In the past, when I heard the word "babka," I thought about a Seinfeld episode. Other than that, I had no idea what it was, other than Jewish or Eastern European bread. Now, while I'm no expert, I have a better idea.
Babka is a kind of brioche laced with cinnamon, fruit, and/or chocolate. There are versions that are twisted and topped with streusel, and versions that are formed into a ring. This particular recipe involves a vanilla and cinnamon brioche dough filled with a chocolate and walnut filling. It's fairly simple and does not involve a lot of twisting of the dough, nor does it require a streusel topping.
This month's Twelve Loaves challenge is to bake a bread that contains nuts, seeds, or grains. This recipe was perfect, and involved ingredients that were already in my pantry and freezer.
This recipe comes from King Arthur Flour, and was inspired by A Blessing of Bread by Maggie Glezer.
The only issue I had with this recipe was that it required that the baker slash the loaf down the middle right before baking. The purpose of the slashing is to prevent the loaf from splitting randomly while it bakes. I tried that with one of the loaves and it seemed to deflate it. On the second loaf, I decided to poke the top several times with a toothpick instead, because I had read about this technique in Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day. It seemed to work as this loaf did not split open, and was much prettier, as you can see.
While I've never tried authentic babka (but I plan to), this is pretty good. It's sort of like cinnamon bread meets pain au chocolat. And the walnuts add an extra something something.
Chocolate Walnut Babka
Adapted from King Arthur Flour, makes two 1 1/2 pound loaves
8 to 10 ounces of 95 to 100 degree F water depending on the humidity
2 large room temperature eggs
1 pound, 10 1/5 ounces all purpose flour (unbleached)
1 1/8 ounces nonfat dry milk
2 T instant yeast (I used SAF gold, which made the rising time much faster than this recipe indicates)
1/2 t. ground cinnamon
3 1/2 ounces sugar
2 1/2 t. salt
5 ounces unsalted room temperature butter
1 T vanilla
3 1/2 ounces sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 ounce cocoa powder, preferably Dutch process
1/2 tsp expresso powder
2 ounces melted butter
6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
4 ounces chopped walnuts
1 large beaten egg with a pinch of salt
Dump all of the dough ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer and knead for about a minute until everything is just combined.
Cover the bowl and let the dough rest for 20 minutes.
Knead the dough for about 7 minutes.
Let the dough rise until doubled, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
Deflate the dough and divide it in half.
While the dough rests, make the filling and grease two 9 by 5 inch loaf pans and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Mix the sugar, cinnamon, cocoa, espresso, and melted butter.
Roll out the dough halves into 9" by 18" rectangles.
With an offset spatula, spread 1/2 of the filling on each piece of dough. Sprinkle the chips and nuts on each dough piece.
Roll each rectangle into a loaf as you would cinnamon bread, sealing the seam and the ends of the loaves by pressing the dough ends under and placing the loaves into the pans.
Spray the loaves with spray oil and cover with plastic wrap. Let the loaves rise for 1 to 2 1/2 hours (mine took 1 hour but the KAF recipe says it will take much longer) until the top is 1 inch above the pan.
Brush the loaves with the egg wash, poke them with a skewer or a toothpick several times, and place them in the oven. Immediately lower the temperature to 300 degrees F.
Bake the loaves for 50 to 60 minutes, until they reach about 180 degrees. If the loaves get too brown, tent with foil. I did not have to, but each oven is different.
Remove the loaves from the oven and run a knife or spatula around the edges. Let the loaves cool in the pan for ten minutes, remove them from the pans, place them on a cooling rack, and let them cool completely.