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How to Make Chocolate Babka—with a Tahini Twist

This photogenic Chocolate Babka has the buttery fluffiness of brioche and it is filled with a rich, chocolate and tahini spread. Each bite is perfection! {Jump to Recipe}

Chocolate Babka with Tahini // FoodNouveau.com

I’m a routine person when it comes to breakfast. Nine times out of ten, I’ll start the day with a slice of toasted banana bread with a slather of peanut butter. Most people like to stick to their morning routines, too, which is why I think preparing something more elaborate for breakfast or brunch is a delicious way to treat your loved ones, once in a while.

To change things up, I like to make all sorts of baked treats, from easy muffins to more elaborate from-scratch items, such as English muffins and croissants. Lately, I have a soft spot for chocolate babka. But what is babka, exactly? Traditionally, babka is a Jewish bread made with yeasted dough which is rolled out, slathered or sprinkled with a sweet filling, then rolled, twisted or breaded and baked in a loaf pan.

Although chocolate babka has been around for dozens (hundreds?) of years, the baked treat shot to mainstream fame in the 1990s after it was featured on a Seinfeld episode. In 2013, Breads Bakery opened its doors in New York City and started selling non-traditional versions of the classic treat, including one filled with Nutella. Their chocolate babka was soon declared the best in the city by New York Magazine, and the demand skyrocketed. Since then, with the help of social media, chocolate babka has become truly iconic because it’s just so incredibly Instagrammable.

Chocolate Babka with Tahini // FoodNouveau.com

Traditional babka is made with oil, which produces a firmer, more bread-like texture, but modern versions are often made with butter, which means modern babka dough closely resembles brioche dough—and that is how babka crossed my path.

Brioche is a French bread made with an enriched dough; that is, a dough that contains eggs and butter. The addition of these two ingredients makes brioche lighter in texture and richer in flavor, compared to basic bread. I love making brioche: the kitchen smells heavenly when you make it, it’s a real delight when you eat it straight out of the oven (especially slathered with extra butter!), and leftover slices make amazing French toast. But brioche dough is also super versatile as you can make individual brioches, stuff them, garnish them with dried fruits or chocolate chips, or fill, roll, and shape the dough creatively to create a truly special treat.

As I was researching new ideas to work with brioche dough a couple of years ago, I came across gorgeous photos of chocolate babka loaves. I, of course, couldn’t help but feel attracted to how beautiful babkas were, and the more I looked at recipes, the more I noticed the similarities between brioche and babka dough. I decided to make my go-to brioche dough, fill it with chocolate ganache, then twist it as a babka. I was hooked! Chocolate babka treats you to the buttery fluffiness of brioche with a chocolatey filling distributed throughout—which means each bite is perfection.

How to Braid Chocolate Babka // FoodNouveau.com

Confused yet? Since modern babka dough is such a close relative of brioche dough, I think it’s safe to say brioche refers to the enriched dough, and babka refers to the way the dough is filled, rolled, and baked. Opinions vary as to the legitimacy of modern babkas, but to me, they’re the product of two cultures combining in an absolutely delicious treat.

Chocolate Babka with Tahini // FoodNouveau.com

Helpful Tips for Making Chocolate Babka

  • Plan ahead: Yeasted babka dough needs to rest (or proof) for 2 hours total, so making babka is a process that takes several hours. The good news is that there are different ways to get ahead:
    • You can either fully bake the chocolate tahini babkas, let them cool completely, and then wrap and freeze them for up to one month. Simply defrost in the fridge overnight and reheat in a low oven before serving.
    • Alternatively, split the process over two days by fully assembling the twisted babkas, then cover the loaf pans with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. This lengthy refrigerated period will act as the second rise. You can then bake the babkas right before serving the next morning, which is sure to wow your guests!
  • Pick the right yeast: I prefer using active dry yeast, which requires a short resting period in warm liquid to bloom, because I find it leads to a better, fluffier rise. This 5-minute blooming process doesn’t make a difference to the overall time this recipe takes to come together, so I think it’s worth the wait. If you only have instant yeast (also called “rapid rise” yeast) on hand, you can use it, too: simply mix it in with the milk, sugar, salt, and eggs, skipping the blooming process altogether.
  • Choose your tahini carefully:Tahini, a toasted sesame paste, varies widely in terms of quality, flavor, and texture. Some tahini brands are very bitter in taste, and you don’t want that in your hummus. I prefer using Lebanese brands, such as Al Wadi and Alkanater, which you can readily find in most supermarkets. North American brands also sell excellent tahini: SoomPepperwood, and Seed + Mill in the US, and New World Organics and Nuts to You in Canada are all outstanding products, but they can also be more difficult to source.
  • Do the work now; enjoy the sweet results later: This recipe makes two chocolate and tahini babka loaves. You might not plan on eating both right away (though I wouldn’t judge you if you did!), but no worries: as I said above, you can tightly wrap a cooled babka in plastic wrap and freeze it for up to one month. Imagine how happy you’ll be when you remember you’ve got a delicious babka stashed in the freezer when planning the next weekend brunch!

