King Arthur Flour… you had me at babka! For me, a chocolate babka is tied for first place with crumb cake. Both are delicious Eastern European coffee cakes making them even more delicious by the addition of a cup of coffee. Both have ample crumb topping and both quintessentially New York. So let’s talk babka! It’s been over 20 years since the Seinfeld episode “The Dinner Party” aired bringing this little coffee cake into the mainstream of pop culture. I could probably recite verbatim the scene when Jerry and Elaine are waiting in the bakery to buy a chocolate babka. Can’t you hear Elaine saying “YOU CAN’T BEAT A BABKA – they’re gonna be heroes!” Let’s face it, she’s right – you can’t beat a babka, especially chocolate! Plus, while perfect anytime, it is especially perfect to enjoy during your weekend brunch.
The month of April was the King Arthur Flour chocolate babka bakealong. If you don’t know about the King Arthur bakealong, join the club. I stumbled upon it accidentally on Instagram. Each month they announce a new recipe for us to try, with tips and step-by-step instructions on their blog. After you have created your delicious masterpiece, they invite you to share a photo of your final product tagging it with #bakealong.
I found out about this at the most inopportune time; it was during the week of Passover (which was a couple of weeks ago). Passover is a holiday when Jewish people celebrate their freedom from slavery. It is also a time when we don’t eat bread (or babka for that matter!), instead we eat unleavened products like matzo. Here I was, smack in the middle of Passover, a holiday I love by the way, enjoying my matzo (LOL) and everyday there were beautiful photos of babka being posted on Instagram. Since then, I have had babka on the brain! Which, if you know me is not so unusual! What’s a girl to do? My only challenge was blocking out 5 hours or so to make it. Don’t be frightened; it’s only about 45 minutes hands-on time, other than that it’s just waiting for it to rise.
Coming in just under the wire, as tomorrow is the last day of April, I finally found the time and have been noshing on it all week! While keeping the integrity of the recipe I still managed to put my splash on it. I noticed in the photos posted by other bakers it seemed there was a higher cake to chocolate filling ratio. I’m all about the filling so I made twice the recipe called for. Being a self-proclaimed babka connoisseur, and crumb topping lover, I doubled that as well. I also rolled mine a little thinner so there was a denser chocolate marbling.
It was an easy recipe to follow and yielded a perfect and delicious babka. If I had one comment, it felt like there was too much dough to fit in the two 9” loaf pans. I ended up trimming the excess and made muffins out of some of the extra dough. These are the times when I hear my mother’s voice… “having too much babka dough should be the biggest problem you have in your life!” Next time I will make 3 instead, wishing I could share one with her.
Once in the oven, my babkas took on a life of their own which I took notice of when they were rising. I placed the loaf pans on a lined sheet pan before I put them in the oven and boy I’m glad I did; there was a bit of crumb spillage over the edges. Overall, the outcome was perfect and I loved the recipe. The flavor is really what you expect this delicious coffeecake to taste like. The chocolate was luscious and rich, the cake very tender, and the crumb topping added just the right contrast. The extra crumb topping and chocolate filling really hit the mark. There is no better way to enjoy a weekend than with a piece of chocolate babka and a nice cup of coffee!
The recipe which follows is adapted from the King Arthur Flour blog post from their April bakealong challenge. The recipe makes two very large loaves. They suggest keeping one, and giving one away, (which I did and it got rave reviews). One person said it was the best babka she ever had. King Arthur got inspiration for their recipe from Maggie Glezer, and her book, A Blessing of Bread. I recently checked it out of the library and am in the middle of reading it now. Of course I will have to try her recipe as well. I was excited to learn the word babka in Polish means grandmother! When I have grandchildren, if not Bubbe, I’ll be Babka! Enjoy!
Prep: 25 to 35 minutes
Bake: 50 to 60 minutes
Total: 5 to 6 hours 15 minutes
Yield: 2 loaves is what the original recipe states, but I suggest 3
1 to 1 1/4 cups lukewarm water (more if needed)
2 large eggs
6 1/4 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/3 cup Baker’s Special Dry Milk or nonfat dry milk (I used Carnation)
2 tablespoons instant yeast, SAF Red or SAF Gold instant yeast preferred (I used Fleishmann’s Yeast)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature (I melted it)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 large egg beaten with a pinch of salt and a pinch of sugar until well-combined
Filling (below is already doubled)
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2/3 cup Double-Dutch Dark Cocoa, Triple Cocoa Blend, or the cocoa powder of your choice, Dutch-process or natural (I used Hershey’s Cocoa powder)
1 teaspoon espresso powder (I omitted)
1/2 cup melted butter
2 cup finely chopped semisweet chocolate or semisweet chocolate chips, mini chips preferred (I used 1 heaping cup Ghirardelli mini semisweet chocolate chips)
2 cup diced pecans or walnuts, toasted if desired (I omitted)
Topping (below is already doubled)
8 tablespoons melted butter
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 cup King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
Combine all of the dough ingredients (starting with the lesser amount of water), mixing until everything is moistened. Add additional water if necessary to enable the dough to come together. I started with larger amount of water and added another ½ cup. It was very dry dough. Cover the bowl, and let the dough rest for 20 minutes. Then mix/knead it until it’s soft and smooth.
Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, and cover the bowl. The dough is going to rise for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until it’s quite puffy.
Gently deflate the dough, and divide it in half (or thirds). Set the pieces aside, covered, while you make the filling.
To make the filling: Combine the sugar, cinnamon, cocoa, and espresso (which I omitted). Stir in the melted butter. The mixture will look grainy and slick; that’s okay.
Shape each half of the dough into a 9″ x 18″, 1/4″-thick rectangle. If the dough “fights back,” let it rest for 10 minutes to relax the gluten, then stretch it some more. Don’t be fussy about this; 19″ or 20″ is as good as 18″.
Smear (if you’re Jewish, schmear!) each piece of the dough with half the filling, coming to within an inch of the edges.
Scatter half the chocolate (you’ll make a thin layer), half the nuts, and half the chopped chocolate/chips over each piece. If using standard-size chips, process them in a food processor first, to create smaller bits of chocolate and a less chunky filling.
Starting with a short end, roll each piece gently into a log, sealing the seam and ends. Working with one log at a time, use a pair of scissors or a sharp knife to cut the log in half lengthwise (not crosswise) to make two pieces of dough about 10″ long each; cut carefully, to prevent too much filling from spilling out. With the exposed filling side up, twist the two pieces into a braid, tucking the ends underneath. Repeat with the other log. Place each log into a lightly greased 9″ x 5″ loaf pan. (In addition to spraying the pans, I lined them with parchment paper. This made it much easier to take out)
Brush each loaf with the egg wash. Mix together the topping ingredients until crumbly, divide it in half and sprinkle the topping over each loaf.
Tent each pan with plastic wrap, and let the loaves rise until they’re very puffy and have crowned a good inch over the rim of the pan, 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat your oven to 300°F.
Bake the bread for 35 minutes. Tent lightly with foil, and bake for an additional 15 to 25 minutes (for a total of 50 to 60 minutes); the loaves should be a deep-golden brown.
To ensure the loaves are baked through, insert a digital thermometer into the center of one loaf. It should register at least 190°F. (I used a cake tester and it came out clean. Baking time was just about spot on.
Remove the loaves from the oven, and immediately loosen the edges with a heatproof spatula or table knife. Let the loaves cool for 10 minutes, and then turn them out of the pans onto a rack to cool completely.
Slice the babka and serve it at room temperature; or rewarm individual slices briefly in a toaster, if desired. Store any leftovers, well wrapped, at room temperature for several days; freeze for longer storage.