The most complicated recipe in Gatherings, one of my two beloved cookbooks, is the chocolate babka. So naturally, I had to try it.
For several months, I just kept flipping whenever I came to its page. The directions required both a food processor and a hand-mixer, and until recently, I had neither. But last Sunday, as I sat on the couch planning my menu for the week (more on that in another post), I decided the time had come.
It was perfect, really. We were going to be eating out for one meal on Shabbos, so there’d be fewer things for me to cook on Friday. I also decided to make simpler-than-usual dishes for the at-home meal, so I could embark on Mission Babka with plenty of time.
Friday morning came, and I began. As I worked on it, I couldn’t get over how high-maintenance this babka was. Everything had to be just so: The water for the yeast mixture had to be warm, three tablespoons of margarine were supposed to be softened, and another three melted. The dough needed to be combined in the food processor, then kneaded by hand, then rolled in a greased bowl. And on and on and on.
I followed the directions perfectly, except for the streusel topping, when I replaced flour with the matazh cake meal still in my freezer from Pesach. I thought it wouldn’t make a difference, but it sure did. (Well, it was either that or the confectioner’s sugar I used, which was admittedly kind of old.)
Finally, finally, I pulled my babkas out of the oven and waited for them to cool so we could grab a pre-Shabbos taste.
Well, they were…okay. Not bad, not great, just…okay. Which is a big diappointment when you feel like you spent all day on the crazy things.
I sliced one up on a platter anyway, and stuck the second in the freezer. Since they taste more like bread than cake, I think they’d make an okay breakfast. (As you’ll see below, the recipe doesn’t call for much sugar. Is this not supposed to be sweet?)
I hope one of you has a better babka story. I’d love to hear it.
- 1 tsp sugar
- ½ cup warm water
- 2 Tbsp active dry yeast
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 4½-5 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 Tbsp butter (or margarine), softened
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- 3 eggs
- 2/3 cup warmed milk (or soy milk)
- 3 Tbsp butter (or margarine), melted
- 2/3 cup sugar
- ½ cup unsweetened cocoa
- 1 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped
- 1 tsp water
- 2 Tbsp butter (or margarine), softened
- ¼ tsp cinnamon
- 1/3 cup confectioner’s sugar
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
1. In a medium-sized bowl, dissolve 1 tsp sugar in warm water. Sprinkle yeast over and stir. Let stand 8-10 minutes, then stir.
2. Combine sugar, flour, butter, salt and vanilla in food processor. Pulse until just combined. Separate one of the eggs, reserving the white for glaze. While processing, add egg yolk, 2 eggs, and warm milk. Once dough had formed a ball, continue to process for another minute.
Note: My food processor stopped whirring at the point at which the dough formed a ball. I figured that was good enough and continued the recipe. (If your processor keeps going for the extra minute, great!)
3. Turn out dough onto a lightly floured board and knead for 1-2 minutes. Turn it out into a greased bowl, turning to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and a damp towel. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk (45-60 minutes).
4. Punch dough down. Cover with inverted bowl and let rest for 10 minutes.
5. Divide dough into two equal parts. Roll each half out on a floured surface to a 10 x 20-inch (about 25 x 50-centimeter) rectangle. Brush half of the melted butter over each rectangle of dough, leaving about a half-inch margin on all edges.
6. Cocoa filling: In a small bowl, mix sugar and cocoa until well combined and no lumps remain. Sprinkle half of the cocoa filling evenly over the surface of each rectangle and then sprinkle each rectangle with half of the nuts.
7. Starting with the longer side, roll each rectangle of dough tightly, jellyroll fashion. Pinch the edges to seal. Place on a greased baking sheet, cover with a tea towel, and let rise until almost doubled in bulk (35-45 minutes).
8. Preheat oven to 350 F/175 C.
9. In a small dish, beat reserved egg white with 1 teaspoon water; brush egg white mixture over loaves.
10. Streusel topping: In a medium-sized bowl, beat butter with cinnamon until fluffy. Gradually add icing sugar and flour until mixture becomes crumbly and uniformly combined. Sprinkle each loaf with half the topping.
11. Bake on middle rack for 30-35 minutes until cakes are nicely browned. Remove loaves from baking sheets and let cool on wire racks.