Since Easter I’ve been after something sweet and doughy to curb my hot cross bun craving and this babka recipe – a rich, buttery, chocolate-swirled dough meets cake – has stepped up to the mark nicely. The name of the Polish-Jewish bread means ‘grandmother’, illustrating the family connections and powerful tradition at the heart of baking. One of my baking resolutions this year was to tackle more breadmaking, embracing its slowness and magic; it would be a lie to say this particular bread was easy to make, but the rich, buttery challah dough is like nothing else I’ve ever handled – so smooth and silky to work with. The finished product is like a light, nutty pain au chocolat bread and the taste and sense of satisfaction at making it yourself is something shop-bought just can’t beat. If you break it down into each stage it’s not overly complex, so don’t be put off by the length of the method as most of the time in this recipe is hands off (proving), rather than hands on. To make the dough, you will need:
400g strong white bread flour
70g caster sugar
5g fine sea salt
1 x 7g sachet fast-action dried yeast
4 medium eggs, chilled
About 5 tbsp milk, chilled
150g unsalted butter, diced.
1) Put the flour into a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a free-standing mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add the sugar and salt and mix in with your hands.
Sprinkle the yeast into the bowl and mix in. Make a well in the centre.
2) Break the eggs into a measuring jug and whisk with a fork without making them too frothy, then add enough milk to make the mixture up to 265ml. Pour into the well, then gradually work the flour into the liquid using your hands or the dough hook on the lowest speed to make a soft and sticky dough.
If there are any dry patches or the dough feels too tough, add more milk a tablespoon at a time.
Knead for 6 minutes using the dough hook on the lowest speed (or 10 minutes by hand) until the dough feels firmer and more elastic.
Gradually add the butter, a few pieces at a time, to make a silky smooth and soft dough (it will still be quite sticky!)
As soon as the butter has been added and you can no longer see any streaks, scrape the dough into another bowl, cover tightly with clingfilm or a lid and close securely.
Put the bowl into the fridge and leave the dough to rise slowly for about two hours, until doubled in size.
4) Flour your knuckles and punch down the dough to deflate it. Re-shape into a ball, then cover tightly and return to the fridge to rise for another hour.
5) Turn out the dough onto the floured worktop and knead gently for a minute to make a neat ball. Cover with the upturned bowl while you make the filling.
For the filling, you will need:
150g dark chocolate (I did half dark, half milk as I’m more a milk fan!)
50g light brown muscovado sugar
75g walnut or pecan pieces
90g unsalted butter, melted
To finish: 1 medium egg, beaten with a pinch of salt.
6) Break up the chocolate into pieces and put it into a food processor with sugar. Blitz into a fine rubble, then add the nuts and pulse a few times so the pieces are chopped slightly smaller.
7) Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll out the dough into an evenly thick 30 x 40 cm rectangle.
Brush with two-thirds of the melted butter in a thick, even layer. Scatter the chocolate mix over the top and gently press onto the buttery surface with the flat of your hand.
Sprinkle the rest of the melted butter on top.
8) Lightly score a line across the middle to divide the dough into two 30 x 20cm halves.
Starting from the edge nearest to you, roll up the dough, fairly tightly, to the centre line.
Repeat from the other end, so the two rolls meet in the middle.
With a long, very sharp knife, cut along the scored line between the rolls. Pinch the cut edge of each roll to seal the seam, then pinch the rolls together at one end.
9) Starting from the pinched-together end, twist the rolls together. This is probably the trickiest part and mine isn’t that neat! I’d advise working quickly as the dough gets harder to handle the longer it’s out.
Tuck the ends under and lift the twist into a prepared tin 900g loaf tin, greased with butter and lined with a long strip of baking parchment. It doesn’t have to look perfect, just fit it in the best you can – mine is definitely bulkier at one end! Scoop up any escaped filling and sprinkle on the twist. Now let the twist do the work filling out the tin; slip it into a large plastic bag – tightly inflated to prevent the dough sticking – and leave to rise in a warm but not hot place (you don’t want the butter to melt) for 1 – 1 1/2 hours or until almost doubled.
10) Towards the end of the final rise, heat your oven to 190C/ 170C Fan/ Gas 5. Uncover the risen loaf and carefully brush it with a beaten egg to glaze.
Bake for 45 – 50 minutes until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Set the tin on a wire rack and run a round-bladed knife round the inside of the tin to loosen, then leave for 10 minutes before gently removing from the tin and onto the rack – use the lining paper to help you as it’s quite delicate until cooled.
Leave the babka to cool completely before slicing and serving.
The babka is best eaten within four days. It’s delicious toasted and served warm once it’s lost a little of its freshness. Mine might look rustically lopsided, but we’re not after shop-bought perfection! I urge you to have a go: don’t seek perfect, just enjoy the breadmaking experience.
What are you baking this weekend? Have you made a babka before?
Recipe via The Great British Bake Off Celebrations.