Friday, September 14, 2007

chocolate babka

chocolate babka

If you’ve ever tried to recreate something you loved when you were growing up in your own kitchen, you know how difficult it can to match your taste memory to the reality of ingredients and step-by-step directions. Sometimes, even when you get the flavor right, it doesn’t feel right, but you hold out for those rare times that everything falls into place.

After realizing that both Alex and my families loved the same decadent grocery store chocolate babka growing up, I set out to find a recipe to recreate it at home. I waded through dozens and dozens, convinced that something was off in each of them, continually closing my eyes and trying to remember exactly what makes it what it is.

two and a quarter poundsreduced to rubblebig fat buttery doughthe kitchen was such a mess

First, it’s completely over-the-top. The chocolate to bread-like dough ratio is unseemly. It often seemed impossible that they could construct something with even more filling than structure. I rejected all of the recipes that didn’t suggest a mind-boggling amount of chocolate.

Second, the quintessential taste is not just chocolate, no siree: it’s chocolate-cinnamon. Rejecting all the recipes that didn’t play on this combination, the stack of possibilities further thinned.

Finally, the chocolate babka we grew up eating had an extra little something-something–streusel topping with a few chunks that always fell into the twists and folds–something I remember clearly from all the times we’d pick the pieces out, or fight over those with the biggest pebbles. Almost all the recipes I looked at involved no streusel.

But just like that, Martha Stewart* saved the day. Unseemly amounts of chocolate? Check. Cinnamon? Check. Streusel? Check. Five sticks of butter? Oh my god I didn’t sign up for this!

spreading the rubbletwist and twistby the time of the streusel

For real, people, this nearly ties with those pecan bars as the most fattening thing I have ever made. Two and a quarter pounds of chocolate. One and a quarter pounds of butter. A pound and a half of sugar. The truth is, this recipe made me a nervous wreck. The cost of the ingredients and caloric heft of them aside, it was a tremendous amount of work, a true labor of love, a task not eased by a kitchen with just a single eensy counter.

But I’m not here to complain, because the effort was not for naught. We cut into a single slice hot from the oven Wednesday night, unable to hold off any longer, and were just stunned. It is exactly what we remember. Callebraut chocolate, other top-notch ingredients and no extended wait on a supermarket shelf made it, dare I say, even better.

I realize that this is not exactly a recipe that anyone will be running out to try this very evening–you’d be correct to be daunted, even if the reward is substantial. But a good lot of the reason I was driven to creating this site was to pass information along where there is a dearth of it: this recipe works. And a recipe that works, and allows you to create something your family loves at home instead of wading through the labyrinth of ingredient lists, packaging dates and other well-placed supermarket doubts, is no small thing in my book, or in my belly.

the oven floor

* Disclosure! Martha Stewart is an advertising partner, but no, this does not mean that I give her recipes any free passes.

One year ago: Ina Garten’s Outrageous Brownies

A new babka: Seven years later, I found a new chocolate babka love which uses a fraction of the chocolate and butter but manages to taste as rich and heavenly (and look as gorgeous) as this. Check it out.

Chocolate Babka

When shaping the babka, twist dough evenly throughout the length of the roll a full 5 to 6 turns. The babka can be prepared up to step 8 and frozen for up to a month before baking. When ready to bake, remove from freezer; let stand at room temperature for about 5 hours, and bake.

Makes 3 loaves (but I made two full-sized and three miniature ones)

1 1/2 cups warm milk, 110 degrees
2 (1/4 ounce each) packages active dry yeast
1 3/4 cups plus a pinch of sugar
3 whole large eggs, room temperature
2 large egg yolks, room temperature
6 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
1 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups (3 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces, room temperature, plus more for bowl and loaf pans
2 1/4 pounds semisweet chocolate, very finely chopped*
2 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon heavy cream
Streusel topping (below)

1. Pour warm milk into a small bowl. Sprinkle yeast and pinch of sugar over milk; let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.

2. In a bowl, whisk together 3/4 cup sugar, 2 eggs, and egg yolks. Add egg mixture to yeast mixture, and whisk to combine.

3. 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 almost all the flour is incorporated, about 30 seconds. Change to the dough hook. Add 2 sticks butter, and beat until flour mixture and butter are completely incorporated, and a smooth, soft dough that’s slightly sticky when squeezed is formed, about 10 minutes.

4. 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 hour.

5. Place chocolate, remaining cup sugar, and cinnamon in a large bowl, and stir to combine. Using two knives or a pastry cutter, cut in remaining 1 1/2 sticks butter until well combined; set filling aside.

6. Generously butter three 9-by-5-by-2 3/4-inch loaf pans; line them with parchment paper. Beat remaining egg with 1 tablespoon cream; set egg wash aside. Punch back the dough, and transfer to a clean surface. Let rest 5 minutes. Cut into 3 equal pieces. Keep 2 pieces covered with plastic wrap while working with the remaining piece. On a generously floured surface, roll dough out into a 16-inch square; it should be 1/8 inch thick.

7. Brush edges with reserved egg wash. Crumble 1/3 of the reserved chocolate filling evenly over dough, leaving a 1/4-inch border. Refresh egg wash if needed. Roll dough up tightly like a jelly roll. Pinch ends together to seal. Twist 5 or 6 turns. Brush top of roll with egg wash. Carefully crumble 2 tablespoons filling over the left half of the roll, being careful not to let mixture slide off. Fold right half of the roll over onto the coated left half. Fold ends under, and pinch to seal. Twist roll 2 turns, and fit into prepared pan. Repeat with the remaining 2 pieces of dough and remaining filling.

8. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Brush the top of each loaf with egg wash. Crumble 1/3 of streusel topping over each loaf. Loosely cover each pan with plastic wrap, and let stand in a warm place 20 to 30 minutes.

9. Bake loaves, rotating halfway through, until golden, about 55 minutes. Lower oven temperature to 325 degrees and bake until babkas are deep golden, 15 to 20 minutes more. Remove from oven, and transfer to wire racks until cool. Remove from pans; serve. Babkas freeze well for up to 1 month.

* After chopping the chocolate into moderately sized chunks, I used the food processor to pulse the rest of the chocolate in two batches to small bits. It saved a lot of time!

Streusel Topping

Makes 3 3/4 cups.

1 2/3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

In a large bowl, combine sugar, flour, and butter. Using a fork, stir until fully combined with clumps ranging in size from crumbs to 1 inch.


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