This babka recipe is simply the best. It is delicious, soft, light and ultra-versatile. For this version, I have stuffed the babka with a chocolate filling but you can also use dried fruit, a cinnamon roll style filling or even poppyseed based ones. Not only can this be eaten on its own but a slightly stale babka (if somehow it lasts that long) can be sliced up and turned into a wonderful bread and butter pudding which not only tastes great but looks beautiful with all of the chocolate and dough layers running through the slices of babka.
You may notice that the recipe for my chocolate babka is similar to my rugelach recipe. This is unsurprising as both have Eastern European, Ashkenazi Jewish roots. It would make sense that similar recipes come from similar places especially as in this case, while I cannot find any specifics for which came first, they do seem like the same idea for a baked good but one is large and one is small. I have even seen rugelach recipes which unashamedly use babka dough and don’t even try to hide it.
From my (admittedly limited) experience in making both of these dishes, they seem to have almost identical ingredients in the dough but a very different technique to create. For rugelach, the butter is layered into the dough – similar to a croissant – but when making a babka, you mix the butter with the dough when the dough is first made – similar to a brioche. This early addition of the butter allows for a super soft dough however it is also a heavy dough – the butter weighs it down and as a result the babka dough requires far longer to rise than the rugelach dough.
The sugar syrup added at the end of the recipe is useful for two reasons. First of all, sugar (like salt) is a flavour enhancer and will make the babka taste better. Secondly, the sugar forms a protective layer around the outside of the babka which will help prevent it from going stale as quickly. Enriched doughs (those containing fats like butter and oil or those including eggs) tend to go stale faster than classic bread doughs (whole wheat and sourdough) and the sugar around the outside the babka will help protect the babka from this fate. The absorption of the sugar syrup also adds moisture to the final product giving an exquisite, sticky texture and also allowing the dough to lose more liquid as it ages before it dries out.
The recipe below will take time to make. You have to remember to prep the dough the night before you want it as it will take at least twelve hours to rise but the actual time you have to spend working the dough is minimal. Babka is a super easy gateway bake into the world of enriched doughs and is remarkably impressive for something so simple to bake.
Let me know in the comments if you have a go making this and I hope you enjoy eating it as much as I did!
Chocolate Babka Wreath
Work time: 1 hour
Rest time: 8+ hours
Cook time: 25-30 minutes
For the dough:
650g bread flour
100g brown sugar
2 tsp instant yeast
1 tbsp vanilla
125ml warm water
¼ tsp salt
150g softened butter
For the filling:
115g dark chocolate
4-5 tbsp cocoa
65g icing sugar
For the glaze:
Measure out the sugar into your mixing bowl.
Take one tablespoon of it and whisk into the warm water in a jug. Whisk in the yeast and set to one side to allow the yeast to activate.
Take 50g of the butter and melt in a saucepan. Continue to cook until it boils – don’t forget to stir regularly. After a minute, the bubbles will begin to get smaller and the butter will start to turn slightly brown. Pour the browned butter into a ramekin and set to one side to cool slightly.
Measure the flour into the mixing bowl and sprinkle over the salt.
Tip in the eggs, vanilla, yeast and cooled butter and beat with the dough hook until a smooth dough is formed.
Add the remaining softened butter a little at a time allowing it to be incorporated in the dough before you add the next piece.
Once all the butter is combined with the dough, tip out onto a clean surface and continue to knead for a few minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic.
Form into a ball, place back in the bowl and cover. Leave to rise in the fridge overnight or for several hours in a warm place – until the dough has doubled in size.
Once the dough has proved, you are ready to move onto making the filling.
Gently melt the chocolate and butter in a heavy based pan and stir to combine. Mix in the cocoa and icing sugar. Set this to one side to cool to room temperature – it will also thicken up a bit.
Uncover the dough, tip it out from the bowl and use your hands to press it into a square or rectangle.
Roll this out into a large rectangle 60-75 by 45 cm.
Spread the chocolate filling all over the dough making sure to get it right to the edges.
Starting from the long side, roll the dough up into a tight spiral.
Use a sharp knife to split the dough down the middle (lengthwise) to reveal alternating layers of dough and chocolate.
Wrap the two split halves of the babka around each other making sure the cut face is always pointing upwards.
Curl the dough into a circle and press the ends together to get one continuous babka wreath.
Cover and leave to rise again until the babka looks puffed up and has increased in size by around 50%.
Preheat the oven to gas mark 5 (190°C) and bake for 25-30 minutes, turning halfway through. If the babka looks like it is browning too fast, gently cover it with a layer of silver foil.
While the babka is baking, make the glaze by putting the water and the sugar into a pan and bringing to a boil.
Simmer the glaze for a minute to dissolve all the sugar and then remove from the heat until the babka comes out of the oven.
The moment the babka comes out of the oven, brush it all over with the glaze. This will likely boil upon contact with the babka but that is fine! Keep rushing with more syrup until it is completely covered. Don’t worry about syrup pooling in the features on the surface of the babka as it will be absorbed (and no one will complain anyway).
Leave the babka to cool on a wire rack before eating.
The babka will keep for a few days if boxed up and if you do accidentally leave it too long and the bread starts to harden and go stale you could always make the remains into a wonderfully decadent bread and butter pudding!
Have a good one and I will be back next week with a delicious vegetarian dinner stuffed full of flavour (and cheese) – what’s not to love?