Saturday, January 10, 2009

Chocolate Babka

Saturday, January 10, 2009

In January, Jim and I always host Saturday morning open houses for our neighbors. We keep it very simple: coffee, tea, juice for the kids, doughnuts, and something that I make. (Last week I made espresso muffins, which I didn't bother to post about because they weren't very exciting). This week I made chocolate babka. That was exciting.
Apparently a lot of people who grew up somewhere other than northern Indiana have fond memories of their neighborhood bakery's babka. There was a bakery in our little town, but it sure never made babka. Neither did anyone else I knew. Like a lot of midwestern people, I first heard of babka in the babka Seinfeld episode. I first tasted Breadsmith's version. In fact, that was the only version I had ever tasted until I made this one. This babka, a recipe from, is softer, richer, and substantially more buttery and chocolatey than Breadsmith's. In fact, it bears about the same relation to "bread" as champagne bears to water. It is obscenely delicious but it wouldn't do on a long-term basis to sate your hunger.
The dough is very soft and sticky, with a lot of butter and eggs. It's so unlike a regular bread dough that you don't even make it with the bread hook attachment.

Although there are three teaspoons of yeast in the dough, it was a reluctant riser. It may have been the chilly January kitchen or the dough may just be so heavy that it doesn't like much activity, but it took longer to rise than the 90 minutes claimed by the recipe. That meant that I had to stay up past my bed time to get it shaped.

This was fun. For such a rich, buttery dough, it handled beautifully and rolled out into a 10 x 18-inch rectangle with no trouble at all. The dough rectangle is brushed with butter and sprinkled with chopped bittersweet chocolate (I think I might try grating it next time) and a few tablespoons of sugar.

After the dough is rolled up, you make it into a circle and then twist it a few times. It's supposed to look like a double 8. I couldn't really envision this, but I just twisted a few times, which is a little risky because the rolled-out dough is fairly thin and the chopped chocolate has sharp edges, so you could easily rip the dough, resulting in leaking butter and melted chocolate. Unless you're a master babka maker, there's no way to avoid a certain amount of leakage, but you'd rather not invite it. I believe this is why the recipe instructs you to prepare each loaf pan by lining it with two sheets of parchment paper. I didn't really like this idea--I thought that the weight of the bread would straighten out the paper, but it didn't work all that well, so you end up with a misshapen loaf.

At this point, I put the shaped loaves in the refrigerator, with instructions to Jim to take them out immediately when he got up. I was sure he'd forget, even though he left a giant note to himself to TAKE BREAD OUT OF REFRIGERATOR!!!. I was so sure he'd forget that I got up earlier than I wanted to so I could do it myself and chastise him for forgetting. He had remembered, however, so I was all at sixes and sevens because I was still sleepy and I couldn't berate him. Not a good way to start a weekend.
On the plus side, though, all I had to do was wait for the loaves to come to room temperature and pop them in the oven. Then came the only part that did not quite work out as planned. The recipe says to bake until the bottom sounds hollow when tapped. Do you see the problem with this method? You can't be doing any bread-bottom-tapping until you've already taken the bread out of the pan. And if it turns out that you've misjudged, the bread collapses. At this point, you can tap it and find out that it doesn't sound hollow, but a fat lot of good that does.

If I had made only one loaf, I would have been quite despondent at this point, but there was, fortunately, a second loaf, which stayed in the oven for another five or ten minutes. It got quite a bit browner on top, but it emerged in one piece when I took it from the pan.

There was only about ten minutes for the intact loaf to cool before guests started arriving, and, of course, the smell of bread and chocolate drew people into the kitchen. When they spotted the babka, they wanted some. This week, the doughnuts played second fiddle to the babka.


Kaydee said...

OMG. I'm inspired. Looks delicious. And I love the idea of an open house!

Melinda said...

Very nice! This looks like something I would like to make.
I wonder why Rose doesn't have a recipe for Babka?
Poor ole' Jim. He does the right thing and still gets it wrong for being trustworthy and dependable.
Poor ole' Jim.

Doughadear said...

I remember this babka well. I made it about one year ago and it is still memorable. I found the dough to be quite easy to work with even though it was quite soft. The babka was so tender and decadent with all that butter and the chocolate filling. Didn't it remind you of a great big chocolate croissant. I am sure it was quite a treat for all your friends.

breadbasketcase said...

Oh, do try it--as long as you're sure to bake it long enough, it's not that difficult. The open houses have been great--they're such a tradition now that the only way Jim and I could escape them is to move, and even then we might not be safe unless we moved to a different state.

You would love it! Rose does have a recipe on her web site, but this one looked easier. Now that I've tried this, I may try Rose's for comparision. I know that you like it when Jim is the hero of my posts, but I prefer him in the role of amiable klutz. My assigned role is the unreasonable martinet who barks out orders, so I think he actually has the better assignment.

breadbasketcase said...

Yes! That was the most prevalent comment--"This is just like a chocolate croissant, only better because it's still warm!" At first I tried to explain why it wasn't croissant dough, but no one seemed interested, so I stopped talking.

Anonymous said...

WOW! That babka looks AMAZING! Both of them do, actually. I love the beautiful color. Is it possible to gain weight just looking at this? If so, you are in BIG trouble, Marie :-)


A belated Happy New Year to everyone!

Laura NYC

breadbasketcase said...

I am pleased to say that you don't gain weight from looking at the picture. In fact, I've been trying to lose weight and have been completely off desserts; I've been at a weight plateau for the last few days. Yesterday I ate two pieces of babka and finally lost weight! So apparently it's an effective diet food. (I may not test this thesis too strongly, however).

jini said...

oh my goodness marie. i think you've really done it this time. this looks to be the most sinfully delicious to date. this may force to me indulge in baking. it certainly increases the appeal since you say it helped you lose weight! :)

breadbasketcase said...

When I make something that I love, I always hope other people will try it, so go to it! I think a book called The Chocolate Babka Weight Loss Plan would be a best-seller, don't you?

evil cake lady said...

Wow that Chocolate Babka looks good. I remember seeing Rose's on her blog and I almost made it right then and there. Nice to know that babka can help you lose weight! I'm totally trying the babka weight loss plan.

breadbasketcase said...

See? I knew that the babka plan had best-seller written all over it. Too bad mine is all gone so I can't put the theory to the test again.

Bunny said...

This is decadent! I need to make this! Thank you so much for posting this!

breadbasketcase said...

It is, and you do. (I like your photo, by the way).

Anonymous said...

de-lurking to thank you for posting this. it was as good as it looked! for future reference, my loaves came out of the oven at 180 and 182 degrees. the 180 degree loaf was a bit softer (and sank just a bit) just out of the oven, but was also a bit moister the second day.


breadbasketcase said...

Thanks for the info. I don't know why, but I've really been resistant to the idea of testing by thermometer, but I think it would really have been helpful with this bread.

Anonymous said...

i understand about not wanting to test by thermometer--it does leave a hole in the bread (although no one complained!). if you have someone to help you, one of you can carefully lift the bread out (using the edges of the parchment paper) while the other one taps the bottom. (that's what i did, since i was guessing that the bread might be ready at 180 degrees or so).