You Can’t Beat This Babka

After completing the eating marathon that was Rosh Hashanah I couldn’t motivate myself to peruse recipes, so for my latest post I asked friends to do the picking. They selected babka, a twisted yeasty bread loaded with chocolate or cinnamon. I was excited about the choice for two reasons: 1) its Eastern European roots (the name stems from the Russian word baba, meaning grandmother), and 2) its role in the Seinfeld “Dinner Party” episode — “You can’t beat a babka!” You can access the recipe here.

The recipe yields 3 loaves, so the ingredient list is a bit overwhelming. This recipe calls for 2 1/4 pounds of chocolate, 1 1/4 pounds of butter, and a pound and a half of sugar. My one suggestion would be to cut down on the chocolate chips. I only used 2 of the 3 bags of chocolate and the babka was still incredibly rich. As you can see in the photo, my friends and I decided to stray from the traditional babka shape for one loaf and make a babka ravioli. Two of my helpers, who both speak Russian,  emblazoned the chocolate pillow with a Russian “B.”

So how does the whole experience rank? On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being “bad” and 5 being “good”:

Prep time: 2

I’m learning that cooking with yeast makes for a painfully long prep time. Waiting for dough to rise, like waiting for water to boil, is not fun. I also wanted to note that, to avoid another egg fiasco, I actually saved the egg whites. I didn’t end up needing them, but I I gave myself a pat on the back for foresight.

Overall ease: 2

This recipe was quite complex. Having a minuscule cooking space only added to the difficulty. To accommodate the various bowls and ingredients I had to utilize every flat surface I could find: stove top, microwave, dresser, and dining room table. The hardest step was folding and twisting the babka, which left me and my cooking partners a bit stumped. We ended up simply rolling and folding the babka and skipped the twisting step altogether.

Cook time: 2

Cook time totaled about 80 minutes.

Cost: 2

This recipe required standard baking ingredients, but since I had not gone grocery shopping in weeks I had to buy almost everything, including two loaf pans. Somehow all the ingredients and supplies came to $30.

Taste: 5

This babka was insanely delicious. I ate it shortly after pulling it from the oven, so it was oozing with gooey chocolate. Every bite tasted like the moist center of a chocolate cinnamon roll.

Chocolate Babka Recipe

1 1/2 cups warm milk
2 (1/4 ounce each) packages active dry yeast
1 3/4 cups plus a pinch of sugar
3 whole large eggs, room temperature
2 large egg yolks, room temperature
6 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
1 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups (3 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces, room temperature, plus more for bowl and loaf pans
2 1/4 pounds semisweet chocolate, very finely chopped
2 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon heavy cream

1. Pour warm milk into a small bowl. Sprinkle yeast and pinch of sugar over milk; let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.

2. In a bowl, whisk together 3/4 cup of sugar, 2 eggs, and egg yolks. Add egg mixture to yeast mixture, and whisk to combine.

3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine flour and salt. Add egg mixture, and beat on low speed until almost all the flour is incorporated, about 30 seconds. Change to the dough hook. Add 2 sticks of butter, and beat until flour mixture and butter are completely incorporated, and a smooth, soft dough that’s slightly sticky when squeezed is formed, about 10 minutes.

4. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead a few turns until smooth. Butter a large bowl. Place dough in bowl, and turn to coat. Cover tightly with plastic wrap. Set aside in a warm place to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

5. Place chocolate, remaining cup of sugar, and cinnamon in a large bowl, and stir to combine. Using two knives or a pastry cutter, cut in remaining 1 1/2 sticks butter until well combined; set filling aside.

6. Generously butter three 9-by-5-by-2 3/4-inch loaf pans; line them with parchment paper. Beat remaining egg with 1 tablespoon cream; set egg wash aside. Punch back the dough, and transfer to a clean surface. Let rest for 5 minutes. Cut into 3 equal pieces. Keep 2 pieces covered with plastic wrap while working with the remaining piece. On a generously floured surface, roll dough out into a 16-inch square; it should be 1/8 inch thick.

7. Brush edges with reserved egg wash. Crumble 1/3 of the reserved chocolate filling evenly over dough, leaving a 1/4-inch border. Refresh egg wash if needed. Roll dough up tightly like a jelly roll. Pinch ends together to seal. Twist 5 or 6 turns. Brush top of roll with egg wash. Carefully crumble 2 tablespoons filling over the left half of the roll, being careful not to let mixture slide off. Fold right half of the roll over onto the coated left half. Fold ends under, and pinch to seal. Twist roll 2 turns, and fit into prepared pan. Repeat with the remaining 2 pieces of dough and remaining filling.

8. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Brush the top of each loaf with egg wash. Crumble 1/3 of streusel topping over each loaf. Loosely cover each pan with plastic wrap, and let stand in a warm place 20 to 30 minutes.

9. Bake loaves, rotating halfway through, until golden, about 55 minutes. Lower oven temperature to 325 degrees and bake until babkas are deep golden, 15 to 20 minutes more. Remove from oven, and transfer to wire racks until cool. Remove from pans; serve. Babkas freeze well for up to 1 month.

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