Sunday, April 29, 2018

A superior chocolate babka

If you’ve ever paid attention to the right-hand column on my blog, you’ll know that the post titled Chocolate Babka has been one of the most (if not THE most) popular post in the past several years. I think you’ll therefore be happy to know that the chocolate babka recipe I am about to share is far superior! It’s from Smitte Kitchen, where Deb Perelman has posted beautiful photos of each step if you need more details than I give here. (I also learnt the word “abstemious” in that post, although it should be said that what she wrote was actually that this babka is NOT abstemious, despite the smaller quantities of butter and chocolate compared to other popular recipes!) She adapted the recipe from chocolate krantz cakes by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, which may be a more accurate name for it (or at least, maybe it was when the cake was made their way, with chopped nuts, more syrup, and rolled into a longer rectangle before being rolled up). It’s worth noting that the chocolaty brioche that we call babka these days isn’t really babka at all – I don’t care what you call it, though, because this is delicious!

This babka is pretty simple to make (you can do it all in a day if you want, or prep it the day before and bake it the morning of). The egg and butter dough is tender and flavorful without being too sweet, so the syrup glaze at the end is a welcome addition, plus it makes everything look so much better! I also loved the filling, which was more of a chocolate paste than chopped chocolate, and therefore offered, shall we say, more even coverage. This recipes makes two loaves – we ate one right away and froze the second for later consumption.

For the dough
4 ¼ cups (530 g.) white all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
½ cup (100 g.) granulated sugar
2 tsp. instant yeast
grated zest of 1 small lemon or half an orange (I used the latter)
3 large eggs
½ cup water (cold is fine) and up to 1 to 2 Tbsp. extra, if needed
¾ tsp. fine sea or table salt
2/3 cup lactose-free butter (150 g. or 5.3 oz.) at room temperature
safflower oil or other neutral oil, for greasing

For the filling

4 ½ oz. (130 g.) dark chocolate (or approximately ¾ cup chocolate chips)
½ cup (120 g.) lactose-free butter, cold is fine
scant ½ cup (50 g.) powdered sugar
1/3 cup (30 g.) cocoa powder
¼ tsp. cinnamon (optional; I didn’t use it)

For the syrup

1/3 cup water
6 Tbsp. (75 g.) granulated sugar

For the dough
Combine the flour, sugar, yeast and zest in the bottom of the bowl of a stand mixer. Add eggs and ½ cup water, mixing with the dough hook until it comes together; this may take a few minutes. It’s okay if it’s on the dry side, but if it doesn’t come together at all, add extra water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough forms a mass. With the mixer on low, add the salt, then the butter, a spoonful at a time, mixing until it’s incorporated into the dough. Then, mix on medium speed for 10 minutes until dough is completely smooth; you’ll need to scrape the bowl down a few times. If the dough doesn’t pull away from the sides of the bowl yet after 10 minutes, you can add 1 tablespoon extra flour to help this along.

Coat a large bowl with oil (or scrape the dough out onto a counter and oil this one) and place dough inside, cover with plastic and refrigerate. Leave in fridge for at least half a day, preferably overnight. (The dough will grow, but it will not double in size. Note that if you want this to be a single-day process, you should leave it out at room temperature for 3 hours to grow, then refrigerate it for 30 minutes, because the dough will be much easier to work with when it’s cold.)

For the filling
Melt butter and chocolate together until smooth. Stir in powdered sugar and cocoa; mixture should form a spreadable paste. Add cinnamon, if desired.

For assembly
Coat two 9-by-4-inch loaf pans with oil or butter, and line the bottom of each with a rectangle of parchment paper. Take half of dough from fridge (leave the other half chilled). Roll out on a well-floured counter to about a 10-inch width (the side closest to you) and as long in length (away from you) as you can when rolling it thin, likely 10 to 12 inches.

Spread half of chocolate mixture evenly over the dough, leaving a ½-inch border all around. Brush the end farthest away from you with water. Roll the dough up with the filling into a long, tight cigar. Seal the dampened end onto the log. Place the log on a lightly floured baking sheet and put it in the freezer for 15 minutes, which will make the next step (cutting it in half) much, much easier. Repeat with second dough.

Trim last ½-inch off each end of log. Gently cut the log in half lengthwise and lay the halves next to each other on the counter, cut sides up. Pinch the top ends gently together. Lift one side over the next, forming a twist and trying to keep the cut sides facing out (because they’re pretty). Don’t worry if this step makes a mess, just transfer the twist as best as you can into the prepared loaf pan. You can make an S shape with the dough and nestle the trimmed ends of the log in the gaps, but by the time the dough is done rising and baking, the gaps should be filled anyway, so don’t worry about that too much. Repeat the process with the second loaf. Cover with a damp tea towel and leave to rise another 1 to 1 ½ hours at room temperature.

For baking the babkas and making the syrup
Preheat the oven to 375 °F. Remove towels, place each loaf on the middle rack of your oven. Bake for 30 minutes, but there’s no harm in checking for doneness at 25 minutes. A skewer inserted into an underbaked babka will feel stretchy/rubbery inside and may come back with dough on it. When fully baked, you’ll feel almost no resistance. If your babka needs more time, put it back, 5 minutes at a time, then re-test. If it browns too quickly, you can cover it with foil.

While babkas are baking, make the syrup. Bring sugar and water to a simmer until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and set aside to cool somewhat. As soon as the babkas leave the oven, brush the syrup all over each. It will seem like too much, but will taste just right — glossy and moist. Let cool about halfway in pan, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool the rest of the way before eating, if you can wait that long.

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