Chocolate-Cherry Babka

When my editor at the Jew and the Carrot (the food blog of the Jewish Daily Forward) asked me if I’d be interested in writing an article about babka, there was only one answer – YES. Babka, for those who have been sadly deprived, is a yeasty bread that is rolled around a filling (typically cinnamon or chocolate), stuffed in a loaf pan, and baked. It’s decadent and yet as appropriate for breakfast as for dessert. Yet somehow it seemed beyond my reach to make it at home. And in New York, when you have Zabar’s why bother? I was thrilled to learn it’s incredibly easy to prepare. Even better, most recipes make two to three loaves, which you can freeze and enjoy later.

Researching the article I uncovered all kinds of fun babka facts. For one, Zabar’s doesn’t make their babka! Green’s kosher bakery in Williamsburg does. Not only that, Green’s makes 12,000 loaves weekly and also supply babka to Russ and Daughters, Whole Foods, and Dean and Deluca, among others. Also, even though chocolate is the preferred flavor (Elaine on Seinfeld dealt cinnamon quite the blow when she called it “the lesser babka”) it’s a fairly recent American addition. In the spirit of creating new traditions (and at the suggestion of my lovely editor) I made a chocolate and dried cherry filling, recipe below. For more background and fun facts about babka be sure to check out my article at the Jew and the Carrot!

Chocolate and Cherry Babka

Adapted from Gourmet magazine and originally published in The Jew and the Carrot

Yield: 2 Loaves

INGREDIENTS:
Dough
¾ cup milk
½ cup plus 2 teaspoons sugar
3 teaspoons active dry yeast (from two ¼-oz packages)
3½ cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for dusting
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces and brought to room temp

Egg wash
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon heavy cream or whole milk

Filling
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, very soft
8 ounces 60% bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup roughly chopped dry Bing cherries (un-soaked)

METHOD:
For the Dough:
Heat the milk to 105–115°F in a small pot. Stir together the warm milk and 2 teaspoons sugar in a heat-proof bowl. Sprinkle yeast over mixture and let stand until foamy, about 5 to 10 minutes. If the yeast does not foam then you should discard it and start over with fresh yeast.

Add ½ cup flour to the milk mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until fully combined. Add the eggs, vanilla, salt, and remaining ½ cup sugar and stir thoroughly until combined. Mix in remaining 3 cups flour, a little at a time, until fully incorporated. Stir in the butter, a few pieces at a time, and continue to stir until butter is fully incorporated and dough is shiny, about 6 minutes. (Don’t worry if the dough is very soft and sticky; that is good.)

Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Put in a draft-free, room temperature place and allow to rise until doubled in size, 1½ to 2 hours.

Assemble Babkas With Filling:
Butter two loaf pans or line with parchment paper. Punch down dough with your fist or a lightly oiled rubber spatula, then halve. Roll out 1 piece of dough on a floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into an 18- by 10-inch rectangle and arrange with a long side near you.

Beat together the yolk and cream. Using your hands, spread half of the softened butter on the dough, leaving a ½-inch border all around. Brush some of egg wash on the long border farthest from you.

Sprinkle half of the chocolate evenly over the buttered dough, then sprinkle with half of the dried cherries (½ cup). Starting with long side closest to you, carefully roll the dough into a snug log, pinching firmly along the egg-washed seam to seal. Bring the ends of the log together to form a circle and pinch to seal. Twist the entire ring twice to form a double figure 8 and carefully transfer to one of the loaf pans.

Make another babka with the remaining dough, some of egg wash, and remaining butter, chocolate, and cherries in same way. Chill the remaining egg wash, covered, to use later on babka. Loosely cover the pans with plastic wrap and allow the babkas to rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until the dough reaches the tops of the pans, 1 to 2 hours. Alternatively, you can let the dough rise in the pans in refrigerator for 8 to 12 hours; bring to room temperature 3 to 4 hours before baking.

Put an oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Brush the tops of the dough with the remaining egg wash. Bake until tops are deep golden brown and bottoms sound hollow when tapped (when loaves are removed from pans), 30 to 40 minutes, rotating halfway. Transfer loaves to a rack and cool to room temperature.


