Babka is originally from Eastern Europe, although its exact origins are unknown. Whether it’s a Polish or Russian dessert, it has definitely spread its way through the world and has become a rather well known and popular treat. Some credit its fame to the Seinfeld episode ‘The Dinner Party’ where Seinfeld wishes to buy a loaf but the customer in front of him buys the last chocolate babka. Babka is often also referred to as a Jewish dessert, stating that Jewish housewives used leftover challah and braided it together with jam, nuts and seeds. This marbled dessert has become so popular for a good reason. It is a truly unique kind of bread, which has similarities to a quick bread, without being just as ‘quick’. If you have never made babka before, go ahead and give this wonderful dessert a try! It is definitely something you should have eaten once in your life.
A babka is typically made with a sweet yeast dough (brioche dough) or pâte levée sucrée, as the French refer to it. Its main components are flour, milk, egg, sugar and yeast. Many desserts are made with this kind of dough such as donuts, dinner rolls, yeast waffles and sticky buns. It’s an incredibly versatile kind of dough and can be prepared in multiple ways such as baking, deep-frying and steaming. If you want to achieve a perfectly fluffy and tender yeast dough, there are two secrets you must know.
Fresh Yeast vs. Dry Yeast
Opinions differ on whether fresh yeast is superior to dry yeast. A lot of professional bakers will use fresh as opposed to dry and some even claim that their bread has a better taste and texture when opting for fresh. We prefer using fresh yeast cubes whenever possible but also keep backups of dry yeast since fresh yeast has a very short shelf life (about 2 weeks) and needs to be stored in the fridge. Ultimately it is up to you and which you want to use, though you may want to try both and see if you can detect a difference in your baked goods. Whichever type of yeast you chose, it is vital to proof it before adding it to the rest of your ingredients. This is done by dissolving it in sugar or milk. If it dissolves and throws a few bubbles it’s still good. If it does nothing, throw it out and start again with a new package of yeast.
A fluffy yeast dough has had plenty of time to rise…twice! This is an incredibly important step and you should not cut away any of its rising time. The first resting time your dough needs is right after you have combined the ingredients to form your dough. During this time the bacteria in the yeast feed on the sugar and multiply. As a result the dough rises to about double its size. Once you have braided your babka into a loaf it needs to rise a second time. This is done for better aeration.
This chocolate babka is great for entertaining as it makes a rather large loaf, which can be prepared ahead of time. You can bake this a day before and store it at room temperature until the next day. It stays incredibly soft! It’s a wonderful addition to a cup of coffee and the gorgeous marbled effect is sure to stun your guests.
Chocolate Babka with Mixed Nuts
- 250 ml milk 1 cup
- ½ cube fresh yeast
- 130 g white granulated sugar 1/2 cup
- 500 g all-purpose flour 4 and 1/3 cup
- 1 medium egg
- pinch of salt
- 80 g butter softened and cubed (1/3 cup)
- 1 egg for brushing
Chocolate Nut Filling
- 100 g dark chocolate* 3.5oz
- 40 g butter 1/4 cup
- 2 tablespoons white granulated sugar
- 100 g toasted mixed nuts** 3/4 cup
Heat milk and 1 tablespoon of sugar in a small saucepan until warm. Remove from heat and crumble in the yeast. Let it sit for 10 minutes and then stir until the yeast is completely dissolved.
Add the flour, egg, salt, cubed butter and yeast mixture to a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment. Knead until you have a homogeneous dough. If the dough is too sticky to touch, add a bit more flour.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise for 1 hour at room temperature.***
In the meantime, prepare the filling by chopping up the chocolate into small pieces. Melt the butter and sugar in a small saucepan and remove from heat. Add in the chocolate and stir until smooth. Chill in the fridge until the dough is ready.
Once the dough has doubled in size, punch it to remove the air. Preheat your oven to 180C (350F) and grease a bread pan with non-stick spray. Then roll it out on a floured surface to a rectangle about 30cm x 50cm (11.8 x 19.6 inches).
Spread the chocolate filling evenly onto the dough and sprinkle with the toasted mixed nuts. Carefully roll it up lengthwise.
Cut the dough lengthwise into two even pieces and braid them together with the cut facing upwards. Tuck the ends underneath.
Carefully place into a bread pan and cover with a kitchen towel. Let it rise for 30 minutes.
Brush with an egg and bake for 50 minutes. If the top starts to become too dark, cover it with aluminum foil.
Let it cool before attempting to remove it from the pan.
* Use high quality dark chocolate or couverture for the filling. Do not be tempted to use chocolate chips, it will not taste the same!
**Such as hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts or pecans.
***Or chill overnight in the fridge and continue the next day.
Store the babka at room temperature for up to 2 days. Or freeze it for up to 3 months, wrapped tightly in aluminum foil.
Let’s get started!
Step 1- Prep the Ingredients
Start by prepping your ingredients. Get out the butter and egg to let them come to room temperature. Cut the butter into cubes. If working with whole roasted nuts, chop them into small pieces.
Step 2- Activate the Yeast
Activate the yeast by adding it into a small saucepan along with warm milk and a tablespoon of white granulated sugar. Make sure that the milk is warm NOT hot. (If your liquids are too hot it could destroy the yeast.) Let it sit for 10 minutes and then stir until the yeast is dissolved completely.
Step 3- Prep and Knead the Dough
To prepare your dough, combine the flour, sugar, egg, salt and yeast mixture in a stand mixer with a dough hook attached. Knead until the dough is well combined and homogeneous, about 3-4 minutes. If the dough is too sticky to touch, add a bit more flour.
Step 4- Let the Dough Rest
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it to rise on your kitchen counter for 1 hour or until your dough has doubled in size. Once risen, punch the dough to release the air.
Step 5- Make your Chocolate Filling
While the dough is rising, prepare the filling by chopping up your chocolate into small pieces. (The pieces shouldn’t be bigger than chocolate chips.) Melt the butter and sugar in a small saucepan and once melted, remove from heat. Add in your chocolate and stir until smooth. Let the filling chill in the fridge while the dough rises.
Step 6- Roll out your Dough
Roll out the dough on a floured surface to a rectangular shape about 30cm x 50cm (11.8 x 19.6 inches).
Step 7- Spread the Filling
Spread the chocolate mixture evenly onto the dough and sprinkle with the chopped mixed nuts.
Step 8- Shape into a Roll
Gently roll up the dough lengthwise as tight as possible. It’s best to do this slowly and carefully.
Step 9- Part into Two
Cut the rolled up dough in half, with the cut facing upwards.
Step 10- Braid the Dough
Braid both pieces together. Make sure to not leave too much space and braid the pieces rather tight. Tuck both ends underneath and place into a greased bread pan.
Step 11- Let it Rise before Baking
Cover the dough with a kitchen towel and let it rise once more for 30 minutes.
Then bake for 50 minutes in a preheated oven. Cover the babka with aluminum foil if it starts to get too dark on the top.
Step 12- Let it Cool
Let your babka cool a bit before attempting to remove it from the pan. Slice into big gorgeous pieces and serve!
Enjoy the babka as a breakfast or brunch addition or as an afternoon snack alongside a cup of coffee or tea. If you wish to try a savory version of a yeast bread, we suggest this Cheesy Garlic Bread.
Want more chocolate recipes? Get them here!