There are certain recipes in my Bread Illustrated cookbook that get me very excited. These are the recipes that caught my eye in the initial flip through and that have been sitting in the back of my mind ever since, waiting for the perfect opportunity to be baked. The cinnamon buns are one such example.
The chocolate babka is another recipe that I’ve been dying to make – but I couldn’t find the right occasion. I contemplated waiting until Easter (Is babka even an Easter bread? Did I make that up?), but then one day, I decided that life is too short to not make babka. I bought some bittersweet chocolate, rolled up my sleeves, and prepared to babka.
My last enriched pastry dough (the Portuguese Sweet Bread) didn’t go so well, so I was a little apprehensive about the babka. I suspected the sweet bread’s demise began in the early stages, when I had difficulty “catching” the dough on the hook of my stand mixer. The babka recipe includes the following troubleshooting tip:
Problem: The dough doesn’t engage the dough hook in a large mixer.
Solution: Scrape down the mixer bowl.
It goes on to say that you need to scrape the bowl down often to ensure it’s not sticking to the bottom of the bowl. This is spot on: whereas with the sweet bread, I’d mainly cleared it from the sides, for the babka I made sure to get that spatula right underneath the dough to dislodge it from the bowl. I had to do this several times – like, every 5 to 10 seconds at first – but eventually, the dough started spinning and the butter incorporated as it should. When I popped it out onto my counter top, it looked exactly like the picture in the book.
That is a satisfying feeling.
I left it to rise, and when I returned to it, it looked great: light yellow, perfectly smooth, and just the right amount of puff. Time to tackle the chocolate filling.
The recipe says to microwave the chocolate, butter, and cocoa powder, but I used my homemade bain marie instead (i.e., my mixing bowl perched over a saucepan of simmering water). Icing sugar is then mixed in, then the whole thing is supposed to cool down before adding in egg whites. The cooling is key, otherwise I imagine you’d end up with a chocolate omelette of sorts.
My dough rolled beautifully and the chocolate filling spread easily – just look at that gorgeous shine! When I rolled the dough into a log, I was worried that the filling would gush out of the ends, but no such thing happened.
However, when it came time to twist, some of the chocolate mixture escaped just a little. It didn’t matter much, but I knew my final product would be a little less picture perfect than the one pictured in the cookbook.
After a second rising in the pan, it was baking time. Waiting the 45 minutes it took to bake was agony – IT SMELLED SO GOOD. Waiting for it to cool was even harder. But man oh man, was it worth it.
Of course, I didn’t wait the 3 hours for it to cool completely – I cut a slice right away, and I’m glad I did. The babka is delicious, but its tastiness peaks right out of the oven (as is the case with so many baked goods).
How can I describe the deliciousness of this bread? For one, it’s chocolatey, not sugary. The taste is rich but not too sweet. The bread itself is stretchy and springy and light. It’s almost like a pain au chocolat, but as bread, not a pastry – if that makes sense.
The layers of my chocolate and bread swirl separated a little (overproofed, perhaps?), so my slices aren’t nearly as neat or photogenic as the cookbook picture – but that’s fine by me, because I’m sure it tastes just as good as the one the America’s Test Kitchen folks whipped up.
I’m pleased to say that the chocolate babka lived up to my sky high expectations. If you’re looking for an excuse to make babka, I highly suggest you just make one up as I did.
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