This is my chocolate babka recipe – which I have posted elsewhere, but not as a blog post. I nailed down this recipe during the initial stages of the pandemic, based on my cinnamon babka recipe and Tori Avey’s chocolate filling. It has been one of my dessert standards since then. (To the point that last year, I brought one on a plane to Florida to spend Thanksgiving with my partner’s family. I am nothing if not absolutely ridiculous.)
I talked about the history of babka in a 2019 post. What I have come to appreciate about chocolate babka since then is how it reflects a very Jewish experience: of new foods evolving with encounters with new products in new places. Chocolate babka came about in 20th-century New York, enabled by cheaper chocolate and an enormous amount of creativity in New York’s Jewish bakeries at the time. Now, it is one of those treats that generally pleases a very wide audience. I’ve also come to appreciate the delicious babkas created by other communities – I’m a big fan of the log-like Ukrainian ones.
I make my babka a little less sweet than many are, and I like to add chopped walnuts to add weight, depth, and nuttiness. You can omit the walnuts if you have an allergy. I also make the babka with butter – though dairy is only partly traditional, it is delicious. The butter also adds to the delicious density of a babka – something that certain people on certain British baking shows do not appreciate, I am told.
You can braid in a loaf, which is what I direct here, but I’ve come to enjoy free-form babkas braided like a challah. I added directions in a note at the bottom. You can also add an egg wash if you are feeling fancy, but I am invariably too lazy.
Chocolate Babka (with Optional Walnuts)
Makes two medium loaves
1 cup/250mL whole milk
1 package active dry yeast
2/3 cup granulated sugar, divided in half
5 tablespoons salted butter, melted
3 ¾ cups sifted white flour (about 450g)
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 oz/120g dark chocolate chips
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup walnuts, finely ground (optional)
- Warm the milk to about 100F/39C – I do it in 15 second spurts in the microwave. The milk should be warm enough to touch with your finger but not feel like it’s burning you.
- Add the yeast to the milk, stir in, and let sit for five minutes.
- Mix the yeast mixture in a large bowl or stand mixer bowl with the eggs, salted butter, and 1/3 cup of the sugar.
- Add the flour, ½ cup at a time, and mix in thoroughly, either with your hands and a spoon or the dough hook on the electric mixer. Once it is in, knead for six to eight minutes on a floured surface, or use the dough hook on the electric mixer for about five minutes. The dough, when ready, should be roughly the texture of your earlobe and should be smooth and bounce back.
- Oil a large bowl, put the dough in it, and cover. Let rise for about 1 ½ hours, or until a bit more than double in size.
- Meanwhile, you can make the filling. Melt the unsalted butter and the chocolate chips together until smooth. (I use the microwave). Mix in the other 1/3 cup sugar, cocoa powder, and walnuts if using until combined. Set aside.
- Preheat your oven to 350F/175C. Grease two loaf pans. Grease – not flour – a large surface and a rolling pin.
- Punch the dough down, then split into two parts. Take one part, roll it out to about half an inch/1 centimeter thickness. Spread half of the chocolate filling evenly on it, leaving a 1 inch/2.5 cm perimeter around the edges of the dough.
- Pick up one edge and roll tightly into a tube. If you want, you can slice the tube in half before the next step.
- Bring the two ends together, and twist into a figure eight-ish shape. Place in the pan.
- Repeat with the other half and other pan.
- Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until brown on top and hollowish-sounding when you tap it. Let cool for five minutes in the pan, then until your desired temperature on a rack. Store in a sealed plastic bag for up to a week or so.
For a free-form babka: Bake instead on a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Shape the coils however you want – I recommend in this case slicing the tube in half and twisting the two halves together for a visual effect.
Many thanks to the friends, neighbors, and roommates who have helped me develop this recipe over the years: AJ Faust, Zachary Maher, Ying-Ying Chow, Rebecca Fedderwitz, Bo-Young Lee, Joseph Jeffers, Hannah Cook, Douglas Graebner, Melanie Marino, Margaret Curran, Maryam Sabbaghi, Sara Weissman, Gilah Barker, Zach and Hannah Kinger, and of course, my partner David Ouziel.