This babka is an extremely easy bread to make especially if you are a novice. One of my good friends wanted to try baking bread for the first time - she had never before worked with yeast and the thought terrified her - and I walked her through this recipe and she was just thrilled with the results! "I can't believe I just made this! It was so easy!" she exclaimed. And it really is! Just a few easy steps of prep work are required and then the rest of your time is spent just waiting for the bread to rise. Obviously, this is not a project to start late at night - believe me, I've done my fair share of late night bread baking and setting the alarm to check on your dough between rise times is so not fun and really does take away from the joy of bread making. However, other than patience, not much skill is required to make one of the best sweet breads you will ever eat! The only cautionary words I want to offer is to be careful not to bake the bread too long or too little, Utilizing a digital instant-read thermometer will definitely assist with this.
And you shall be rewarded for all your time and effort with this...
Our family gobbled down two gigantic loaves of babka in a matter of days. The kids were obsessed with the bread - Emma was particularly fond of the chocolate "baba" while Matthew found the cinnamon filling a little more to his liking. Maybe it's a girl thing, but my preference lies with Emma's choice - the chocolate babka will always have my heart. It's just so good. Not to say that the cinnamon version is not good - it is really fantastic as well - basically a gigantic cinnamon roll in loaf form. It's just that if I had to choose between the two, I'm almost always going to choose chocolate.
I'm baking more babka this week for teacher gifts. When Paul heard this plan, he commented: "What could be better than babka?"
Cinnamon Babka (with Chocolate Variation)
from Cook's Country
Note: At the end of the recipe, I have posted instructions on making a chocolate babka. Simply switch out the cinnamon filling in this recipe for the chocolate variation I specify below.
For the Cinnamon Filling:
1 cup light brown sugar
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 egg white
For the brioche dough:
½ cup whole milk, heated to 110 degrees F
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup granulated sugar
1½ teaspoons instant or rapid-rise yeast
½ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces and softened
For the Egg Wash:
1 egg, lightly beaten
To make the filling, combine all of the filling ingredients in a medium bowl. Set aside 1 tablespoon of the filling.
To make the dough, grease a large bowl and set aside. In a 1-cup measuring cup, whisk together the milk, egg yolks and vanilla extract.
Using a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, mix the flour, sugar, yeast and salt on low speed until combined, about 30 seconds. Slowly pour in the milk mixture and mix until the dough comes together, about 3 minutes. Increase the speed to medium-low and add the butter, one piece at a time, until they have all been incorporated, about 1 minute. Continue to mix until the dough is smooth and comes away from the sides of the bowl, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer the dough to the prepared bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise at room temperature until risen slightly, about 1 hour.
Place the bowl in the refrigerator until the dough is firm and has doubled in size, at least 1 hour.
To assemble the Babka, line an 8½ by 4½-inch loaf pan with parchment paper, allowing the excess to hang over the edges.
Punch down the dough on a lightly floured work surface. Roll out the dough to a 20 by 14-inch rectangle. Spread all but the 1 tablespoon reserved filling over the dough, leaving a ½-inch border around the edges. Working from the short side, roll the dough into a cylinder and pinch along the seam to seal.
Position the cylinder seam side up and roll back and forth until stretched to 18 inches long. Spread the reserved filling over the top of the cylinder. Fold the cylinder on top of itself and pinch the ends to seal.
Gently twist the double cylinder twice to form a double figure eight. Place the shaped dough seam side down in the prepared pan, cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until it doubles in size, about 1 hour.
To bake the Babka, while the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly beat the whole egg and brush the top of the loaf. Bake until the loaf is deep golden brown and the inside of the loaf registers 190 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 45 minutes. Allow the bread to cool in the pan for 20 minutes, then remove the loaf from the pan and cool completely, about 2 hours. The bread can be kept at room temperature, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, for up to 3 days.
For the Chocolate Filling:
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 egg white
Combine all ingredients for the filling, setting aside 1 tablespoon. Use the same dough as detailed above, but use the chocolate filling in place of the cinnamon. All other steps and directions are the exact same! Enjoy!