Dazed and confused? Not me. I’m just Lost in the Cheese Aisle.

Saturday, March 17, 2012


A Better Babka

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” - Old adage

“Bake a better babka, and the world will beat a path to your door.” - Elisson, based on a quote frequently misattributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson

I essayed a home-baked Chocolate Babka last week, using a recipe from the Food Network magazine. While the result was tasty enough, it was not quite what I had envisioned.... and so, being the chocolate-fueled obsessive that I am, I decided to go back to the drawing board.

What I wanted was something that hit all of the sense-memory buttons, one of those ultra-chocolatey babkas dense enough to have its own gravitational field. I wanted the kind of babka that makes me weep when I walk into Zabar’s or Dean & DeLuca. And, with a little help from the Inter-Webby-Net, I found just what I had been looking for.

It was a five-year-old post from Smitten Kitchen, one of the premier foodblogs, that got my attention. The photographs were impressive enough, but what what won me over - even before I read Word One of the recipe proper - was the writer describing her search for a suitable recreation of “the same decadent grocery store chocolate babka” she remembered from younger days.

The search criteria? “...completely over-the-top... chocolate to bread-like dough ratio is unseemly... a mind-boggling amount of chocolate.” The recipe also had to include cinnamon along with the chocolate, and have a chunky, pebbly streusel topping. Thanks be to Gawd and Martha Stewart, she found it.

And, Esteemed Readers, so did I. Now you can have it, too.

This is not a recipe for the faint of heart, given that it includes a full two-and-a-quarter pounds of dark chocolate and five - count ’em - five sticks of butter. The last time I saw that much butter, it was at a Last Tango in Paris marathon. But, in fairness, that’s for three whole babka-loaves, an ungodly amount. Just one of these bad boys will feed a small army.

Chocolate Babka Filling
The filling: two-and-a-quarter pounds (!) of dark chocolate, a cup of sugar, a few tablespoons of cinnamon, and one-and-a-half sticks of butter. Hoo-hah!

I learned from my earlier mistakes. To be able to twist the loaf properly, you have to roll the dough out thin enough... which requires a well-floured surface. and the chocolate must be chopped fine. This turned out to be an enormous pain in the ass, because my food processor’s 35-year-old steel blade chose that very day to give up the ghost. That meant a long, tedious choccy-chopping session with a chef’s knife.

But the dough was gorgeous and easy to work with. I tweaked the recipe a bit by using four cups of all-purpose flour and two cups of bread flour, and the loaves came together beautifully.

Babka in the Raw
A brace of Babka-Loaves, topped with streusel, awaiting their date with Mister Oven.

It took a supreme effort of will to keep myself from carving these fellows up as soon as they emerged from the oven. That would have to wait until later in the evening... and brother, was it worth the wait. Even the best commercial babkas are usually pareve - prepared without any dairy ingredients and thus suitable for serving at a meat meal - which means they contain margarine in lieu of butter. Not these guys. With their prodigious butter content, they tasted better than any babka has a right to taste. (Cholesterol? Whuddat?)

Streusel Topping
The surface of the moon? No - just a yummy, lumpy layer of streusel.

Finally: A babka that passes the Toll-Taker Test!

Now that I know I can do it, I’ll probably put this recipe aside. It’s waaaaaay to dangerous to be making it except for the odd rare occasion or holiday... but it’s nice to know that I can recapture the sense-memory of real, honest-to-Gawd chocolate babka any time I want.


Kevin Kim said...

Impressive. Most impressive.

Danielle said...

You know, sometimes getting to be your friend has WONDERFUL benefits. It was great to see you and SWMBO, thanks for the visit and the baked amazingness!

Fiona said...

By golly - you NEED to do something about all this gorgeous food you're churning out... do a book, a food blog, do something! :))