Updated: Sep 15, 2021
Team Chocolate or Team Cinnamon, it's a decadent win either way!
I first learned an iteration of this recipe years ago with my friend and challah instructor, Joan Richter. I've been making it and tweaking it ever since. Babka is a lot of work, but it's so worth it. A sweet yeast dough is the foundation for this Jewish dessert bread filled with chocolate or cinnamon, with or without nuts or raisins. Many babkas are cut and braided, but this recipe features a sealed twist, which helps to create internal swirls of dense chocolate or gooey, sweet cinnamon. Copious streusel topping - accordingly with or without cocoa powder - envelops the top of the babka, evenly coating its sides as the bread bakes. Bake babkas days in advance if need be, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and freeze. They defrost beautifully on the counter. An important note: this recipe is written to make two babkas total, one chocolate and one cinnamon. To make instead two chocolate or two cinnamon babkas, simply double quantities for the filling of your choice and eliminate entirely the other.
Equipment: cutting board; paring knife; dry and wet measuring cups; measuring spoons; thermometer (optional); mixing bowls; rubber spatula; standing mixer with paddle attachment; dough scraper; small saucepan; fork; silicone dough mat (optional); rolling pin; small offset spatula; (2) 8x4 loaf pans; parchment paper; rimmed sheet pan; cooling rack
¾ cup whole milk
¾ cup plus 2 teaspoons sugar
½ cup sugar (3 ½ oz.)
3 teaspoons active dry yeast
3¼ cups all-purpose flour plus additional for dusting
2 whole large eggs + 1 large egg yolk (save the white), lightly beaten
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
1¼ sticks (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into pieces and softened
Chocolate Filling Ingredients (for 1 babka): ¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons Dutch-process cocoa powder
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ cup very soft unsalted butter
1/3 cup Nutella
¾ cup mini chocolate chips
½ cup finely chopped toasted pecans (optional)
Cinnamon Filling Ingredients (for 1 babka): ¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ cup very soft unsalted butter
¾ cup finely chopped toasted pecans
1/3 cup golden raisins (optional)
Streusel Topping Ingredients (for 2 babkas): 11 tablespoons unsalted butter 1½ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 scant teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons Dutch-process cocoa powder
1. To make the dough, first heat the milk for 30-60 seconds in the microwave, or in a small saucepan on the stovetop, to 105–115°F. Stir together warm milk and 2 teaspoons sugar in bowl of a standing mixer. Sprinkle the yeast over the mixture and let it stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.
2. Add ½ cup of flour to yeast mixture and beat at medium speed, using the paddle attachment, until combined. Add the whole eggs, yolk, vanilla, kosher salt, and remaining ½ cup of sugar. Beat until combined.
ILOC tip: save the egg white from the one egg yolk for later use when adding the streusel topping to the babka.
3. Reduce the speed to low, then add in remaining 2¾ cups flour, about ½ cup at a time. Increase the speed to medium, then beat in the softened butter, a few pieces at a time, and continue to beat until dough is shiny and forms strands from the paddle to the bowl, about 4 minutes.
"The dough will be very soft and sticky at this point. As long as the dough is pulling in a pattern from the paddle to the edge of the bowl after a few minutes of beating, it's good."
4. Scrape the dough into a lightly oiled bowl and cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rise in a draft-free place at room temperature, about 1¼ - 1½ hours. Then place the dough in the refrigerator for 1 hour to make it manageable to work with (up to 2 hours). The dough should have doubled in bulk by this point.
ILOC tip: if you want to make the babka the following day, place it in the refrigerator at this point where it will slowly rise overnight. Remove dough from the refrigerator 1 hour before shaping the dough and preparing for the second rise.
5. While the dough is rising, prepare the filling and streusel.
6. To make the chocolate filling, combine the granulated sugar, brown sugar, cocoa powder, and cinnamon. Set aside. To prepare the cinnamon filling, combine the granulated sugar, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Set aside.
7. To make the streusel topping, melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat until just melted. Set aside to cool for 10 minutes. Meanwhile combine the flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt. Using a fork, stir the dry ingredients into the cooled, melted butter and mix well to combine until the mixture begins to form crumbs. If making one chocolate and one cinnamon babka, divide the streusel topping in half and stir in the cocoa powder to one of the halves, which will be the streusel topping for the chocolate babka (if making two chocolate babkas, do not divide the streusel topping and double the cocoa powder).
ILOC tip: if the streusel appears dried out at any point, warm it for a few minutes.
8. To assemble the babka, line each loaf pan with two pieces of parchment paper (one lengthwise and one crosswise). Make sure they overlap the edges of the pan for easy removal of the babka.
ILOC tip: if there are spaces between the parchment, be sure to butter the pan. If you don’t want to use parchment paper, then you must generously butter the pan with softened butter. Technique, not torture!
9. Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Punch down the dough with lightly floured hands, then halve dough . While making the first babka, cover the remaining dough with plastic wrap.
10. On a lightly floured work surface with a lightly floured rolling pin, roll out one of the dough halves into an 18 x 10 inch rectangle, the long side parallel to the edge of the counter.
ILOC tip: be very careful not to over flour the dough, which will make it hard to roll. However, do not be afraid to add small amounts of flour to your work surface, the rolling pin, or your hands as you proceed.
11. Now it's time to fill the babka:
To fill the chocolate babka: spread the dough with a thin layer of the very soft butter using a small offset spatula, leaving a 1-inch margin on the far edge (the top) of the dough. Spread the Nutella in a thin layer over the butter layer. Then sprinkle the chocolate filling you prepared in Step 6. Top with chocolate chips and optional pecans. Gently press the mixture into the dough using your hands.
To fill the cinnamon babka: spread the dough with a thin layer of the very soft butter using a small offset spatula, leaving a 1-inch margin on the far edge (the top) of the dough. Then sprinkle the cinnamon filling you prepared in Step 6. Top with chopped pecans and optional raisins. Gently press the mixture into the dough using your hands.
12. Using the dough scraper to help you, lift the dough over the filling, pressing down lightly, rolling the dough tightly into a snug log, gently pulling the dough towards you before each time you roll it. Pinch firmly along seam to seal.
13. Fold the log into a horseshoe shape, cross the right half over the left and pinch the ends together to seal to form a figure eight. Twist once, up to two times, and place it in the prepared loaf pan. Make the next babka with remaining dough, and the filling of your choice in same manner (see Step 11.)
ILOC tip: avoid the temptation to twist the babka multiple times, which surely will tear the dough. Should the dough tear, do not fret. It will all be hidden by the streusel and corrected as it bakes.
14. Loosely cover pans with a clean dish towel or buttered plastic wrap (buttered side down) and let the babka rise in a draft-free place, at room temperature, for about 30 minutes to an hour.
ILOC tip: alternatively, cover the babka loosely with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight. The next morning, bring the bring the babka to room temperature for 30 minutes, then uncover the babka, and complete the steps below.
15. Preheat the oven to 350°F, with the oven rack in middle position.
16. Brush the tops of the dough lightly with the egg white leftover from the dough preparation. Generously cover the tops of the babkas with the streusel according to filling, pressing down gently.
ILOC tip: place the loaf pans on a rimmed sheet pan to catch any potential drips/crumbs from falling to the oven floor and burning.
17. Bake until the tops are deep golden brown and any dough you can see through the streusel crumb is no longer wet, for about 75-90 minutes. After 45 minutes of baking time, rotate the sheet pan. When the babkas are ready the internal temperature should be about 190 – 195°F.
18. Transfer the loaves to a rack and cool to room temperature before eating.
Makes 2 babkas.