I’ve been meaning to post this recipe for chocolate babka for a week but the holidays kept getting in the way. There’s something about the week between Christmas and New Year’s that makes me not want to do anything except bake and eat, but I’m okay with that.
I’ve wanted to make babka for a long time. Every time I thought about doing it, though, I chickened out. Babka requires your undivided attention and A LOT of work. It’s not the type of thing that you can sit down and bake in a few hours. It’s a one- to two-day process with lots of waiting, working, and holding your breath.
I was worried that my loaves wouldn’t turn out well because I’ve had some disasters when baking with yeast in the past. I’m not sure why but if I had to guess, it’s because my apartments in D.C. were too cold during the winter when I attempted a lot of bread and cake baking.
When you bake with yeast, it requires a fair amount of heat so the yeast activates and the dough rises. If your dough doesn’t rise, you will be left with subpar dough that doesn’t turn into real bread or cake. If you try to bake with it (as I did a couple times), it will probably turn into a rock-hard lump.
By now I’ve probably completely scared you away from making babka, but actually you should persist and make it. If you follow this recipe from The New York Times‘ Cooking section, you should be okay. I followed it pretty much word for word and I was rewarded with two beautiful, golden-brown loaves filled with fudge and topped with chocolate streusel. I gave one to my mom on Christmas and saved the other for my best friend and boyfriend. They all loved it.
A couple notes on the NYT recipe: Invest in an instant read thermometer. It will be your friend during the babka baking process. You’ll use it at the beginning to make sure the milk is warm enough before you add the yeast, and later to make sure the babka is done baking.
Don’t be afraid to add a little more flour to the dough as you’re beating it in the mixer. But, as the recipe says, you should be sure to beat it fully into the dough before adding more. You don’t want too much flour in the dough because the resulting babka might be too hard. I found that a couple extra tablespoons of flour went a long way.
I’d encourage you to make the filling and streusel ahead of time. Maybe you could even make the dough ahead of time, too. Doing this will save you a lot of work and make the whole process more enjoyable. I make the dough the night before so it would develop flavor in the fridge overnight.
A lot of comments on the original recipe ask if using the sugar syrup at the end is really necessary, and I would say, yes, it definitely is. It will add moisture to the cake and give it a little more sweetness, which might seem unnecessary but strangely it is.
Last but certainly not least, don’t be afraid to braid your babka. The NYT recipe doesn’t really give you good directions on how to do this, although watching their video tutorial at the top can be helpful. I watched this tutorial and it made me feel better about the process.
Enjoy this recipe! If you end up making it, tag me on Instagram. I want to see your loaves!