This year I had the blessing of having part of my family at home. The house was full and the kitchen busy! So, the Friday before New Year Eve I finally had the chance to make a Babka bread for my special guests. Even though I had the opportunity to practice this bread before, this was the first time making it with Nutella and Walnuts, and I was very excited about it.
But what is this Babka bread? Babka is a spongy brioche like yeast cake made mainly in Central and Eastern Europe. It’s traditionally baked for Easter Sunday and the major holidays like Christmas & New Year’s. Traditionally, Bakba doesn’t have any filling and is glazed with a vanilla or chocolate flavored icing and decorated with almonds or candied fruit. But the most famous version of babka is associated with the Eastern European Jewish tradition. This babka is made from a doubled and twisted length of yeast dough and is typically baked in a high loaf pan. Instead of a fruit filling the dough is filled with cinnamon and/or chocolate. This is the version we will be doing!
Until recently, Bakba could only be found in Jewish or Eastern European bakeries, but now you can find this decadent sweet bread in cafes or fine bakeries. None which are near me, unfortunately. So when I started seen this decadent bread all over the web it was a must try for me. And because I like to do it right, it took me months to find a good European recipe that I could say: “Yes! I know what Babka is!!!!” So I hope you like this sweet bread as much as I did!
Here are a few notes before we dive in. Remember, recipes can vary based on ingredients. For example, a high-percentage chocolate might be dry due to less cocoa butter, and more cacao beans, so it’s more about personal taste. But if you’ll be using Nutella, I highly recommend to also use a dark or semi-sweet chocolate to make a balanced combination. Also, some Babka recipes call to add a ½ cup of sugar into the dough, but European recipes ask for simple syrup instead. Which it’s just like icing on a cake! Trust me on this one, the syrup will take this bread to a whole other level of moist goodness. The best part of the syrup is that you can change it up into any flavor, just add a tablespoon of vanilla, almond, maple, or honey.But enough technical talk! Let’s dive into this Backba!
But enough technical talk! Let’s dive into this Backba!
- 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
- Scant 1/2 cup whole milk very slightly warmed
- 1 tablespoon of vanilla
- 2 teaspoon sugar
- 3 ounces (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 large egg, at room temperature
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
- 2 cups all-purpose flour ( reserve 1/4 cup of flour if is necessary to the final kneading process)
- 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate coarsely chopped or chips
- 1/2 cup toasted hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds or pecans, coarsely chopped
- 1/2 cup or more of warmed Nutella
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 tablespoon honey or vanilla
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix the yeast with milk and sugar and 1/3 cup of the flour. Let rest until small bubbles appear and break the surface, about 10 to 15 minutes.
- With the mixer fitted with the dough hook, on low speed, mix in the 3 ounces butter, then the egg and salt. Gradually add the flour until it’s incorporated. *Note: You can make this dough by hand just: Simply mix the ingredients for the dough in a mixer bowl, then turn the dough out onto a lightly floured countertop and knead until smooth.*
- Turn the mixer to medium-high speed and knead the dough until smooth, about 5 minutes. If your dough seems too soft and is sticking considerably to the sides of the mixer bowl after kneading, add more flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until it pulls away from the sides. (The original recipe called 2 1/4 cups, but it depends on room temperature; this last ¼ may not be necessary).
- Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel until the dough doubles in size, then refrigerate the dough for a minimum of 6 hours, or overnight. The more the dough is refrigerated the easyer is to roll out and bread benefits from a leisurely rise.
- Butter a 9-inch loaf pan and line the bottom and up the sides with a piece of parchment paper overhanging the two long sides, which will help you remove the baked babka later.
- On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to a rectangle 12 x 20-inches. If the dough contracts and resists when rolling it, roll it out partially into a rectangle, let it sit 5 to 10 minutes, then continue to roll it out to the final dimensions once it’s relaxed.
- Spread the Nutella filling over the surface of the rectangle all the way to the edges. Strew the nuts and chocolate bits (if using) over the Nutella.
- Starting at one of the long ends of the rectangle, roll up the dough tightly so you have a loaf of approximately 20 inches long.
- Using a sharp knife, slice the dough completely in half lengthwise. With the cut sides facing up, overlap the end of one cut half over the other (with the cut sides still facing up), then take the other cut half and fold it over the other, making sure the cut sides are always facing up. Continue making a rope-like formation overlapping and twisting the two halves of the dough together until the dough into one big twist. Any nuts or filling that have fallen out, toss into the bottom of the loaf pan.
- Lift the twisted loaf and squidge it into the prepared loaf pan by pushing in on the two ends, so it fits in nicely.
- Put the loaf pan in a very warm place, such as near a radiator or in an oven that has a pilot light, and let rise for about 1 hour, or until it’s puffy and almost doubled in size. Note: For a golden brown surface, make an egg wash with 2 tablespoons of water and pour it over the dough before baking.
- While the dough is rising, make the syrup by bringing the water, sugar, and the honey to a boil in a small saucepan. (If using vanilla extract, or any other alcohol based flavoring, make sure to add it after you remove the pan from the burner.) Let boil for 4 minutes, skimming off any foam that rises to the surface with a spoon. Remove from heat and set aside.
- Fifteen minutes before you bake the babka, preheat the oven to 350ºF. Bake the babka on the middle rack of the oven for 35-40 minutes, or until internal temperature reaches 195ºF.
- Remove the babka from the oven and spoon or brush the room temperature syrup over the babka and let cool completely before lifting the babka out. Do not try to remove it or slice it while it’s warm, or it will break.
- Serve the babka sliced. It will keep for up to 4 days at room temperature or can be frozen for up to two months, if well-wrapped.
Recipe Adapted from David Leibovitz & the book, Bread Illustrated from America’s Test kitchen