Last week, I visited my friend Holly — yes, Holly of challah lore — for coffee, conversation, and of course, a little snack, a slice of babka from a loaf she had made the previous day. Upon serving it to me, she, as if she were any of the women in my family, instantly began critiquing it.
It's very lovely, she acknowledged, but noted it was kind of fussy to make, so much work for what it was. I, content as ever, tucked in but was happy to hear I was in good company. The dough was denser than she had hoped, and she wondered if she could just use her challah dough recipe as a base, spread it with a chocolate filling or Nutella, and shape it like babka.
Sounded like a plan to me. For the next few days, we texted back and forth, sharing photos and thoughts on our various experiments. In the end, we settled on adding orange zest and vanilla to her challah recipe otherwise making no other changes and used the chocolate filling from Jerusalem's chocolate kranzt cake recipe, which Smitten Kitchen made last fall. Finally, in place of water in the sugar syrup that the babkas get soaked in upon emerging from the oven, we used fresh-squeezed orange juice.
I had never made babka before last week. I have never made krantz cakes. But I love this hybrid — can't stop eating it! — and as soon as I finish off the remaining loaf on my counter, I am locking up all of my flours and leavening agents and chocolate, and I am putting an end to this baking spree once and for all!
I've sort of been in a cooking rut. I don't even know what I eat anymore — we've been living on soup and beans and this cabbage, from Gabrielle Hamilton's Prune, for weeks. What are you eating these days?
The dough recipe here is Holly's Challah with the addition of orange zest and vanilla:
Chocolate filling: dark chocolate, butter, cocoa, confectioners' sugar:
Losing the light!
Back at it in the morning!
Day old babka, toasted:
If you want more guidance making the dough, check out the Holly's challah post first.
Re: hot water, you can use hot tap water, but if you are worried your tap water is too hot — mine is scalding — you can use 1/4 cup boiling water and 3/4 cup cold water, which will give you lukewarm water, which will work just fine.
This babka can be prepared ahead and baked later. I have had success stopping after I've rolled the dough into coils, but I imagine you could make the recipe up until the point where you place the shaped loaves into the loaf pans. If you do this, cover pans with plastic wrap and place in fridge. The following morning, bring to room temperature before baking — make sure dough feels soft to the touch and is filling the pan before baking. Then proceed with recipe.
- 4 to 5 cups (486 grams to 614 grams) all-purpose or bread flour
1 package or 2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
1 cup hot water
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/4 cup honey or sugar
1/2 cup safflower, canola, grapeseed or other neutral oil
Zest of 1 orange
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- For the filling:
1/2 cup (1 stick/120 grams) unsalted butter
3/4 cup (130 grams) dark chocolate chips or chopped dark chocolate
1/2 cup (50 grams) powdered sugar
1/3 cup (30 grams) cocoa powder
- For the syrup:
1/3 fresh-squeezed orange juice (or the juice of 1 orange plus enough water to make 1/3 cup)
6 tablespoons (75 grams) sugar
- Whisk 1 cup (128 grams) of the flour with the yeast and stir in the hot water until combined. Cover with plastic wrap or a dish towel and let rise about 45 minutes or until puffy and bubbly.
- Directly into the bowl, add the salt, honey (or sugar), oil, eggs, zest, and vanilla. Stir with a spatula or spoon until well mixed, then add the remaining 4 cups (486 grams) flour. Stir with a spoon until dough forms a sticky mass. Turn dough onto lightly floured work surface and knead for just a few minutes, until dough becomes smooth. Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl (or the same sticky bowl the dough rose in . . . this is what I do), cover it with a dish towel or plastic wrap and let it rise until doubled in bulk, 1-2 hours or longer depending on the temperature of your kitchen.
- Make the filling: Melt butter and chocolate together until smooth (I did this in the microwave at 30-second intervals). Stir in powdered sugar and cocoa until smooth.
- Punch down dough and divide into 2 equal parts, about 600 grams each. Using a rolling pin, roll 1 half into a rectangle about 10-11 inches in width and 14-16 inches in length. Spread half of filling over top leaving 1/2-inch border all the way around. Starting from the short end, roll into a tight coil. To help keep coil bound, I wrap it in parchment paper and transfer it to a rimmed baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough and filling. (Note: you can make the recipe up until this point and put it in the refrigerator overnight — this works really well.)
- If you are not refrigerating rolled dough overnight, transfer loaves to freezer to chill for 15 minutes (this was a Smitten Kitchen tip, which makes cutting and shaping the rolls easier). Meanwhile, coat 2 9-by-4-inch loaf pans and 1 small vessel (I used a miniloaf pan — with butter).
- Place logs onto a large cutting board and remove parchment paper. Line each loaf pan with the parchment paper, folding as needed to make it fit the pan. Trim last inch (or less) off each log. Cut the logs in half lengthwise and lay them next to each other cut sides up. Lift 1 half over the other and twist each around the other (see photos for guidance). Transfer the twist as best as you can into the prepared loaf pan. Repeat with remaining 2 halves. Nestle trimmed ends into small vessel. Cover pans with plastic wrap and let rise 1-1.5 hours at room temperature or until dough has risen and is filling the pan.
- Heat oven to 375°F. Remove plastic wrap, place loaf pans on a sheet pan and bake on the middle rack of your oven. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Check the minipan around 20 minutes — it will be done before the others. If the loaves are browning too quickly, cover them with foil.
- Make the syrup: Place orange juice/water and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and set aside. Remove babkas from oven, brush some of the syrup over the small pan, then pour half of the remaining syrup evenly over each of the loaves. Let loaves cool completely in loaf pan if you are able to refrain, otherwise 15 minutes or so should do it.
- 2 Full-Size Loaves Plus 1 Miniloaf