The Best Chocolate Babka
Rich, buttery yeast bread with swirls of a chocolate-cinnamon filling and covered with a streusel topping, this homemade Chocolate Babka is even better than one from a classic Jewish bakery. This recipe makes two large loaves: one to share or one to freeze for later! Plus, everything you need to know about babka, from its history to shaping the swirly bread to storage tips.
Let’s pretend that it’s not actually the beginning of February, and it’s still actually January. And thus, I am introducing the first month (you know, January) of 2019’s “Year of the …” series.
Don’t let my tardiness take away from my excitement over this; yeast breads have, by far, been my most requested recipe category for years. And we’re going to tackle 2019 with arguably the very best yeast bread of them all: babkas!
We’ll do savory! We’ll do sweet! All babkas, all the time on Bunsen Burner Bakery! (Or really, one babka a month – but who’s counting?)
And of course, we’ll start with a classic: chocolate babka!
What is Babka?
First, let’s dive on it. Never heard of a babka? Confused because there are multiple types? Your babka education starts here!
Babka is a sweet yeast bread or cake. Babka actually means little grandmother in Ukrainian and Yiddish.
There are actually two different kinds of babka. The Polish-originating babka is a yeast cake, usually filled with dry fruit, baked in a tall, swirled bundt pan. This is not the kind of babka we are discussing today.
I asked some friends what their general questions were about baking babkas and more than one asked if it was actually Jewish in origin. The chocolate babka bread we are discussing today does, indeed, descend from Eastern European Jewish backgrounds. For many years, you could really only find babkas in true Jewish bakeries, although it’s becoming increasingly popular.
This kind of babka is made from twisted yeast dough and baked in a loaf pan. Fillings are generally sweet, like cinnamon or chocolate, and the loaf is then topped with a sugary streusel topping.
What does Babka Taste Like?
A babka bread is slightly sweet and rich, made from lots of butter, milk, and eggs. But the best part of a babka? The swirled filling. Whether it’s chocolate (like here), nuts, or cinnamon, a layer of sweet spread is swirled in between many layers.
Babka has the perfect contrast between the slightly dry bread and the rich, thick filling. You’re looking for a filling that is spreadable and thick enough to stay in a layer (kind of like peanut butter). It’s the perfect anytime snack — sweet enough for dessert, but still somehow appropriate for breakfast.
How to Make Chocolate Babka
I’ll be honest: making babka takes time. It’s not hard or complicated (despite the number of steps!) but this is not a “have a finished product in an hour and a half” kind of dessert.
Here’s the step-by-step game plan:
1) make the dough –> you can do this by hand or in a stand mixer to make it a little easier
2) let the dough rise at room temperature for 1 hour
3) let the dough rise in the refrigerator for another hour-ish
4) roll out the dough
5) cover the dough with chocolate filling
6) twist the dough and place it in a loaf pan
7) let the dough rise again
8) top dough with streusel topping
10) top freshly baked, still hot babka with simple syrup
11) cool babka
12) DEVOUR THE BEST CHOCOLATE BABKA
Babka is a most-of-the-day baking project, but one that is so, so worth it. Homemade babka is beautiful, delicious, and an extra special treat.
The dough is rich and hearty, but not too dry. It rolls like a dream and is wonderfully soft and not at all sticky (thanks to a rise in the refrigerator, instead of room temperature). It’s thick enough to hold up to a thick filling, but not overly dense. And it’s juuuuuust the perfect amount of sweetness.
The filling is so good. It’s practically a chocolate fudge — imagine a big mug of super thick hot chocolate, but solid. And then a layer of miniature chocolate chips for a little extra texture and crunch.
As if that’s not enough, there’s an entire brown sugar streusel on top, with more chocolate chips.
Oh, and then a sugar glaze.
So in the same bite, you get soft bread, decadent chocolate, crunchy streusel, and sugary glaze. Now we’re talking.
Guide to Shaping Babka
Of course, the biggest question of making a babka is: how do you get all those swirly layers? (See photos below for a visual explanation. ↓↓↓)
Start by rolling your dough out into a big rectangle. Spread on the chocolate filling and sprinkle with chocolate chips.
Next, take the long side and start to roll the babka into one long line. Once the dough is fully rolled, grab a knife and cut it in half, the whole way through, vertically. You’ll have two really long pieces of dough with chocolate running through them.
Twist these two pieces of dough around each other from start to finish. Then take this long twist, fold it in half, and give it another twist.
Place this twisted dough into the prepared loaf pan. It doesn’t matter which way you put it in — swirly side up or down — because we’re going to cover it with a streusel topping anyway.
Look, let’s be honest here. If you have leftover babka you need to figure out how to store, I’m not entirely sure we can be friends. Because the best thing to do with your babka is eat it immediately. There is zero self restraint when it comes to a chocolate babka.
But I get it. This recipe makes two babka loaves. The process takes long enough that you may as well make two at the same time – one for you, and one for a gift for friends or neighbors. Or even better, one for you… and another one for you, too!
A common question is whether babka needs to be refrigerated since there is so much butter in the filling and streusel (and milk in the dough!) The simple answer is no, but we can explain the reason why using my favorite subject… kitchen chemistry!
Sugar is hygroscopic, meaning it can bind to water molecules easily. As such, it acts as a preservative by drawing water molecules out of food and making it harder for bacteria to multiply, assuming there is enough sugar present.
