Chocolate babka? Need to know more? Think brioche style yeasted bread baked with layers of sticky sweet cinnamon scented chocolate. A bit like a cinnamon swirl bun, but the chocolate takes centre stage. It’s divine and much easier to make than you might think. It’s ideal for a special breakfast, brunch or afternoon tea. Then again, just enjoy a slice with a cup of coffee whenever it suits you.
Chocolate babka has been on my to do list for a long time. But when it was featured as one of the technical challenges on The Great British Bake Off a few weeks ago, it suddenly bounced to the top. I’ve made it a few times now and let this be a warning to you. Once you’ve made one, you’ll want to make more. It’s so very tempting.
What is Babka?
Babka is a sweet yeasted bread similar to brioche, but it’s rolled out with a filling spread over the top. It’s then formed into a roll, cut, plaited and baked. When you slice into the finished babka, you should see a beautiful marbled effect. The dough is enriched with eggs, butter and milk which helps to keep it light and soft as well as delicious. As a final flourish, the top is glazed with sugar syrup.
Babka is a speciality of Ashkenazi Jews, mainly from Poland and the Ukraine. When many of them emigrated to the USA and Israel in the last century, they took their babka with them and added chocolate to the original. Chocolate babka is now really big in the States. But in Israel, it’s known as krantz cake.
Traditional Polish babka is shaped in the form of a wreath. But it’s now more commonly baked in a loaf tin. I like the traditional ring shape, so I bake my chocolate babka in a bundt mould.
Chocolate babka is arguably the most popular variation these days. I can understand that, who doesn’t love chocolate? However, cinnamon, apple, poppy seeds, dried fruit, marzipan and cheese babkas are also common.
Don’t worry if you think chocolate babka is complicated to make. It really isn’t. If you can plait hair, you can plait a babka. I got the rolling, cutting and plaiting bit right first time, although I did tweak my original recipe a bit the second time I made it.
Chocolate Babka Dough
What am I doing using unbleached plain flour rather than wholemeal? I know! It’s very unlike me, but there are some bakes, like this chocolate babka or these Strasbourg kouglof, where wholemeal flour just doesn’t work.
Unusually for a yeast recipe, you don’t use strong flour as you do with normal bread. Why? Because the lower gluten content of ordinary plain flour creates a softer dough.
Before you start, ensure you’ve taken the butter out of the fridge. It won’t blend into the dough if it’s rock hard, so it needs to be soft (ish). Chop it into small pieces so it softens faster and is easier to add to the dough later on.
I’m suspicious of instant yeast; it somehow smacks of Chorleywood. I prefer to use fresh or ordinary dried yeast. This does mean there’s an extra step involved, but it’s really not that much additional work.
You’ll need to mix the sugar and yeast with tepid milk and leave it to activate for ten minutes or so. You’ll know when it’s ready as it will start bubbling. As soon as bubbles appear, you can add the flour, salt and eggs.
The dough is quite a soft one, so it’s best to use the dough hook of an electric hand held or stand mixer to knead the dough. As it’s kneading, add the knobs of softened butter, one by one. Knead at a low speed for about seven minutes. Cover and leave in a cool place for ten minutes or so to firm up.
Whilst you’re waiting for the yeast, milk and sugar to do their thing, get on with making the chocolate filling. It’s very easy, but it needs a bit of time to firm up and cool down so that you can spread it over the babka dough.
Melt the butter in a pan. Turn off the heat then add the chocolate. Leave for a couple of minutes to melt. Add the sugar, cinnamon and cocoa powder and stir until smooth.
By the time the dough is ready, the chocolate mixture should be ready. Be careful not to leave it to cool for too long, however; the filling needs to be soft enough to spread.
How to Shape Chocolate Babka
Gather the dough into a ball and place it on a large floured surface. Form it into a rectangle and roll out to roughly forty centimetres by thirty. Don’t worry if it’s not exact. Each babka is unique and the baking will sort out any seeming unevenness.
Spread the chocolate filling over the dough with a flat bladed knife, leaving a one centimetre gap around the edges.
Roll the dough up lengthways so that you end up with a snake like tube. Leave a couple of centimetres at one end in tact then slice the rest of the roll in half lengthways.
Plait the two strands together, starting at the joined end. Twist the strands as you go so that the chocolate layers are mixed up.
Pinch the ends together, then lay the plait into your bundt mould or loaf tin, doubling up as needed. If you’re using a silicone mould, it’s best to place it on a baking tray for stability.
How to Prove and Bake Chocolate Babka
You’ll need to give the chocolate babka dough about two hours to rise. It needs to double in size before going into the oven. Whilst it’s rising, cover it with a plastic bag or tea towel so that it doesn’t dry out.
When it’s ready to bake, pop it on the middle shelf of your preheated oven and it should be ready in thirty five minutes or so. If you’re baking it in a loaf tin, you may need a bit longer. You’ll know it’s ready, if it sounds hollow when you tap the base. Just turn it out of its mould or tin briefly to do this. If it doesn’t, return it to the tin and oven and bake for another five minutes or until it does sound hollow.
Try not to overtake the babka though, it would be a shame to end up with a horribly dry loaf.
Most recipes for chocolate babka have a phenomenal amount of sugar syrup poured over them. It all seems a bit excessive to me. So I don’t douse my chocolate babka with huge amounts of syrup and it’s still plenty sweet enough.
