It’s easy to feel blue in January with the holidays over and winter settling in for the long run. Chocolate babka is the perfect winter weekend project to chase those blues away. The soft, sweet bread swirled with chocolate and cinnamon is deliciously comforting, plus it fills your whole house with an irresistible bread-baking aroma. Don’t be intimidated by the length of time the recipe requires, much of it is inactive rising time, which leaves you free to do other things.
1 tbsp + 1/4 tsp instant yeast (not dry active yeast)
3/4 cup whole milk
5 tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature
7 tbsp sugar
3 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 1/4 cups bread flour
1/2 tsp salt
7 oz semi-sweet chocolate
3 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp salted butter, chilled
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cocoa powder
1 1/2 tbsp flour
1 tbsp icing sugar
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp salted butter, chilled
1 egg white
1 tsp water
Warm the milk to room temperature by heating gently on the stove, or microwaving in 30 second increments. Once the milk is warm – not hot – sprinkle the yeast overtop and set aside.
In the bowl of a mixer, cream together the butter and sugar. Beat in the egg yolks one at a time, then add the vanilla. Save one of the egg whites for the egg wash. Scrape down the bowl with a spatula and beat on high until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add three cups of the flour and ½ tsp of the salt to the bowl and stir on low till combined. Stir the milk and yeast and pour into the mixer bowl. Stir until a soft and sticky dough forms.
If kneading with a mixer: Switch to a dough hook and sprinkle half of the remaining ¼ cup of flour over top of the dough. Knead until the flour has incorporated completely. If the dough is still sticking to the bottom of the bowl, knead in the remaining half of the ¼ cup of flour, one tablespoon at a time. Knead for 7 – 9 minutes until the dough is soft, stretchy and tacky to the touch.
If kneading by hand: Scrape the sticky dough out of the bowl onto a floured countertop and sprinkle half of the remaining 1/4 cup of flour on top of it. Use floured or greased hands to knead the dough until it become soft, stretchy and tacky to the touch (approximately 10 – 14 minutes). If the dough is too sticky, sprinkle on the remaining half of the 1/4 cup of flour a little bit at a time until it becomes manageable.
Lightly grease the mixing bowl with canola oil and place the kneaded dough inside it, turning the dough to coat. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise at room temperature 1 1/2 – 2 hours until almost doubled in size. At this point you can move on to the next step, or chill the dough in the fridge overnight to bake the following day.
While the dough is rising, make the chocolate filling. Roughly chop the chocolate and place it in the bowl of a food processor along with the sugar, butter, cinnamon and cocoa powder. Process until the mixture is combined and forming small crumbly pieces. If making by hand, chop the chocolate as finely as possible and cut the butter into small pieces. Stir together with the sugar, cinnamon and cocoa powder until combined and crumbly.
Once the dough has risen, lightly flour your countertop and roll out the dough into a 14-inch by 20-inch rectangle. Spread the chocolate filling evenly across the dough, leaving a three-centimetre gap around the edges. Roll the dough along the long edge of the rectangle into a 20-inch long log. Use your hands to gently twist the log a few times as if you were wringing out a rag. This will make the roll tighter and a few inches longer. Fold the log in half and alternate crossing the pieces over one another to form a twisted loaf. Pinch the ends together and tuck underneath the loaf. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Use the tip of a sharp knife to make 6 – 8 two-inch cuts along the top of the loaf. The cuts should be just deep enough to go through the first few layers of dough. Lightly cover the loaf with plastic wrap and rise at room temperature until it is 1.5 times the size. This will take approximately three hours if you made the dough the same day, or 3.75 – 4 hours if you chilled the dough overnight.
When the loaf has risen, preheat the oven to 350 F and make the crumble topping. In a small bowl, stir together the flour and sugars, then use your hands or a pastry cutter to work in the chilled butter until the mixture is sandy and crumbly. Whisk together the egg white and water for the egg wash and use a pastry brush to spread it over top of the entire loaf. Sprinkle the crumble topping over the loaf and place inside the preheated oven. Bake for 20 minutes, then rotate the pan and tent the loaf with foil if it’s getting too dark. Bake for another 20 – 30 minutes until the loaf is a dark golden brown (40 – 50 minutes total). Remove from pan and cool loaf on a wire rack for at least two hours to allow the chocolate to set before serving. Store leftovers in a plastic bread bag.
Stephanie Eddy, who writes about her baking exploits at clockworklemon.com, lives in Calgary.