A babka is a sweet, braided bread or cake which originated in the Jewish communities of Poland and Ukraine. It is very popular in Israel but there it is often referred to as a simple yeast cake.
Babka is often confused with challah but challah is a traditional bread made with eggs, as well as water, yeast, sugar and various flavorings. It is baked in a variety of shapes for different holidays. Challah, in our house, makes great French toast for our Sunday morning “colazione” Italian breakfast.
¾ CUP WHOLE MILK
¼ CUP BUTTER
2 CUPS BREAD FLOUR
2 CUPS REGULAR FLOUR
2 TEASPOONS ACTIVE DRY YEAST
¼ CUP SUGAR
¼ CUP WATER – optional
1 EGG – lightly beaten
PINCH OF SALT
1 TEASPOON VANILLA – optional
Warm the milk and melt ¼ cup of butter in a glass bowl in the microwave just until the butter is melted and you can swirl it around in the milk.
Combine, the bread flour, regular flour, yeast, salt and ¼ cup sugar. Slowly add the water, vanilla, milk-butter mixture and egg to the dry ingredients and mix well.
Using a stand mixture and dough hook, mix on low speed until the dough is smooth and elastic – about 12-15 minutes. If the dough appears to be too wet, add a little more bread flour – a few tablespoons at a time – just to make the dough more workable. You don’t want to add too much flour, or the dough will be too dry. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a dishtowel and let rise in a draft free place until double in size – 1 – 1 ½ hours.
5 (1 OZ) SQUARES SEMI-SWEET CHOCOLATE – finely chopped
1 ½ TEASPOONS GROUND CINNAMON – or to taste
½ CUP REGULAR SUGAR
¼ CUP BUTTER – chilled
While the dough is proofing, make the chocolate filling and the streusel. For the chocolate filling, stir together the finely chopped chocolate, the cinnamon and ¼ cup of sugar. Cut in ¼ cup chilled butter with a fork.
¼ CUP POWDERED SUGAR – sifted
¼ CUP REGULAR FLOUR
¼ CUP BUTTER – chilled
1 EGG BEATEN with 1 TABLESPOON WATER – for glaze, optional
To make the streusel, combine the powdered sugar and ¼ cup of flour. Cut in ¼ cup chilled butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
PREHEAT OVEN TO 350º – BUTTER TWO 9-INCH LOAF PANS
Prepare a parchment paper sling for each pan.
When the dough had doubled punch it down and cut into two equal parts. Loosely shape each piece into a ball, cover with a slightly damp cloth and let rest for about 10 minutes.
Roll out one portion into a 17X9-inch rectangle. Spread with half of the filling. Starting with the long end, roll into a very tight coil. Transfer to a dish towel or a piece of plastic wrap. Freeze for about 10 minutes. Repeat with the other piece of dough.
Slice one of the dough coils in half lengthwise letting the filling to be exposed. Twist the two halves together to form a braid and then fold the braid in half so that it is about 9-inches long. Place into the prepared pan, letting it curl around itself if it is a little too long for the pan. Cover loosely with a clean dish towel and let rise again in a draft free warm place until puffy – 1 – 1 ½ hours. It won’t be quite doubled in size. (Alternatively you can do this by covering the pans with plastic wrap and letting them rise in the refrigerator overnight. But you must bring them to room temperature for about an hour before baking.)
At the point you are ready to bake, use your fingers to clump the streusel together and scatter all over the tops of the loaves. Bake until a tester comes out clean – 40-50 minutes. If you prefer, you can skip the streusel altogether and bake just by brushing an egg wash on top of each loaf.
When a tester comes out clean, transfer to a rack and let cool before removing from the pan.
NOTE: As a little time saver, you can spread warm Nutella over the loaves instead of using the chopped chocolate. If chopping the chocolate make sure to use a good chocolate that is close to 74 % cocoa.