chocolate babka

I’m not sure what to say about this bread except that I’ve never been a fan of chocolate breads (I don’t even like chocolate croissants!), but this one changed everything.

The day I made it for the first time, I told my brother, “It’s a problem. I can’t stop eating it. I think I need to make more.”

Then I laughed because most people would say, I can’t stop eating it so get it out of my house, but I say, I can’t stop eating it so give me more.

And that’s exactly what I’m doing. As I type, my third loaf of babka is rising on the counter.

When I mentioned this bread to my mother over the phone, I could hear her nose turn up.

Chocolate in bread? Oh, come on, Jennifer, said Her Tone Of Voice. That CAN’T be good.

Oh, but it can, Mother Dear! It can and it is!

How to describe it? Well, the dough is sweet with lots of butter and eggs. (My bread is extra yellow, thanks to our neighbor’s voluptuous farm eggs.) It gets rolled out as for cinnamon buns, but instead of butter and brown sugar, it’s filled—nay, piled high—with cocoa and white sugar and grinded up (grounded up? ground up?) bits of chocolate.

At first I thought there was no way all that dry cocoa and sugar could ever make a pleasing filling, but it does. In the oven, the cocoa and sugar transform into a creamy-soft paste and the chocolate bits get crumbly, but in a meltingly tender sort of way.

They say you’re not supposed to eat the bread warm, but we always do. The children love it when the chocolate is gooey. I like it room temperature best, when the dough is a bit firmer and can hold up better under the pressure of the knife, but I’ve been known to scarf unladylike portions straight from the oven.

Yesterday I had a piece of the day-old loaf with my coffee. There wasn’t much chocolate in my slice (it was getting close to the heel), and the bread felt a little dry. So I spread it with some salty butter and … went nuts. I think I ate four pieces.

Chocolate Babka
Adapted from Joe Pastry and Smitten Kitchen.

I use my Kitchen Aid for the dough. My dough always ends up extra sticky, probably because I’m using such large eggs, so I always have to add a bit more flour when I dump it out for a brief knead before setting it to rise.

I use whatever chocolate I have on hand: Bakers’ semi-sweet, chocolate chips, milk chocolate chips, mini chips, Ghirardelli 60%, etc. I use a food processor to blend them up, even the mini chips. The bits of chocolate must be small.

There will be a lot of streusel left over. I store it in the freezer. It’s nice to have some on hand for muffins, coffee cake, or, you know, another loaf of babka.

the dough:
1 3/4 cups bread flour
1 ½ teaspoons yeast
½ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar
½ cup milk, warmed
1 egg, beaten
1 egg yolk, beaten
½ teaspoon vanilla
4 tablespoons butter, softened

In a mixing bowl, stir together the dry ingredients. Add the milk, egg and yolk, and vanilla. Beat in the butter, a tablespoon at a time. If it’s still too soft to knead, add a little more flour, but be careful—too much flour results in a tough bread. Knead the dough for a few minutes until smooth. Put the dough in a floured (or greased) bowl, cover with a cloth and let rest for an hour or two. The dough has never risen very much (for me), so I figure a relaxing rest is all it really needs.

the filling:
1/3 cup cocoa
1/3 cup white sugar
6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
1 egg, beaten

Turn the dough out onto a floured counter and roll it into a large rectangle. Paint an inch of the sides and bottom edge with the beaten egg. Reserve the egg for later.

Chop the chocolate into little bits. (I used a food processor, on high, for about 30 seconds.) Sprinkle the dough (except for the eggy edges) with the cocoa, sugar, and chocolate. Roll up the dough, starting from the top, non-eggy edge. Squeeze and tuck the two ends. Bend the dough in half, so both ends are laying side by side. Twist them around each other a couple times and tuck the ends under the loaf.

Set the twist into a loaf pan that has been greased and then lined with parchment paper. Cover and let rest for an hour or two. Immediately before baking, brush the top of the loaf with the remaining beaten egg and sprinkle with some of the streusel (see below).

Bake the loaf at 350 degrees for 25 minutes before reducing the temperature to 325 and baking another 15-20 minutes. If the bread gets too dark on top, cover the loaf with a piece of tinfoil. Let the loaf rest for 10 minutes before lifting it out of the pan and setting it on a cooling rack. Once it’s cooled to room temperature, slice and eat, or bag it up and freeze for later.

the streusel:
1 2/3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 1/3 cups flour
12 tablespoons butter

Using your fingers, combine the ingredients until it’s a pebbly-sandy mess. I use about 1/4 cup for each loaf of babka. Freeze the rest.


  • beckster

    Yummy! I, too, do not particularly like chocolate and bread, so if this has converted you, I must try it. Thanks for sharing this.

  • Suburban Correspondent

    I, too, hate chocolate with yeast breads. I'm guessing this dough is so sweet that it sort of overrides the breadiness factor.

    • Jennifer Jo

      No. In fact, the first time I made the bread, I forgot about the parchment and used a regular greased loaf pan and it was fine. The parchment paper makes it easy to lift the loaf out, but other than that, I don't see any reason for it. (But it's what real baker-type people do, right? So yeah—this means I'm a victim of peer pressure…)

  • Margo

    okay, I've been studying recipes and I'm just surprised that you didn't go with Smitten Kitchen's with the 3 1/2 sticks of butter!! You aren't off butter, are you?

    • Jennifer Jo

      Ha, no! I followed Joe Pastry's recipe a bit more closely because 1. the recipe was smaller, and 2. It felt a little less complicated.

      (Off butter?! NEVER.)

  • Margo

    I love chocolate and bread! Nutella and toast! Chocolate-filled croissants! So, yes, I would like to make this bread. It would be divine with some oranges and black coffee for breakfast, I am thinking.

  • Mavis

    I am totally going to make this! I have to buy bread flour for another recipe so now I'll be making 2 kinds of bread this weekend. Yummmm.

  • Aili

    I think this might change my life. Did we have a conversation about my unending quest for a chocolate bread that doesn't suck? Because chocolate + bread = how could that possibly go wrong?

  • melodie davis

    Grammatically, I think the verb form you were searching for (you were searching, weren't you, not just playing with us, is "ground." … "with cocoa and white sugar and grinded up (grounded up? ground up?) bits of chocolate." Try just plain "ground" (no up) in the sentence and see if it works for you. Of course that is not really the point of the piece!!! I would ordinarly scoff at chocolate in bread too but you make a convincing case for trying this sometime.

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