28 Comments

  1. Wow, this babka looks heavenly! I’d like to try the cinnamon one, too :)

  2. I can attest to the wonderfulness of this babka! It was SO good. Thank you for sharing! You did an amazing job. Love the article, love the babka, love it all :)

  3. I love babka, and have never tried to make it myself. Now I will. I like your version with cherries and chocolate – how can I not?

    • It was much easier than I thought! I figured getting those swirls would be tricky but it’s just about rolling and then twisting the dough. And totally agree, what’s not to like about chocolate and cherries?! ;-D

  4. Usually I don’t like chocolate and fruit together as much, but one thing I really DO LOVE is chocolate and cherries together. SOOO delicious!

    • Chocolate and cherries really is amazing! The great thing about this recipe is that the filling is so versatile – you could come up with a ton of amazing combos to put inside!

  5. Oh yummy! This babka looks beautiful – I just might have to make this one for a good friend of mine soon =)

  6. This is one bread I haven’t yet ventured to bake. I really don’t know what’s keeping me from doing it. Although, maybe part of it is I think of babka as a special occasion bread, and with only the two of us here to indulge, I feel like I should wait until there’s a larger bunch to enjoy it. But you’re right — there is always the freezer for extras… even half a loaf could go in if we don’t finish it! Though if mine looked even a tenth this good, and was of course stuffed with chocolate and cherries, I believe it’d be polished off quicker than we’d like.

    Cheers,

    *Heather*

    • I’m totally with you in thinking of it as special occasion bread! But it really is good any time…for breakfast with a cup of coffee, for dessert, and even when it starts to get a little stale toasting it makes it even more delicious! I prevented us from eating it all by giving some away.

  7. I love coming to your blog… I always learn something new. I had never even heard of babka before! But just looking at it I am sure I would love it! Great idea to add dried cherries to the chocolate filling… cherries + chocolate = yummy perfection!

    • Aw thanks Manu!! Babka is really similar to panettone, baba au rhum, and kugelhopf. Same concept. Either way, bready goodness plus chocolate (and cherries!) is definitely a winner ;-)

  8. Wow, you have a beautiful blog and your photos are gorgeous! I love the addition of cherries to chocolate babka – it looks wonderful! I must admit, every time I hear ‘babka’, the Seinfeld episode comes to mind. It’s permanently settled in my lobes! ;)

    • Thank you so much Lisa! Oh I know, the whole time I was writing the article and blog post I had that Seinfeld episode playing through my mind :-) I also re-watched it just for good measure. Classic.

  9. That’s it, now I must make babka! Although I bake quite a bit, I’ve always been intimidated by it. Time to give it a go, especially with your chocolate and cherry filling. Great article, too!

    • Yes! Do it! I was totally intimidated as well and while it’s a bit time consuming because of the rising it’s much more manageable than I thought it would be. Thanks :-)

  10. Ohh chocolate babka one of my favorites – i usually make them for the holidays in december and give out as presents. But your cherry version sounds amazing – i might have to try that this year. . .very nice!

    • Such a great gift! I may have to start doing that. Again – love that most recipes make 2-3 loaves so it’s totally doable to do them as gifts. Oooh what about mini babkas in mini loaf pans? Is that crazy talk?!

  11. what a beutiful coffee cake! I’ve never had babka but I’ve heard of it. Chocolate and cherry is such a great combo :)

    • Thank you Victoria! Ooh definitely try some babka if ever you have the chance! Or make some :-) Chocolate and cherry is pretty hard to beat.

  12. Oh my very first babka was the one we did a featured review of last winter. That was a chocolate babka and this looks awesome, too.

  13. Oh no, I’m missing out something delicious again… I’ve never heard of Babka before, but not anymore. Chocolate + cherry combo sounds like it’s for adults – very mature flavor and I love it. :-)

    • Haha I know plenty of people who had never heard of babka. It’s very much a Jewish thing and also a New York thing. In either case, it’s delicious! Hope you get to try it soon :-)

  14. Katherine, this babka look incredible, and do appreciate explanation what it is..I love the bright and beautiful photos, and this recipe is sound really delicious!!! Thank you for sharing sweetie, and have a wonderful rest of the weekend!

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