Right about now I feel like we’re all in the same boat – wondering HOW are we just 5 days away from Christmas!
It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but every year it seems to creep up faster and faster.
We are traveling this year for the holidays and it’s a whole new experience for me. Normally family comes to us, so coordinating getting all the gifts home and packing and menu planning has my plate a lot more full than it normally is. I’ve especially enjoyed thinking about the menu this year, specifically what I can bake for Christmas morning that is extra special and can be done ahead of time. Chocolate Brioche Babka is the answer.
My Babka is made from brioche, which is an enriched dough made with a lot of eggs and butter – which is why it is so absolutely heavenly. I totally encourage you to learn how to make this dough because it can be used in so many ways. Babka, for one. But you can also just bake the bread as is (divide the dough into 2 balls per loaf pan) for gorgeous loaves; make rolls (8 to a loaf pan), hamburger buns, or my favorite way: make them into little balls (36 per recipe) and deep fry them for the most heavenly Italian doughnuts called Bomboloni. I used to make Bomboloni professionally back home and this recipe is one that I’ve perfected from making it hundreds of times.
Babka is a once a year type of recipe. Yes, it’s a long one. The recipe spans two days. It is also absolutely worth the effort. The first day, making the dough can be done in about a half an hour. The next day you will make the filling, roll out the dough, let the loaves rise, and then bake them. Most of the time it takes to make this recipe is spent just letting the dough do its thing to develop the best flavour. The best part of making babka is that no two are ever the same, and it’s pretty hard to make these photogenic beauties look bad.
I made 2 loaves yesterday, then assembled and froze them. I’ll take them out of the freezer on Christmas Eve to defrost in the fridge, then let them rise and bake in the morning. TaaDaa!
I like to toast a slice of this Chocolate Brioche Babka in the morning with my cup of coffee (with eggnog thank you). Warm melty chocolate swirled inside a buttery crisp piece of bread? Sounds terrible I know 😉
2. Add bread flour, salt, sugar and yeast to the bowl of your electric mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low for 10 seconds. Combine the eggs and water (no need to beat the eggs) and add to the dry ingredients. Mix on low until dough stiffens and paddle struggles a bit, about 20 seconds. Switch to dough hook, and mix on speed 2 until everything comes together and dough is smooth, about 5-7 minutes. (If after a couple of minutes there are still dry spots in the dough, add a 1/2 tsp of water and give it another minute.) After 5-7 minutes the dough won’t be completely elastic, but it should be on the smooth side and not lumpy. If it isn’t there yet, keep kneading it with the dough hook on speed 2 until it smooths out. It shouldn't feel wet or sticky, but should feel cold and sufficiently hydrated. If it is still too dry or stiff, add a 1/2 tsp of water and continue mixing until you get the right consistency.
3. With the dough hook still attached, add the butter, one piece at a time, one right after the other, mixing on speed 2. Once all the butter is added, stop the mixer and scrape the dough into the center. Continue this process of mixing and scraping until the dough starts to come together. If you aren’t able to get the hook to ‘grab’ the dough, sprinkle a teaspoon of flour over it. You can also switch back to the paddle and give it a good beating on speed 4 or 5, just to help things along. The dough may look super soft and almost cake batter-like, which is fine. Just switch back to the dough hook and let the dough knead at speed 2 for 8-10 minutes. You will know it is done when the sides of the mixing bowl are completely clean. (This may seem like it will never happen, but just keep mixing! Again, you can add a tsp of flour at a time to get the hook to ‘grab’ the dough if it isn't kneading properly. Stop the mixer to scrap the sides occasionally and it will eventually all come together.)
4. When the sides of the bowl are clean and the dough has become very smooth and elastic, turn it out onto your clean counter (not floured) and form it into a tight ball. Place it on a cookie sheet that has been lined with parchment and sprayed with non stick cooking spray. Wrap the sheet in plastic wrap, then press down on the ball to flatten it somewhat. Put it in the fridge overnight.
5. When you are ready to assemble and bake your babka, start by making the filling:
6. Place the chocolate and butter in a bowl set overtop a pot of simmering water until melted. Remove from heat and stir in cocoa, icing sugar and cinnamon. Set aside to thicken slightly and cool.
7. Spray the insides of two loaf pans with non stick spray. Line each with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on each side so you can easily lift out the babka.
8. Remove your brioche from the fridge and cut in half. Place one back in fridge and place the other on a well-floured board or counter top. Sprinkle the top of the dough with flour as well to keep your pin from sticking. Remember, the dough won’t roll out if it’s stuck to the counter, so make sure you add more as needed. Roll the dough out into a large rectangle, about 18” by 12”. Run your hand over the dough to feel that it is the same thickness all over and try to keep it even.
9. Once your dough is rolled out, spread half of the filling over top of it using an offset spatula. Starting at the end closest to you, roll the dough away from you into a log. Place a piece of parchment on a cookie sheet and transfer the log to it, seem side down. (I do this using two bench scrapers - it can be tricky as the dough will have softened, but pick it up quickly and purposefully to transfer it.) Place it in the freezer and repeat with second piece of dough.
10. Remove first dough from the freezer and slice it clean in half down the middle (the long way) so you have two long pieces with the filling exposed. Pinch the ends together on one end, and braid the two pieces together by wrapping one over the other, keeping the filling pointing up. Pinch the ends together. If the babka is still stiff enough (from being in the freezer) proceed to next step. If it has softened too much, put it back in the freezer for 5 minutes, then proceed.
11. Put the braided brioche into your loaf pan - it will be longer than your pan, so put it in an ’S’ shape, tucking the end in. Repeat with the second brioche from the freezer. At this point, the loaves can be well-wrapped and frozen for up to 6 weeks. Remove to the fridge to defrost overnight, then proceed with next steps.
12. Cover both pans with plastic wrap and leave in a warm place for about 1.5 hours to rise. Make the syrup during this time.
13. To make the syrup:
14. Place the water and sugar in a small sauce pan and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
15. Preheat oven to 375. Remove plastic wrap and bake the babkas for about 45-55 minutes, until they are puffed and brown, a skewer comes out clean (there will be no rubbery resistance when you insert it) and, if you were to tap on the bottom of the loaf, it will sound hollow. The internal temperature will be between 180-210. If the babkas are getting too brown, you can cover them with tinfoil until they are finished baking.
16. Remove from the oven and immediately brush with the simple syrup. Use half for each loaf, and make sure you use it all.
17. Allow to cool for 10 minutes in loaf pans, then remove to cool completely. Babka is best the same day, but is good for 2 days if well wrapped. It freezes excellently. Try toasting a piece or, if you dare, make some french toast with it.
* 3 1/4 C BREAD flour, plus more as needed
* 1/2 tsp salt
* 5 Tbsp sugar
* 1 Packet Instant Yeast
* 4 eggs
* 6 Tbsp Water, plus more as needed
* 14 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 14 pieces
* 4 1/2 ounces dark chocolate
* 1/2 cup unsalted butter
* 1/2 cup powdered sugar
* 1/3 cup cocoa powder
* 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (optional but recommended)
* 1/3 cup water
* 6 tablespoons granulated sugar