Chocolate Babka with Tahini

Prep

Cook

Inactive

Total

Yield 2 chocolate babkas

This photogenic Chocolate Babka has the buttery fluffiness of brioche and a rich, chocolate and tahini filling distributed throughout. Each bite is perfection!

Ingredients

For the babka dough

  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) warm milk
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp (7 ml) fine sea salt
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 packet (0.28 oz/8 g) active dry yeast
  • 4 cups (1 L) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) butter, cut into cubes, room temperature

For the chocolate and tahini filling

To assemble

Instructions

For the babka dough: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the kneading hook, whisk together the milk, sugar, and salt. Mix in the active dry yeast and let rest for 5 minutes. Add the egg and whisk to incorporate. Using a fork, gradually incorporate the flour into the wet ingredients, then start kneading the dough. Gradually incorporate the butter a couple tablespoons at a time into the dough as it is kneading, letting it fully incorporate into the dough before adding more. Once all the butter is incorporated, keep kneading the dough, adding a bit more flour if it is too sticky and keeps crawling up the hook. After about 7 minutes, the dough should be smooth and elastic.

Transfer the dough to a large, oiled mixing bowl and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Let rest in a warm spot for about 1 hour, or until the dough has doubled in size.

Grease two loaf pans, then line with parchment paper. Set aside.

For the chocolate and tahini filling: Sift the powdered sugar and cocoa powder together. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, melt the chocolate and butter together. Transfer to a mixing bowl, then stir in the tahini, powdered sugar and cocoa. Place the filling in the fridge for 15 minutes to let it thicken slightly. The chocolate and tahini filling should remain at a spreadable consistency.

To assemble the chocolate babka: Transfer the babka dough to a lightly floured working surface. Roll the dough out into a large rectangle, about the size of a baking sheet (13 x 9 in/33 x 23 cm). Spread the chocolate and tahini filling all over the surface of the dough. Roll the dough up from the long side of the rectangle until you get a log. Slice the log in half to create two shorter logs (each about 6 1/2 in/16.5 cm long). Set one log aside.

Using a very sharp knife, cut one log right down the center, lengthwise. Lay both sliced pieces side-by-side, open sides up, then press the tops together and twist them around one another. Transfer to one of the prepared loaf pans. Repeat to prepare the second babka.

How to Braid Chocolate Babka // FoodNouveau.com

Transfer the loaf pans to a warm spot, cover with a clean kitchen towel, and let rest for 1 hour more. Alternatively, you can loosely cover the pans with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

To bake the chocolate babka: Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Using a pastry brush, brush the surface of the babkas with beaten egg, then sprinkle with coarse sugar (if desired) and toasted sesame seeds. Bake the babkas for about 30 minutes (or up to 45 minutes if the babka dough is cold from the fridge), or until the chocolate babkas are puffed and golden brown. Chocolate babka should sound hollow when you lightly tap on it.

Let the babkas cool slightly on a wire rack, then unmold, slice and enjoy warm. Alternatively, you can let the babkas cool completely, unmold, wrap in plastic wrap, and freeze for up to 1 month. To serve, let the babkas thaw in the fridge overnight, then reheat in a 300°F (150°C) oven for 10 minutes.

Note: Leftover babka makes delicious French toast!

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