The sugar content in the chocolate spread of this babka is high enough to delay bacterial growth, so your babka can stay in an airtight container for 4-5 days.
Babka can also be frozen and saved for later! To freeze your babka, bake and cool completely. Then wrap in a layer of aluminum foil and place inside a zippered freezer bag. Store in the freezer for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight and enjoy the next day at room temperature, or pop back into the oven for 5-10 minutes for a toasty warm slice.
Tips and Tricks for the Best Chocolate Babka
- Because the dough is sweet, the best yeast to use is SAF Gold, which is an instant yeast that does not require proofing.
- If using active dry yeast, proof the yeast first. Rise times may need to be increased.
- The babka-making can be split up over two days. During the first rise, the dough can be refrigerated anywhere from 1 to 36 hours.
- While not necessary, miniature chocolate chips are easier to roll up in the dough than full-sized chocolate chips.
- To ensure the babka is properly baked, use an instant-read thermometer. Bake until the center of the bread reaches 190 °F.
More Chocolate Breads:
- Rocky Road Banana Bread
- Nutella Pumpkin Bread
- Chocolate Buttermilk Quick Bread
- Double Chocolate Zucchini Bread
- All Bread & Muffin Recipes ≫
2019 Babka of the Month Recipes
For the Dough:
- 1 cup (227 grams) whole milk, room temperature or slightly warmed
- 1 tablespoon (9 grams) instant yeast, preferably SAF Gold
- 1/2 cup (99 grams) granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 4 1/2 cups (540 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 12 tablespoons (170 grams) unsalted butter, softened and cut into 12 pieces
For the Chocolate Filling:
- 1/2 cup (99 grams) granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup (42 grams) natural unsweetened cocoa powder
- 6 tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter, melted
- 1 1/2 cups (265 grams) miniature chocolate chips
For the streusel topping:
- 1/4 cup (53 grams) brown sugar, packed
- 1/4 cup (30 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 4 tablespoons (57 grams) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
- 1/3 cup (40 grams) miniature chocolate chips
For the syrup:
- 2/3 cup (132 grams) granulated sugar
- 2/3 cup (151 grams) water
- Prepare the dough. Whisk together the flour, yeast, sugar, salt, and cinnamon in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook or a large glass mixing bowl. On low speed, beat in the milk, eggs, and vanilla extract, mixing just until the dough comes together, 2-3 minutes. Increase the speed to medium-low and add the butter one piece at a time, beating after each addition until all pieces have been added. Continue mixing with the dough hook until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the sides of the bowl, about 10 minutes. (Alternatively, whisk together ingredients by hand until combined; knead by hand for 10 minutes until dough is soft and smooth.)
- Transfer the dough to a large lightly greased bowl and cover it with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel. Set aside to rise at room temperature for 1 hour. After 1 hour, transfer the bowl to the refrigerator, still covered, and set aside for 1 hour, until the dough has doubled in size and is firm to the touch.
- Prepare the filling. While the babka is rising in the refrigerator, make the chocolate filling. In a small bowl, combine the sugar, cinnamon, vanilla extract, and cocoa powder. Pour in the melted butter and stir to combine. This mixture will look a little granulated from the sugar. Set aside.
- Shape the babka. Grease two 9x5-inch loaf pans. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and gently punch it down. Cut the dough in half; remove half from the bowl and recover the other half and set aside.
- Roll the dough into a roughly 9-inch by 18-inch rectangle. Spread half the filling over the dough, leaving a slight border along the edges. Sprinkle half the chocolate chips over the top of the dough. Working from the long side of the dough, roll the dough into a long cylinder (see photos in post for more detail). Using a sharp knife, cut the dough in half longways down the length of the cylinder to expose the chocolate filling, creating two logs of dough. Twist these two logs together (pictured above in the post). Fold in half one more time, twisting again, and place the dough in the prepared loaf pan. Repeat with the remaining dough. Cover both loaf pans with plastic wrap or a dish towel and set aside to rise again at room temperature, for another hour.
- Make the streusel topping. In a small bowl, mix together the brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon. Cut in the cold butter using a pastry cutter or two knives until the butter is pea-sized and the mixture has a sandy texture. Stir in the chocolate chips. After the dough finishes rising, sprinkle the streusel topping over both loaves.
- Make the syrup glaze. Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves. Set aside to cool.
- Preheat the oven to 350 °F.
- Bake the babka. Bake the loaves at 350 °F for 40 to 50 minutes, until the top of the loaf is golden brown and the inside registers 190 °F using an instant-read thermometer. As soon as the babkas are done baking and come out of the oven, use a long skewer or knife to poke holes all over the bread, pushing all the way down to the bottom. Brush the simple syrup on top, equally dividing between the two loaves. Allow the loaves of bread to cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely before serving.
- For best results, use SAF Gold instant yeast, which is specifically designed for sweet breads.
- If you are using active dry yeast instead of instant yeast, proof the yeast before starting. Combine the yeast, warm milk, and 1 tablespoon of sugar and set aside for 5-10 minutes until frothy. Proceed with the rest of the recipe, adding this to the other ingredients and mixing.
- Babka can be stored in an air-tight container for up to 5 days, or frozen for up to 3 months. To freeze, wrap the fully cooled loaf in aluminum foil and place it inside a plastic freezer bag.
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 24 servings Serving Size: 1 slice
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 331Total Fat: 16gCarbohydrates: 45gProtein: 5g