Fall Break food: Chocolate Babka
For all the time we had over Fall Break, I didn’t really accomplish much schoolwork. Sure, we got to make pulla (hyperlink) and we made money by working at our respective campus jobs, but we ended up goofing off a lot at night. Our short week post-break ended up being pretty stressful — I had a midterm that I felt like I bombed, Veronica was contemplating major major (as in, what she’s studying) issues, and we still hadn’t finished everything on our break bucket list.
In our defense, it was a pretty long one — we had about 15-20 items on it, including watching Secretary (a 50 Shades-esque movie) to going thrift store shopping for shoes.
One of the things on the list was to make chocolate babka, which didn’t get made until the day after break ended. We still had a bunch of pulla leftover but I was super adamant on getting the babka. We made it the night before my linear algebra midterm and it ended up being my midnight snack.
While looking for a babka recipes, I noticed that a lot of them required overnight resting or at least several hours for the dough to rise. A longer resting time would make the dough much easier to handle and softer in the end, but that’s a pretty steep opportunity cost for not being able to eat the bread now (you’d be proud, Professor Skillman).
The recipe is originally from Smitten Kitchen but tweaked to fit a shorter timeline. This is a project you can finish in a lazy afternoon or perhaps during a study fit at night (just like what I did). There’s a simple baking trick of rising the dough in a slightly heated oven — works well in a pinch for quicker baking or if your house is particularly drafty like ours.
Even with the shorter resting time, our babkas turned out superbly and soft. To me, the bread part reminded me of a croissant-white-bread mix. The chocolate bits turned out really well — strong and not-too-sweet. I was the envy of my early morning classes, as I touted a hot cup of tea and sweet-smelling chocolateness.
So go on, make this babka, fulfill your carbohydrate dreams, and perhaps you’ll start believing in a more chocolaty higher power.
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, for non-stand-mixer owners and for those who want to finish the babka in one afternoon/night
Makes two loaves
4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting and kneading
1/2 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons (or one packet) fast instant yeast
3 large eggs
1/2 cup warm milk (just a little warmer than a hot shower), plus up to another ¼ more as necessary
3/4 teaspoon fine sea or table salt
2/3 cup butter at room temperature (we actually used salted butter and it turned out superbly)
4 1/2 ounces dark or bittersweet chocolate (or approximately 3/4 cup chocolate chips)
1/2 cup (or 1 stick) unsalted butter
Scant 1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup water
approximately ¼ cup granulated sugar
Making the dough
Turn your oven on to about 300 degrees Fahrenheit. The exact temperature doesn’t matter at this point since you’ll turn off the oven in a few minutes just to get it just above room temperature. This will be where your dough will rise for the first part. Coat a large heavy bowl with vegetable oil.
Combine the flour, sugar, and yeast in another large bowl. Add the eggs and ½ cup warm milk; mix with a wooden spoon until it starts to come together. If the dough is looking like it’s on the dry side, add more milk by tablespoon increments. You’ll want a dough that is soft but not too sticky. Once the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl, turn it out onto a well-floured surface and begin kneading. Add dabs of butter to the dough as you knead, lightly dusting the surface with flour as needed.
Once all ⅔ cup of the butter is completely incorporated, pat your dough into a spherical shape and then place in that oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap or a light plate and put the bowl into the slightly warmed oven from before. Let rest for about an hour and a half, until somewhat doubled in size. (It might not double all the way, it might). At the end of this hour and a half, place the bowl into the fridge while you make the filling.
Just before the dough is ready to be taken out, melt the ½ cup butter and the chocolate in a double boiler. Once smooth, turn off the heat and add in the powdered sugar and cocoa powder. The mixture should be a soft and spreadable paste. Keep this paste on the stove with no heat as you roll out the dough and prep the pans.
Coat two 9in-by-4in loaf pans with oil and line the bottom with parchment paper.
On a well-floured counter, roll out HALF of the dough (keep the other half in the fridge) into a 10-inch rectangle (or circle or ellipse or whatever shape you can make it to be); the length will depend on how thin you can make the dough. I went with a hearty ¼-1/2in thickness.
With a silicone spatula or a spoon, spread half of the chocolate filling over the surface of the dough. Roll up the dough lengthwise (like a hot-dog…or a cigar?) and pinch the end as best as you can. Transfer this finished log into the freezer while you work on the second half of the dough. Repeat the spreading of the filling and rolling.
Making the loaves
With one log, cut in half length-wise and turn out the cut side up. Pinch one end together and form a simple twist by placing one half over the other. Make the twists as tight as you can but remember that you’re working with very soft and pliable bread dough. With a flexible cutting board or just with your hands, pick up your twisted dough and place gingerly into one of the prepared loaf pans. Any imperfections and spaces between the twists will bake out, I promise!
Repeat with the other roll. Cover with a plate and leave again to rise for another hour.
It’s time to bake! Take your dough out and let the oven preheat to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the oven is finished preheating, place the pans on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 30 minutes. When the bread is done, a toothpick pierced into it should feel no rubberiness or have excess dough coming out.
Make the simple syrup by heating the water and the sugar together up to a gentle boil. Remove from the heat once the sugar has dissolved. When the babkas are finished, brush this syrup all over the tops. Let them cool in the pan and then transfer to a plate or cooling rack when you’re ready.
Munch with a strong cup of tea or coffee for breakfast or even as a midnight snack to get you through the tide of exams. No one will judge you.