My mother wasn’t big on what she called Hallmark holidays. She believed that everyday should be mother’s day, just as much as she believed everyday should be children’s day and father’s day for that matter. If you think about it, she was right. Why celebrate someone you love only one day a year? Aren’t they special everyday? Do we need a card company to remind us to be nice to our mothers? I’m not suggesting bringing your mother flowers everyday, or making her breakfast in bed in every spare moment, and having dinners out every Sunday, but when you really think about it, it’s not that difficult just to do something nice for those we love.
What does this have to do with babka? Well, everything. I don’t like gifts on “mother’s day” – flowers yes, gifts not so much. I like spending time with my family; that’s my gift. This past Sunday, not the “official mother’s day” was my mother’s day. My son Ethan titled it Mother’s Day 2.0 – an upgraded version so to speak! We didn’t all sit down to breakfast together, I wasn’t served breakfast in bed, and yes, I did the dishes! What made it my day was that everyone did something with me and planned a day for us to be together. This started with making babka with my older son Jarred. I’m pretty sure he will be the one to carry on the family recipes and for that I’m extremely glad.
Babka is an Eastern European sweet yeast bread that is classified as a coffee cake. If you live in the northeast or you’re a Seinfeld fan you know there are 2 kinds of babka – a chocolate babka and a cinnamon babka. Check out this clip from Seinfeld with Jerry and Elaine, it’s truly a classic! Chocolate babka is the more popular of the two. In the show, they describe the cinnamon babka as the lesser babka, which in all honesty I don’t necessarily agree with. Chocolate is my favorite so we decided to try that one first. I have always thought it was difficult to make – turns out, the toughest part is waiting for the dough to rise! My friend Marcy makes babka all the time and now I know why! So here’s the recipe and be patient; enjoy a nice cup of coffee while you’re waiting.
Recipe for the Yeast Dough (makes two 8″ loaves)
1/4 cup warm water plus 1 teaspoon sugar (around 110 degrees)
1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast (or 2 packages)
1/4 cup sugar
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt (I used pink sea salt)
1 stick butter melted
2 extra large eggs (at room temperature)*
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 large egg for the egg wash (this will be brushed on before the streusel is added)
*eggs should always be room temperature when baking. You can put them in warm water for about 5 minutes if you forget to take them out ahead of time. Doing this will help the eggs blend well with the room temperature butter.
In a measuring cup add 1/4 warm water and 1 teaspoon sugar. Sprinkle in the yeast and stir. Set aside for about 5 minutes until the yeast has bubbled and created a foam on top.
While the yeast is blooming you can put the dough together. In a medium size mixing bowl add all the dry ingredients and stir with a fork to combine. In a separate bowl mix the eggs, butter and vanilla. Add the wet ingredients to the dry including the yeast. I kneaded the dough in the bowl for just a couple of minutes to combine. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place it in a warm spot to rise until double in size (about 1 hour or maybe a little more).
While the dough is rising, put together the filling and streusel topping below.
1 stick butter softened (not melted)
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup sugar
pinch of salt
2/3 cup good quality mini chocolate chips
In a small bowl, sift the cocoa into the sugar and salt. Mix in the butter until well blended, cover and set aside. The chips will be sprinkled on top of the filling. Please note: If the mixture is too soft, put it in the fridge to firm up. It should be the consistency of easy to spread peanut butter.
1/3 cup butter melted
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (or almond extract)
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
In a small bowl, sift all the dry ingredients together. Add the melted butter and extract, stir with a fork until combined and crumbs form. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.
Once the dough is doubled in size, punch it down, take it out of the bowl and place on a well floured surface. Split the dough into two pieces using a knife or dough scraper. Make sure you have enough flour on the board so that when you roll out the dough it doesn’t stick. Roll out one piece of dough into an 8″ x 12″ rectangle, it should be about 1/8″ thick.
With a spatula, spread 1/2 the chocolate filling mixture and then sprinkle 1/3 of the miniature chips on top.
Starting at the bottom edge, roll the dough into a tight log. There are many ways to form a babka, you can fold the log in half and twist it, you can cut it into pieces and place them on top of each other, or even make it like monkey bread. For my first time out, I thought simple was best and kept it in a log. Place the log into an 8″ x 4″ aluminum loaf pan that has been buttered generously or sprayed with canola oil. Repeat this process with the second piece of dough. Now they are ready for their second rising. Place plastic wrap on top and place in a warm place for another hour or more.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees with your baking rack in the center of the oven. After the second rising it should be almost double in size. Now it’s ready to brush with egg wash, do this very lightly as you don’t want them to deflate. Sprinkle each with 1/2 the streusel mixture and place in preheated oven. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until lightly brown on top. If they are browning too much, place a piece of foil on top.