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Oh yes, I wrote that with an exclamation mark! I should use several !!!s, really. My brother Kal called me before 7am on a Saturday in January and asked if (A) I was home (obviously) and (B) if I wanted to make Babka with him that very day. (even more obviously….yes). How could I not bake with Kal, my brother from the same mother? We both cook and bake a lot and similarly we are fast, tidy and don’t feel the need to measure every little thing such as vanilla and salt. We just don’t. And we never hold back with any type of food! We eat exactly what we feel like at the moment.
We chatted back and forth about what time would work, (2:30 pm) whose kitchen would we use (mine), and then he sent the recipe he had made before with my daughter in their quest for the perfect Babka. They agreed that they liked the dough from an Epicurious article and the filling from Smitten Kitchen/Jerusalem cookbook. I offered to step it up a notch by using my good, bittersweet bulk chocolate and Scharffenberger cocoa. I happily reported that I had everything except enough butter. He was all over it.
The two of us each made a batch of Babka, or two loaves for each of us. I stood at the mixer, he brought me what I needed in the order it was required and in no time we had two large bowls of dough proofing in the oven. This first part was done and we had at least an 1 ½ hour hiatus. Kal went to his downtown dental office to do some work. I read my book and did two loads of laundry, and in between I measured out the filling ingredients.
When he returned, we combined the chocolate filling then rolled out the dough and filled it with chocolate. Even though I am a yeast goddess, Kal is at least on par if not better than me with baking. Naturally we used my silicone pastry mat, which I highly recommend for this recipe. Into the freezer for a half hour went the rolls, and when it was time he gave me a demo of how to cut and form the loaves.
At this point he left for home, unbaked loaves in hand. I covered my pans with a damp tea towel for two hours and was surprised the Babka didn’t rise like bread but whatever. Into the oven they went to bake and let me tell you, my building smelled fantastic. After taking the loaves out of the oven, I immediately brushed them with the simple syrup I made. It seemed like a lot but a couple authors kept saying to use up all the syrup, so I did And it turned out to be just what was needed. One of the condo owners came by to sniff around, literally. Kal, meanwhile, was doing the same thing at his house. I sent pictures of mine, he sent pictures of his and they look like Babka relatives.
Kal’s Babka (note cookie – which he baked at the same time, of course!)
I’m saving a loaf for when my cousins from California stay with us The other Babka will be enjoyed and eaten pronto.
Start to finish, it’s not a lot of prep time but obviously there is a lot of down time, so make this on a day you have several hours. We started making dough at 2:30 and I wrapped the Babka for the freezer at around 9 pm. Yet during the first rising I went on a long walk, during the second two hours I kept busy and now I am “kvelling” over my baking prowess.
Along the way, I coveted Kal’s heavy metal bread pans, decided I did not love my cheapo aluminum ones and ordered myself two spanking new bread pans.
It is the most complicated recipe I’ve made in a while. And yes, it took most of a day. But I was lucky enough to do it with someone I love – the time flew by. And all I can say is Oh Em Gee. MAKE THIS.
Makes 2 loaves
Ingredients for Dough (from Epicurious)
- ¾ cup lukewarm whole or 2% milk (105–115°F)
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1 Tbsp active dry yeast
- 3 ¼ cups all-purpose flour plus additional for dusting – divided
- 2 whole large eggs
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- ¾ tsp salt
- 1 ¼ sticks (10 Tbsp) unsalted butter, cut into pieces and softened
Stir together warm milk and 2 teaspoons sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Sprinkle yeast over mixture and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. (If yeast doesn’t foam, discard and start over with new yeast.)
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 remaining 2 3/4 cups 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, about 4 minutes. (Dough will be very soft and sticky.)
Scrape dough into a lightly oiled bowl and cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled in bulk, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Babka Filling Ingredients (From Smitten Kitchen and Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem Cookbook)
- 4 ½ ounces (130 grams) bittersweet chocolate (or approximately ¾ cup bittersweet chocolate chips
- 1 stick (120 grams) unsalted butter, cold is fine
- Scant ½ cup (50 grams) powdered sugar
- ⅓ cup (30 grams) cocoa powder
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- ⅓ cup water (for topping)
- ⅓ cup granulated sugar (for topping)
Melt butter and chocolate together until smooth. Stir in powdered sugar and cocoa; add cinnamon, if desired. This forms a paste that is easy to spread with an offset spatula.
Assembly Instructions from Jerusalem Cookbook
Coat two 9-by-4-inch loaf pans with oil or butter, and cut parchment paper to line the bottom of each pan. Respray the top of this parchment once it is in the pan. Take half of dough from fridge (leave the other half chilled). Roll out on a well-floured counter or pastry silicone mat to about a 14-inch width (the side closest to you) and 10 inch length. I was generous with flour since the loaves were sticky, but the dough is great to work with and it doesn’t break or crumble at all.
Spread half of chocolate mixture evenly over the dough with an offset spatula, leaving a tiny ½-inch border. Brush one of the long edges with water, and roll the dough up with the filling into a long, tight cigar. The water brushed side can now be pinched shut a bit. I found that transferring each log to a lightly floured baking tray in the freezer for 30 minutes made it much easier to cut cleanly in half later on. Repeat with second dough, transfer to the baking tray also for 30 minutes in the freezer.
To form the Babkas, remove the sheet containing the rolls from the freezer and transfer the parchment paper with the cold babka logs to the floured counter or mat and cut the last ½-inch off each end of log. Gently cut the log in half lengthwise and lay the two next to each other on the floured counter, cut sides up. Pinch the top ends gently together. Gently and loosely lift one side over the next, forming a twist and trying to keep the cut sides facing up. Then transfer the twisted log gently into the prepared loaf pan. It doesn’t matter if the loaf is “squigly”. You can place the trimmed ends of the log in the opening spaces available. No worries, the dough will fill in these gaps. Repeat this process with the next loaf.
This is how it’s done!
Cover both pans with a damp tea towel and leave to rise another two hours at room temperature.
Baking and Finishing Instructions
Preheat the oven to 375°F with the baking rack mid oven about 15 minutes before the two hours is up. At the end of two hours, remove damp towels covering the loaves and place both pans on the middle rack of your oven. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Mine cooked 27 minutes and might have been done in 25 min, but who knows? When ready to take from the oven, a toothpick will slide in easily and come out clean. If your babka needs more time, put it back, five minutes at a time then re-test.
Ten minutes before the loaves are finished baking, make the sugar syrup: Bring sugar and water to a simmer until sugar totally dissolves. Remove from heat and set aside to cool somewhat. As soon as the Babkas are done, brush the syrup all over the top of each loaf.
Use all the syrup. It will seem like excessive sugar syrup but will taste just right — glossy and moist. After ten minutes, shake the pans gently to be sure the sides are not sticking to the pan surface. Let cool 30 minutes in the pans – this is important because the yeast dough is springy and soft and fragile but not bad to handle after 30 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool the rest of the way before eating .
Do ahead: Babkas keep for a few days at room temperature. Or you can cool them absolutely completely, wrap in saran and heavy foil and freeze them for up to two months.