Babka is the cornerstone of Jewish desserts and something near and dear to my heart. The bread-like cake is a sweet brioche dough with a chocolate filling often topped with streusel. Despite the variations of babka in the world, this recipe comes straight from my grandma’s cookbook and is my favorite take on the delicious treat.
Although babka may look intimidating to make, this recipe will help you achieve a perfect result every time. The hardest part is the braiding, for which an instructional video is embedded below. So, let’s get to it!
Ingredients for the Dough
- 1 packet of dry yeast (2 & 1/4 tsp)
- 2/3 cup whole milk
- 5 tbsp unsalted butter
- 4 tbsp granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 4 egg yolks and 1 egg white
- 2 1/2 to 3 cups of all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp sea salt/kosher salt
Ingredients for the Chocolate Filling
- 2 cups of dark chocolate (8 oz. bar of dark chocolate’s worth)
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/3 cup unsalted butter
Pro Tip: if you want to bypass making your own filling, and you have a sweet-tooth, you can substitute these for Nutella. Simply spread it on your squared, rolled out dough, and garnish as you see fit.
Ingredients for the Streusel
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1/4 tsp sea salt/kosher salt
- Starting the dough: heat 2/3 cup of whole milk to around 100-110 degrees Fahrenheit, or a light simmer, stirring to ensure it does not burn. It should be warm to the touch, but not scalding. Add your yeast in the warm milk, along with 1 tsp of sugar, and whisk until dissolved. The mixture should become foamy as the yeast grows. If it doesn’t, it means your milk was too hot or the yeast was expired, causing the bacteria to die; if it doesn’t activate, start this process over.
- While your yeast activates, cream the 5 tbsp butter and 3 tbsp sugar in a stand mixer with a paddle.
- Once the butter and sugar are creamed, add the vegetable oil and vanilla extract, slowly incorporating it at a low speed. Add the egg yolks one at a time, increasing the mixer to high speed and beating the mix for about 2 minutes.
- Put the mixer back on the lowest setting and add 2 & 1/2 cups of flour and 1 tsp salt. Give your activated yeast mixture one small stir with a whisk, and slowly add it into the mixing bowl at low speed.
- Mix on low speed until the flour, yeast, and creamed sugar and eggs are combined. If you have a dough hook attachment, add it to your mixer; if not, get ready to knead by hand. Mix on low speed or slowly with your hands, adding in 1 tbsp of flour at a time, just until a soft, semi-firm dough forms. The amount needed to achieve this will depend on the humidity and altitude, so add it slowly and keep an eye on the texture before adding more flour.
- Once your dough is soft and pliable (it should be tacky, but not wet or sticky, and shouldn’t cling to your fingers) continue kneading several seconds until it can easily be removed from the hook by hand and does not stick to hands or surfaces.
- Lightly flour a surface and form your dough into a ball, transfer to the floured surface and knead several times until the dough forms into a smooth ball. Be sure to NOT over-knead during this stage.
- Place the ball of dough into a large lightly greased bowl, covering with plastic wrap. Allow the dough to sit in a warm space for 1-2 hours, until it doubles in size. For the best results, leave your dough to sit in the refrigerator overnight.
- Preparing the chocolate filling: finely chop or grate your dark chocolate and place it in a medium-sized mixing bowl, add in the cinnamon and unsalted butter straight from the fridge. Mix the ingredients with your hands until well combined into a chunky mixture and place in the refrigerator.
- Remove your risen dough from the bowl (if you put it in the fridge, allow it to come to room temperature, about 45 minutes). Roll it out on a lightly floured surface until you have at least a 13×17 inch rectangle of dough.
- Remove your filling from the fridge and spread it equally across your rolled out dough, leaving about a 3/4 inch border around the edges without filling.
- Using both hands, roll the rectangle from the longest edge, starting from the side closest to you and tightly rolling to the other end. It should be like a dough cigar, with layers of chocolate swirled inside. Press firmly along the seam of the roll to ensure that it does not come undone.
- Braiding the babka: Using a serrated knife, cut 1/2 an inch off the ends of the roll. Then, slowly cut the roll in half lengthwise, starting from one end to the other. You should have the cigar divided into two long, even halves with the layers of dough and filling visible along the length of both pieces. With the face of the cut halves up, put them beside one another, and gently press one end of the halves together. Then, lift the right half over the left half, then the left half over the right, alternating back and forth until you get to the end. To finish off your braid squeeze the two ends together as done to start the braiding of the dough — if you’re a visual learner like myself, you can watch this tutorial on YouTube on how to cut and braid your babka.
- Place your newly formed loaf into a greased pan, covering with plastic wrap or a moist towel, and place it in a warm place to rise for 1 to 1.5 hours. Don’t worry if there are gaps between your loaf and the pan, as they will fill out in the proofing and baking process.
- Once the dough rises, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a small bowl, mix the ingredients for the streusel until well combined and crumbly.
- Brush the babka loaf with an egg wash made from the 1 egg white whisked together with a tablespoon of whole milk and sprinkle the streusel over the top of the babka; if it doesn’t look too perfect, don’t worry, this bread is meant to look rustic.
- Place in the oven and bake for 25 minutes, turning the tin 180 degrees and baking for an additional 25 or 30 minutes, until the babka is golden brown on top.
- Allow the babka to completely cool so that the filling and bread can set before slicing so your pieces will come out marbled and gorgeous!
Babka is great for breakfast, dessert, or afternoon coffee. If you plan on saving some for later, wrap the leftovers in an air-tight bag and place the babka in the fridge. Unlike cake, babka is brioche-based and is likely to dry out and lose freshness like bread.
I hope you enjoy!