for at least half a day or overnight.
- Grease two 2¼-lb/1kg loaf pans (9x4 inch/23x10 cm) with oil and line the bottom of each pan with waxed paper. Divide dough in half and keep one half covered in the fridge.
- Making the filling: Whisk together powdered sugar, cocoa powder, chocolate, and butter until you have a spreadable paste.
- Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface and shape into a rectangle measuring 15x11 inches (38x28 cm). Position dough so that a long side is closest to you. Using an offset spatula, spread half of the chocolate mixture over the rectangle, leaving a ¾ inch/2 cm border all around. Sprinkle half of the pecans or chocolate chips on top of the chocolate.
- Shaping the dough (photos here): Use both hands to roll up the rectangle like a roulade, starting from the long side closest to you and ending at the other long end. Press to seal the dampened end onto the roulade, then use both hands to even out the roll into a perfect thick cigar. Rest the cigar on its seam.
- Trim about ¾ inch/2 cm off both ends of the roulade with a serrated knife. Then use the knife to gently cut the roll in half lengthwise, starting at the top and finishing at the seam, essentially dividing the log into two long even halves, with the layers of dough and filling visible along the length of both halves. With the cut sides facing up, gently press together one end of each half, then lift the right half over the left half. Repeat this process, but this time lifting the left half over the right, to create a simple two-pronged plait. Gently squeeze together the other ends so that you are left with the two halves, intertwined, showing the filling on top. Carefully lift the cake into a loaf pan. Don’t worry if there are gaps in the pan since the cake will rise and will eventually look fine, even if you feel like it’s messy at this point. Cover the pan loosely with plastic wrap or a wet tea towel and leave to rise in a warm place for 1 to 1½ hours. Repeat to make the second cake.
- Preheat oven to 375°F/190°C, making sure to allow plenty of time for it to heat fully before the cakes have finished rising. Remove plastic wrap or tea towels, place cakes on middle rack of oven, and bake for about 25-30 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean with no dough attached.
- While the cakes are in the oven, make the syrup. In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring water and sugar to a boil. As soon as the sugar dissolves, remove from heat and set aside to cool. As soon as the cakes come out of the oven, brush the syrup over them. Use all of the syrup, even if it looks a lot. Let cakes cool until they are warm, then remove from pans and let cool completely before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature.
- Babka will stay fresh for 24 hours in an airtight container at room temperature. Don’t place in the fridge.
- Babka freezes well for up to 2 months. To thaw, leave on counter or overnight in the fridge.
Recipe adapted from: Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.