Chocolate Babka Loaf {ModBak}

The first of my two “official” blog posts for the Yeast-Risen Specialties section of the Modern Baker Challenge is a delicious recipe, Chocolate Babka. This bread is Eastern European in origin, most likely Russian. The dough is enriched with milk, butter, egg yolks, and sugar, and filled with bittersweet chocolate and nuts.

I began by heating the milk, then mixing in the yeast, butter, sugar, salt, egg yolks, and vanilla. I stirred in half the flour with a rubber spatula, then mixed in the rest, one-half cup at a time, with the electric mixer. After all the flour had been added, I mixed the dough for two minutes, rested it for 10 minutes, then mixed for another two minutes.

I scraped the dough, which was very slack, into a buttered bowl, then put it in the refrigerator. It was supposed to chill for an hour and a half, but I had some errands to run, so it stayed in the fridge for about three hours. I don’t think the long, cold fermentation hurt the dough, but when I scraped it out onto the bench, it was still very slack.

I sprinkled the board with flour, but should have floured it more heavily. I should also have floured the top of the dough a bit. I patted out the dough, but it was so sticky, it was hard to manage. After pressing it out into a rough rectangle, I sprinkled the dough with the bittersweet chocolate mixture (chocolate, dark cocoa, sugar, and cinnamon) and chopped nuts.

I had quite a time rolling the dough, as it wanted to stick to the mat, my hands, and itself. It wasn’t pretty, but I finally got the dough rolled into a rough loaf shape, which I cut in half, then wrestled into two loaf pans.

The loaves proofed for about two hours, until the dough crested the tops of the pans. I baked the loaves for 45 minutes at 350°.

I took the bread out of the oven, cooled it in the pan for 10 minutes, then removed the loaves and finished cooling them on their sides so the loaves wouldn’t collapse.

What this bread lacked in appearance and manageability, it more than made up for in taste. The bittersweet chocolate was delicious, and the cinnamon gave it an additional depth of flavor.

The next time I make this bread — and there will certainly be a next time — I’ll flour the board and dough more heavily to make it easier to handle. But even with the difficulties I had, this bread was definitely worth the effort.

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14 Comments

  1. November 24, 2010 at 4:21 am

    […] tasted like bread with chocolate chunks), so I was  a little hesitant to approach this recipe. But Phyl’s and Margaret’s rave reviews raised my hope that Malgieri’s recipe would be […]

  2. Jasmine said,

    October 9, 2010 at 9:02 am

    My Chocolate Babka is still cooling in their pans as I write and it smells great, but I just thought that you would like to know that I didn’t have the same problem that you faced with the slack dough upon chilling. I did heavily flour my mat after reading your post but found that the dough was really quite easy to pat and stretch into the rectangle required. 🙂 And here where it is summer all year round, I only had to leave my dough to proof for about 45 minutes before it almost reached the top of the pans.

    • gaaarp said,

      October 9, 2010 at 10:34 am

      Glad to hear it worked out well for you. I’m working on brioche braids and chocolate marbled brioche this weekend. We’ll see how the shaping comes out.

  3. Renee said,

    October 8, 2010 at 4:32 pm

    Looks fantastic. I almost made this the other day but realized I didn’t have enough bittersweet chocolate in the house so it has to wait for another day. Oh Yum!

    • gaaarp said,

      October 8, 2010 at 4:39 pm

      I bought the chocolate for this, but now I have to go back to the store for more bittersweet, unsweetened, and semi-sweet chocolates. I just attended two cooking classes with Nick, and one was all chocolate cakes.

  4. Kayte said,

    October 3, 2010 at 7:27 am

    That looks so pretty. Guys are going to love chocolate in bread, am sure of that! Thanks for tips on rolling and the yeast…am going to have to think about both of those before I tackle this one. This is going to be a growing section for me as I have not done a lot of these things in my very short stint into the baking realm.

    • gaaarp said,

      October 3, 2010 at 1:23 pm

      Your guys will love it. Even though I had a bear of a time trying to roll it, and ended up with more of a center filling than a swirl, it was really good.

  5. ap269 said,

    October 3, 2010 at 4:28 am

    I wonder if the result is more like cake or bread? I made the chocolate cinnamon babka from Peter Reinhart’s ABED and was a little disappointed because it was so different from what I had expected. It tasted like bread, which was weird because I served it for the traditional German “Coffee and Cake” in the afternoon.

    • gaaarp said,

      October 3, 2010 at 1:21 pm

      I’m not sure what your standard is, but I would put it somewhere in between cake and bread. The bread part isn’t as sweet as cake, but the chocolate nut filling is definitely more like a dessert than a bread.

  6. Abby said,

    October 2, 2010 at 8:20 pm

    Mmmm…looks and sounds delicious. And thanks for the hints!

    I was just reading about the marbled brioche this evening and the recipes sound really similar. When you heated the milk and added the yeast, did you use active as he calls for? Or did you sub in instant?

    • gaaarp said,

      October 2, 2010 at 8:26 pm

      I used instant yeast. I never keep active dry yeast in the house, so I always substitute instant.

      Generally, of course, instant yeast is added to the dry ingredients rather than being added to liquid. However, as Peter Reinhart discovered while writing his last book, instant yeast, like active dry, benefits from being “awakened” in warm liquid before being added to the rest of the ingredients. This seems especially to be true with recipes which employ minimal mixing and kneading.

  7. teaandscones said,

    October 2, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    Looks fantastic!! This one is on my list for this group. Glad to see how it comes out. Thanks.

  8. Heather said,

    October 2, 2010 at 12:19 pm

    It’s definitely helpful to read about other people’s experiences so I know what to expect. Thanks for such an informative post. We have a nut allergy in the house so I’m not sure if I should make this one without the nuts or skip it altogether. Do you think it would be lacking without the nuts?

    • gaaarp said,

      October 2, 2010 at 6:07 pm

      Heather, I think it would be fine without nuts. The chocolate is what really shines in this recipe.


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