Surprise Holiday House Guests with Heavenly Bread
The smell of fresh baked bread pressed with cinnamon and a hint of cacao wafts from the kitchen. We can barely wait for the hot babka to cool enough so that we can still melt butter and yet not burn the tongues.
The yeast has done its work, creating airy layers weighted only by cinnamon and chocolate. Sprinkle coarse sea salt on the best butter you can find and slather it atop the sweet, yeasty bread. Tug at the crust of your warm slice and feel the layers effortlessly unravel. The first, warm, sweet, buttery bite will stop time for a moment.
The first time I met a babka was in a Jewish deli in NY called Russ & Daughters where they offer either chocolate or cinnamon varieties. Babka is a sweet, yeast bread that is popular in Eastern European and Jewish bakeries. As I experimented with my own babka formula, I found I liked it best with dark chocolate and cinnamon together. In my particular version I love to use whole wheat flour as the basis for the streusel to add a nutty, coarse texture to the crunchy top.
If you plan to have house guests this holiday, make one of these loaves in the morning and let the smells from your oven awaken them and coax them downstairs.
Chocolate Cinnamon Babka
1 1/2 cups warm milk, whole heated to 110 F
2 (1/4 ounce each) packages active dry yeast, Fleishmanns
3/4 cups sugar, plus a healthy pinch of sugar for yeast starter
3 whole large eggs, room temperature
2 large egg yolks, room temperature
6 1/2 cups bread flour, plus more for work surface
2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces, room temperature,
1 teaspoon salt
2 tsp vanilla
Chocolate Cinnamon Filling
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces, room temperature, plus more for bowl and loaf pans
2 pounds 55-62% cacao chocolate, very, very finely chopped (use a Cuisinart to chop ultra fine) not too bitter (red fire would be delicious, banana victoria or really any bar would be great here…) Or omit chocolate and just use cinnamon
2 vanilla beans,
3 tablespoons ground cinnamon, Ceylon is using Cassia reduce to 2 Tbsp
3/4 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon heavy cream or whole milk
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
¾ cups whole wheat flour
¾ cup oats
2 Tablespoons cinnamon
8 oz. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
The most important tip in making a babka is that your eggs are really at room temp, around 70 and not too cold or it can stump the growth of your yeast. The butter needs to be truly at a warm room temperature also along with the milk being at a true 110F. I suggest warming up your house and adjusting your thermometer up a few degrees so it truly is in a warm environment. Yeast is a tricky ingredient. So, let’s get started.
Warm milk in a saucepan when you reach 110F, sprinkle yeast and a healthy pinch of sugar over milk. Allow the mixture to stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.
In a bowl, whisk together 3/4 cup sugar, 3 eggs, and 2 egg yolks. Add egg mixture to yeast mixture, and whisk to combine. (Reminder: make sure your eggs are not cold to touch but at a balmy room temperature.)
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 all the flour is incorporated, about 45 seconds. Change to the dough hook. Add 2 sticks butter cut in to tablespoons, and beat on medium-low until flour mixture and butter are completely incorporated, yielding a smooth, soft dough that’s slightly sticky when touched, about 10 minutes.
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 -2 hours. Do not pull it out until it truly has doubled in size. (Alternatively, let dough rise in refrigerator 8 to 12 hours; bring to room temperature, 3 to 4 hours, before baking.)
Prepare chocolate cinnamon filling: chop chocolate using a cuisinart, or by chop by hand until very fine. Put the chocolate in a bowl. Cut open two vanilla beans lengthwise and scrape out the seeds, adding them to the bowl. Add sugar, 1-inch pieces of butter and cinnamon. Using your hands, combine all ingredients, creating a soft mixture. Set aside.
Prepare the streusel : In a large bowl, combine sugar, flour, oats and butter. Using a fork or pastry cutter, blend until fully combined with clumps varying in size the more variety the better the texture will be when baked.
Generously butter 3, 9″ x 5″ x 2 3/4″ loaf pans; line the bottoms with parchment paper. Make egg wash by beating remaining egg with 1 tablespoon of cream or milk; set egg wash aside.
Punch back the dough, and transfer to a clean surface. Let rest 5 minutes. Cut into 3 equal pieces. Keep remaining pieces covered with a warm/damp towel while working with other piece. On a generously floured surface, roll dough out into a 16-inch square; it should be 1/8 inch thick. Use flour to smooth out evenly with rolling pin. Brush edges with reserved egg wash.
Take 1/3 of the chocolate filling (reserving 4 tablespoons for center of the babka) and evenly crumble over dough, leaving a 1/4-inch border. Roll dough up like a tightly rolled log. Pinch ends together to seal. Bring ends of log together to form a ring, pinching to seal.
Twist 5 turns. Sprinkle reserved spoons of chocolate filling on right half of the dough then fold left side on top of that and twist 3 more times. This will give you a great marbling effect and it is ok if the dough breaks a bit.
Place twist in your prepared bread pan. Brush top of roll with egg wash. Carefully crumble 1/3 of the streusel on top. Repeat with the remaining 2 pieces of dough and remaining filling.
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Loosely cover each pan with plastic wrap, and let stand in a warm place 20 to 30 minutes.
Bake loaves, rotating halfway through, until golden, about 55 minutes. After the 55 minutes, lower oven temperature to 325 F and continue baking until babkas are deep golden, about 15 to 20 minutes more. Remove from oven, and transfer to wire racks until cool. Remove from pans; serve with your favorite butter. You can wrap and freeze if desired.
Another tip: Use a great loaf pan like Rema hot air baking pans.