It’s that time of year again. A few days ago it was my boyfriend’s birthday. For special occasions, we don’t buy gifts for one another but we always make sure there are homemade cards. On birthdays, there is also always cake. Even though I make the cake for him, I also like to take the opportunity to try something complicated and new. Something I wouldn’t normally spend the time on. The catch is, he does not particularly like cake. So every year, I make a cake-but-not-quite-cake creation. Basically, it has to be something sweet that we can stick a candle in.
As I’m writing this, I realize that for the past three years (and maybe even longer, I can’t really remember what I made before that) I have used a Smitten Kitchen recipe for this special occasion. This totally makes sense because I trust her recipes implicitly and the last thing that you want is a crappy birthday cake. Two years ago I made this, last year I made this, and this year it was chocolate babka’s turn. We were on the way to the grocery store and he still hadn’t decided what he wanted. I went on Wikipedia’s list of cakes page and started reading out the different cakes that exist. I only made it to “B” when he heard Babka, and his birthday cake fate was set. I fully supported this choice. If you’ve never had babka before it is a mainstay of Jewish desserts (although upon further wikipedia research, versions of babka are also a part of many other (most Eastern European) traditions). It is a yeasted bread that is rolled with chocolate and twisted, baked, and results in something like a giant danish, but not quite. It is chewy and sweet, stuffed with chocolate, and crispy on the top and edges. Sometimes it is stuffed with nuts and some cinnamon, but we both decided that keeping it simple, chocolate was the right call.
This is a perfect special occasion dessert for many reasons: First, it requires some planning. Even though Smitten says you can make it in one day, I chose to let my dough rise in the fridge overnight. I would like to acknowledge that most people don’t take two days to make a dessert, but when a special occasion calls for it, we can all make exceptions. Second, it is pretty decadent. This is not an everyday snacking cake. It is full of butter and chocolate, which bring us to our third point: it is fabulous. Unless you know someone who doesn’t like chocolate (seriously?), this dessert is a total winner and completely worthy of a once a year event. It also looks very impressive, all beautifully twisty and striped. I have to admit this was definitely the easiest of all of the cakes I have made recently. It takes some time but the dough was easy to work with, the filling is simple, and the assembly is straight forward. Making the dough overnight also splits the time spent on the cake in two, which makes it seem much less overwhelming. I would even be open to making this on other, non-birthday occasions (I have a feeling someone will take me up on that offer).
Recipe from Smitten Kitchen, originally from Ottolenghi
The babka will keep for a few days wrapped in tinfoil but if you plan on taking longer than that to eat it, just freeze it.
In a large bowl combine the yeast, warm water, and 1/4 teaspoon of the sugar. Let it sit for about 10 minutes, until the yeast is frothy and has activated.
Add the rest of the sugar, the flour and the orange zest. Stir together with a wooden spoon.
Add the egg and egg yolk and mix until incorporated. The dough will be very dry at this point.
Add the salt and the butter, 1/2 tablespoon at a time, mixing until incorporated. (I found it easiest to actually just mix this in with my hands).
Tip onto floured bench top and knead the dough for 10 minutes. It may feel very wet at first but as long as your bench top is well-floured, it will come together.
Place the dough into a large clean bowl that is lightly coated in oil. Cover in plastic wrap and leave in fridge overnight. **Note the dough will not double, don't panic.
Melt the chocolate and butter together in the microwave or over a double boiler.
Stir in powdered sugar and cocoa.
Coat a 9" x 4" loaf pan with butter and line with parchment paper.
Flour your counter and roll out the dough until it is about 15" by 10". The longer the long side of the dough is, the more times you can roll it, which means more swirls inside the babka.
Spread the chocolate mixture evenly over the dough, making sure that there is 1 inch of space around the edges.
Roll the dough tightly (along the 10 inch edge, you want the final roll to be 10 inches, not 15 inches long) and make sure to seal the seam of the dough so it doesn't unroll. You may want to wet your fingers to make sure the seal sticks.
Lay the dough seam-side down.
Trim 1/2 inch off both ends of the log. Cut the log in half, lengthwise.
Lay halves next to each other, cut sides up.
Start twisting the two pieces of dough, trying to keep the cut sides facing up.
Pinch the ends of the dough to make sure they stay together.
Transfer twisted dough to loaf pan. It's ok if there are gaps because as it bakes it will fill those up.
Cover loaf with a damp towel and let rise for another 1.5 hours at room temperature (it will rise by approximately 20%).
In a small pot, bring sugar and water to a simmer and whisk until sugar dissolves. Set aside to cool.
Preheat oven to 375F.
Remove towel and place the loaf in the middle rack of the oven.
Bake for 30 minutes. When the babka is fully cooked, you will be able to insert a skewer without any resistance. If it still feels rubbery inside, bake for another 5 minutes and re-test.
If it is browning too quickly, cover loosely with aluminum foil.
When you take the babka out of the oven, brush the syrup over it.
Let the babka cool halfway in the pan. Remove from the pan and let it cool on a cooling rack.
Cover with aluminum foil and eat within a couple of days or freeze it.
Chocolate Babka was last modified: April 30, 2015 by