Prepare the syrup whilst the babka is baking and allow it to cool. Either pour the syrup over the babka as soon as it comes out of the oven, or use a brush to ensure as much is covered as possible.
Leave the babka in the mould for ten minutes so it can soak up the syrup, then turn it out onto a rack to cool. If you use a bundt mould, you have two choices as to which side you want on top, both look good.
For a real treat, eat the Babka whilst it’s still warm. In any case, it’s at its best on the day of baking. Keep it in an airtight container and it will be fine the next day, just slightly drier.
For a special occasion, place a candle in the bundt hole and light it. Like this, it serves well as an alternative birthday cake.
Don’t Like Cinnamon?
I do recognise that not everyone loves cinnamon as much as me. Or maybe you just want a change. Either way, it’s fine to leave out the cinnamon if you don’t want it. But better than that, use a flavoured bar of chocolate instead. My favourite is chilli chocolate, but I reckon orange chocolate and ginger chocolate would work well too.
For a special breakfast such as Christmas, prepare the babka the night before and leave it in the fridge overnight where it will rise slowly. In the morning, just pop it into the oven and you’ll have a delicious warm babka for breakfast.
Other Sweet Breads You Might Like
- Apple cinnamon pull apart bread via A Baking Journey
- Chocolate, chilli & lime bread via Tin and Thyme
- Cranberry & pecan couronne via Only Crumbs Remain
- Figgy bread roll via Tin and Thyme
- Fruity raisin challah via Family, Friends, Food
- Panettone via Tin and Thyme
- Slow cooker fruit soda bread via Baking Queen 74
- Triple chocolate bread loaf via Tin and Thyme
- Yeasted pumpkin bread via Kavey Eats
Keep in Touch
Thanks for visiting Tin and Thyme. If you have a go at making this chocolate babka, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below. And do please rate the recipe. Have you any top tips? Do share photos on social media too and use the hashtag #tinandthyme, so I can spot them.
If you’d like more chocolate recipes, follow the link and you’ll find I have an awful lot of them. All delicious, of course.
Chocolate Babka. PIN IT.
Chocolate Babka – The Recipe
- 75 ml milk
- 20 g golden caster sugar granulated is fine too
- 15 g fresh yeast or 7g (2 ¼ tsp) dried yeast (not instant)
- 300 g unbleached plain flour
- ½ tsp sea salt
- 2 eggs
- 75 g unsalted butter – softened, ie not fridge cold
- 60 g salted butter
- 100 g dark chocolate (at least 70%)
- 80 g light brown sugar
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 2 tsp cocoa powder
- 25 g golden caster sugar (granulated is fine too)
- 20 ml water
- Warm the milk up in a small pan until hand hot.
- Pour it into your mixing bowl and add the sugar and yeast. Stir until the yeast is dissolved, then cover with a plastic bag or tea towel and leave to ferment for ten to fifteen minutes.
- When it's bubbled up a bit, add the flour, salt and eggs. Using the dough hook of your mixer, knead for seven minutes.
- After a couple of minutes, start to add the softened butter, one piece at a time. Don't worry if the dough seems a little soft. It's meant to be. But it's for this reason that it's easier to use an electric mixer to knead the dough.
- Leave it in a cool place for five to ten minutes to firm up a bit.
- Gather the dough into a ball and place it on a large floured surface. Form it into a rectangle and roll out to, roughly 40cm by 30cm. Don't worry if it's not exact. Each babka is unique.
- Spread the chocolate filling over the dough with a flat bladed knife, leaving a one centimetre gap around the edges.
- Roll the dough up lengthways so that you end up with a snake like tube. Leaving a couple of centimetres at one end in tact, slice the roll in half lengthways.
- Plait the two strands together, starting at the joined end. Twist the strands as you go so that the chocolate layers are mixed up.
- Pinch the ends together, then lay into your bundt mould or loaf tin, doubling up as needed.
- Place inside a plastic bag or cover with a tea towel and leave for a one and a half to two hours to double in size.
- When the dough is nearly ready, turn the oven on to 190℃ (375℉, Gas 5) and leave it to heat up.
- Place the babka on the middle shelf of the even, then turn the heat down to 180℃ (350℉, Gas 4). Bake for 35 minutes. The babka is done when the bottom sounds hollow when tapped. Just tip it out of its mould or tin onto a wire rack and test. If it needs a bit longer, place it back in the mould or tin and bake for a further five minutes.
- Pour the syrup over the top of the babka and use a brush to ensure as much of it is coated as possible. The bread will soak it up quite quickly.
- Leave in the mould for five minutes for the syrup to soak in properly, then turn it out onto a wire rack to cool.
- Melt the butter in the milk pan, over a low heat. Break the chocolate into pieces and add to the pan. Turn off the heat and leave the chocolate to melt.
- As soon as the chocolate has melted, add the sugar, cinnamon and cocoa powder. Stir until more or less smooth.
- Allow to cool and thicken enough so that it's spreadable, but not so thick that it will tear the dough.
- Warm the sugar and water in a pan until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil, then turn off the heat and leave to cool. The liquid should be syrupy, but still runny.
I’m sharing this recipe for chocolate babka with Lost in Food for #CookBlogShare.