By Bryan Libit
(The Nosher via JTA) —My mom grew up in New York and went on the hunt for the perfect babka she remembered from the Jewish delis and bakeries that used to be all over the city. Now there are barely any great bakeries left, so, other than perfecting her golf game, she enjoys retirement by experimenting in the kitchen.
If you don’t know, babka is a beloved cake with Eastern European roots, made famous by a “Seinfeld” episode. This babka is the one that consistently generates rave reviews from all of our family for its irresistible combination of rich chocolate and other indulgent flavors.
A few notes: this recipe makes approximately 3 babkas in 9” loaf pans. Bake one or all three at once or store extra dough in the freezer, defrosted, and then baked off individually. This recipe has 3 components: the dough, the filling, and the topping. I recommend making the dough first and, while that rises, making the other components. I use a stand mixer, but you can also use a large bowl with a hand mixer plus some hand kneading.
This recipe is written by Caren Libit, Bryan’s mom.
Yield: 3 babkas
For the dough
1 ½ cups warm whole milk, approx. 110 degrees
2 (¼ oz. each) packages active dry yeast
¾ cups, plus a pinch, white granulated sugar
3 whole large eggs, room temperature (save 1 egg for egg wash)
1 Tbsp heavy cream (for egg wash…you can substitute milk)
2 large egg yolks, room temperature
1 ½ tsp of vanilla extract
6 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
1 tsp salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces, room temperature, plus more to grease bowl and loaf pans
For the chocolate filling
24 oz. semisweet or dark chocolate chips (2 bags)
2 1/2 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1 cup walnuts
½ cup sugar
½ cup sugar in the raw or turbinado sugar
¾ cup unsalted butter (1 ½ sticks)
For the streusel topping
1 2/3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
12 Tbsp (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
Pour warm milk into a small bowl. Sprinkle yeast and pinch of sugar over milk, stir lightly; let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.
In a bowl of electric mixer with paddle attachment, mix together 3/4 cup sugar, 2 eggs, vanilla, and egg yolks. Add yeast mixture and lightly mix to combine.
In a bowl combine flour and salt. Add to egg mixture, and beat on low speed until almost all the flour is incorporated, about 30 seconds. Change to the dough hook. Add 2 sticks butter, and beat until flour mixture and butter are completely incorporated, and a smooth, soft dough that’s slightly sticky when squeezed is formed, about 10 minutes.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead a few turns until smooth. Butter a large bowl.
Place dough in bowl, and turn to coat. Cover tightly with plastic wrap. Set aside in a warm place to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
To make the filling: Place chocolate chips, ½ cup sugar. ½ cup raw sugar, walnuts and cinnamon in the bowl of a food processor, process into coarse crumbs.
Add the 1 ½ sticks butter and process until well combined; set filling aside.
To make the streusel topping: In a large bowl, combine sugar, flour, and butter. Using a fork, stir until fully combined with clumps ranging in size from crumbs to 1 inch.
To assemble: Pre-heat oven to 350F. Generously butter your 9-by-5-by-2 3/4-inch loaf pan.
In a small bowl beat the remaining egg with the tablespoon of cream, set bowl aside
Punch back the dough, and transfer to a clean surface. Let rest 5 minutes. Cut into 3 equal pieces. Keep 2 pieces covered with plastic wrap while working with the remaining piece. On a generously floured surface, roll dough out into a 16-inch square; it should be about 1/8 inch thick.
Brush edges with egg wash. Crumble 1/3 of the chocolate filling evenly over dough, leaving a 1/4-inch border. Roll dough up tightly like a jelly roll. Pinch ends together to seal. Now, twist 5 or 6 turns.
Fold long roll in ½ and brush top of roll with egg wash. Carefully crumble 2 tablespoons more filling over the roll and twist folded roll a few more times.
Place twisted roll into prepared baking pan (it will be a little messy)
Brush the top of Babka with egg wash. Crumble 1/3 of streusel topping over each loaf. Loosely cover each pan with plastic wrap, and let stand in a warm place 20 to 30 minutes
Bake babkas, rotating halfway through, until golden, about 35 minutes test for doneness. Toothpick should come out clean of dough when done. Remove from oven and transfer to wire racks until cool. Remove from pans; serve.
Bryan Libit co-launched Stir Market, a neighborhood food hall in Mid-City Los Angeles. Libit lives in downtown Los Angeles.
The Nosher food blog offers a dazzling array of new and classic Jewish recipes and food news, from Europe to Yemen, from challah to shakshuka and beyond. Check it out at www.TheNosher.com.