The History Of Babka
Chocolate babka is simply a marriage of bread and pastry, or as we more commonly call it, a chocolate coffee cake. If you have not yet had the chance to indulge your sweet tooth on a chocolate babka, I’m sorry.
The origins of babka are not really known. Eastern Europeans traditionally make a babka for Easter so it’s plausible the Jewish community adopted and adapted their own version. The problem with this theory is that chocolate was very expensive and was rarely used in Eastern European Jewish baking and cooking 500 years ago.
Chocolate was used in 15th century Spain. Possibly the Jews fleeing the Inquisition brought chocolate with them when they fled Spain. There are many Jewish chocolatiers in the south of France. Some believe Italian Panettone is much like a babka and could have inspired the Jews to make their own version. However, babka is widely seen in Eastern Europe and not the Mediterranean.
So the general consensus, if there is one, is that it’s a mid century American creation inspired by history and our current love of chocolate. Whoever came up with the chocolate babka is owed a debt of gratitude. Chocolate coffee cake, wherever it came from, is the best breakfast around.
Inspiration For The Recipe
Zingerman’s first opened it’s doors in 1982 in Ann Arbor, Michigan with a mere 4 employees and offered a variety of traditional deli sandwiches. Today Zingerman’s has grown to include a bakehouse, roadhouse, dairy, candy making, coffee, catering, baking classes and most importantly for those of us who do not live in Michigan, mail order. They are now considered by Food and Wine Magazine to be one of the top twenty-five food markets in the world.
Zingerman’s chocolate babka starts with a yeasted dough wrapped around a layer of almond filling, chocolate and rum-soaked raisins. I changed mine somewhat to forgo the almond filling and add imitation almond extract to the dough to accommodate my husband’s nut allergy. If you can eat nuts by all means include a layer of almond filling.
Babka can take many shapes. Some look like a traditional loaf of bread. Others look more like an angel food cake. I prefer mine to look like a traditional coffee cake. Whichever shape you choose, remember it’s all in the twisting so the chocolate is layered as much as possible.
I also use a bread machine to get me off to a good start. Kneading and the first rising is done by the machine which makes the whole process a lot easier.
Prep time: 2 hours 30 min Cook time: 35 min Ready in: 3 hours 5 min Yields: 32 servings (one large or two medium loaves)
1/2 C Cocoa Powder
1 C Powdered Sugar
4 TBSP Softened Butter
1 C Golden Raisins
1 C Rum
2 TBSP Softened Butter
1/2 C Powdered Sugar
1/2 C White Flour
Bread Dough Ingredients
5 C White Flour
2 C Water
4 Tbsp Melted Butter
2 Large Eggs
1 Tbsp Sugar
2 Tsp Imitation Almond Extract
1.5 Tsp Yeast
1.5 Tsp Salt
Zest of 1 Lemon
Zest of 1 Orange
- The night before you make your babka, cover your raisins in the rum to give them as much time as possible to soak up the flavor. Use the best rum you can. Drain just before adding to your recipe.
- Zest your lemon and orange. Make sure you thoroughly clean and dry your fruit before you zest them.
- Add two cups of lukewarm water to your bread machine. Slightly luke warm tap water works just fine. If you’re a first time baker, consider buying a thermometer so the water is the perfect temperature. If the water is too hot, it can kill the yeast. When in doubt use a thermometer and shoot for 120 to 130 degrees.
- Next, add the tablespoon of sugar, melted butter, imitation almond extract and eggs to the water.
- Pour the flour over the water.
- Make a well in the middle of the flour and pour in the yeast. Put the salt, orange zest and lemon zest in each corner of your bread machine.
- Set your machine on white bread and light crust.
- While the bread machine is working, mix your filling. Mix the butter with the cocoa powder and powdered sugar. Set aside.
- When the dough has finished rising (about 45 minutes before the bread machine timer ends, take it out and roll it into a large rectangle. Use some extra flour to keep it from sticking to your hands and the table. Don’t add too much flour or your dough will turn out dry.
- Spread your chocolate mixture over the top of your bread all the way to the edges. Drain you raisins. Sprinkle the drained raisins over the top of the chocolate and seal the edges.
- You will now have a long roll of dough. Twist it at least six times. Fold it in half and twist again.
- Move your dough to a greased cookie sheet. Mix the butter, flour and powdered sugar and crumble it over the surface of your loaf.
- Put a cake pan of hot water on the bottom rack of your stove and preheat your oven to 250 degrees for 1 minute.
- Cover your loaf with a tea towel and let the loaf rise for another 30 minutes. Remove the towel and then bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
For those of you who can eat almonds, I have included the recipe for almond filling which would be the first layer you would spread on your dough.
9 tablespoons of butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
3/4 cups ground almonds (either store-bought, or ground using a food processor)
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract
Mix on medium until you’ve got a nice smooth consistency. Spread on the dough.
Tips On Choosing Your Cocoa Powder
Naturally the higher the quality of ingredients the better the babka. So how exactly do you choose a cocoa powder?
The most important tip you want to remember is fat content. Typically, cocoa powder has a fat content of 12% to 14%. Premium cocoa powder has a fat content of 24%. Check the label for fat content and always choose premium. It tastes that much better.
There are two types of cocoa : Natural (non-alkalized) cocoa powder and Dutch process (alkalized) cocoa powder. When a recipe does not call for baking soda or baking powder, either Dutch process or natural can be used. If you’re baking something that calls for baking powder or baking soda, use the natural cocoa powder. The acidity of the natural cocoa powder will counterbalance the alkaline properties of the leavening.
Serving size: 1 Slice
Calories from Fat 36
% Daily Value *
Fat 4 g 6%
Carbohydrates 25 g 8%
Sugar 9 g
Protein 3 g 6%
Sodium 36 mg 2%
* The Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet, so your values may change depending on your calorie needs. The values here may not be 100% accurate because the recipes have not been professionally evaluated nor have they been evaluated by the U.S. FDA.
Babka With A Twist
While some of us are purists, there are others of us who like to experiment. I like toWhile some of us are purists, there are others of us who like to experiment. I like to experiment. Why not substitute Nutella for the chocolate filling? Instead of the rum-soaked raisins throw in some cherries. Coconut and chocolate is always a great combination. Add in some almonds and you’ve got an almond joy wrapped in a decadent buttery dough. Poppyseed filling with some lemon zest in the dough would be refreshing. What about mixed nuts and honey like baklava? Throw some lemon and orange zest in the dough and you’ll have a sticky sweet concoction guaranteed to send your tastebuds into orbit. The possibilities are endless. You only live once. Go for it.
If you do find yourself in Ann Arbor, by all means stop by Zingerman’s and breathe in the aroma before diving into a gourmet delicacy. They are worth it.
© 2015 Chantelle Porter