Recipe from Simply Great Breads by Daniel Leader (Taunton Press, 2011)
Babka is an Old World Jewish favorite that has become an almost mythical bakery item because it is so difficult to find these days. My grandmother was a great baker who regularly turned out rugelach, mandelbrot, macaroons, and honey cake. She made a fabulous chocolate babka that I remember with a mixture of nostalgia and regret, since I enjoyed it so much but never asked her to teach me how to make it. When I finally got around to coming up with my own babka recipe, I tried to make it just as wonderfully chocolatey and crumbly as hers. Best-quality European chocolate is essential (I use Callebaut). Babka is often made with cream cheese, but I like mascarpone for the hint of nutty flavor that it gives to the dough. I never have trouble coming up with uses for the leftover mascarpone, but you may use regular cream cheese in its place if it's more convenient.
Photo by Ditte Isager
Shaping the babka takes several steps. First you fill the dough, and then you roll it into a log. Next you fold the log, and then you twist it, which gives the cake its interesting interior folds. While experimenting, I wished I could have asked my grandmother how she did this, but I think she'd approve of the end result.
Makes 1 Babka
5.77 ounces/163 grams (2/3 cup) room temperature milk
(70°F to 78°F)
.72 ounce/20 grams (2 tablespoons) mascarpone cheese
7.2 ounces/204 grams (1 cup) sugar
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
.14 ounce/4 grams (1 teaspoon) pure vanilla extract
.08 ounce/2.5 grams (1/2 teaspoon) fine sea salt or kosher salt
20 ounces/570 grams (4 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
.3 ounce/9 grams (1 tablespoon) instant yeast
5 ounces/143 grams (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened and cut into bits
8 ounces/208 grams bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 ounce/30 grams (2 tablespoons) heavy cream
1. Combine the milk, mascarpone cheese, 1/2 cup of the sugar, eggs, 1 of the egg yolks, vanilla, and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer. Stir with a rubber spatula to combine. Add the flour and yeast and stir a few times until a rough dough forms. Mix on low speed for a few minutes with the dough hook.
2. With the mixer running, add the butter, 1 piece at a time, until it is all incorporated. Turn the mixer to medium speed and knead until it comes together in a sticky but cohesive mass, 4 to 5 minutes.
3. Scrape the dough into an oiled bowl or dough-rising container and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight, 8 to 12 hours.
4. Grease a 9 by 5-inch loaf pan. Combine the chocolate and the remaining 1/2 cup sugar in a medium bowl.
5. Deflate the dough by gently pressing down on it with your palms. Turn it onto a lightly floured countertop and roll it into a rough 16 by 8-inch rectangle, with the long side facing you.
6. Sprinkle the chocolate and sugar mixture over the dough. Starting with the long side closest to you, roll the dough into a snug log. Pinch the outside edges to seal.
7. Fold the log in half and twist it once in the center (giving it a shape like an awareness ribbon). Gently place the folded and twisted dough into the prepared pan. Lightly drape with plastic wrap and let rise until increased in volume by 50 percent, 1 to 2 hours (alter-natively, refrigerate the dough overnight and bring to room temperature before letting it rise and baking it).
8. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly beat the cream and the remaining egg yolk together in a small bowl. Brush the top of the babka with the egg wash. Bake until the top of the babka is deep golden brown and baked through, about 40 minutes. Overturn the loaf onto a wire rack, and re-invert. Let cool completely before slicing and serving. Chocolate Babka will keep at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 3 days. For longer storage, wrap in plastic wrap and then aluminum foil for up to 1 month. To defrost, place on the countertop for several hours, and reheat in the oven at 350°F for 10 minutes before serving.