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Chocolate Babka: Baking, Birthdays and Lockdowns

An alternative title for this blog post could have been the Babka baking bible. Simon suggested this due to the level of detail I have included. I didn’t mean to write quite so much however it has turned into everything you wanted to know about Babka but were too afraid to ask! Combining a love of baking with my food science and technology background meant I researched the subject thoroughly before attempting to make one.
Babka is something my Grandma used to make and has become popular again in bakeries and cafes in New York, London, and around the World.
I have wanted to make Babka at home but never got round to it until now. The consequence of living through the Pandemic and a 3rd lockdown here in London has given me the opportunity to give it a go. It’s also a day to remember and reflect as 23rd March marks the 1st anniversary since UK was put into lockdown and instructed to stay at home, save lives and protect the NHS.

I decided to make a chocolate and hazelnut Krantz loaf for my Dad’s birthday, as a surprise. With any family celebrations curtailed it would be a doorstep drop off, and a socially distanced chat a few metres away in front of his home.

Krantz is a type of Babka and refers to the plaited shape, baked in a loaf tin. I read that Babka can be a little tricky to make as it uses a yeast dough enriched with butter and egg. The dough proves slowly overnight in the fridge and needs to be handled when cold. I asked my local baker for some tips and she actually freezes her dough once rolled out for 10 minutes. I didn’t have any room in my freezer to try this tip. I researched Babka  comparing the recipes and methods from the following cookbooks and blog posts:

Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi Jerusalem Cookbook

Sarit Packer & Itamar Srulovich Honey & Co. The Baking Book

David Lebovitz Chocolate Babka from his blog based on Honey & Co recipe with a few tweaks.

There were slight differences in each recipe and method. Using my food technology skills and experience I decided to come up with my own version based on all three recipes with a little twist.. literally!

I have previously  tasted the Honey and Co. amazing Babka at Sarit and Itamar’s restaurant of the same name in Central London. The photos in both Jerusalem Cookbook and David Lebovitz’s blog were very helpful and gave me confidence at each stage. The trickiest part was plaiting the split soft dough layers with chocolate & nut filling. I used fresh yeast from my local bakery however the recipe states you can use dried yeast which is easier to buy.

Key Tips:

Flour Type: Strong White Bread Flour (13% protein)

The Jerusalem recipe and David Lebovitz both used plain ( all purpose flour) in their recipes. David talked to Sarit and Itamar about flour type. He based his version on Honey & Co. recipe. Plain flour has less protein, typically around 10.5%.

I decided to stick with Honey and Co. recommendation and used strong white bread flour and the quantity in their recipe. I reckoned the higher protein in this type of flour would help give a good texture, with finer, more even bubbles in the finished loaf.

Yeast Dough Method

I used the David Lebovitz method as I liked the idea of activating the yeast first.

1st Dough Prove

All 3 suggest chilling the dough for at least 6 hours or ideally overnight. David Lebovitz had made a version with less chilling, however as he is both a professional and experienced baker I decided to stick with chilling it  overnight.

Cold Proved Dough, Divide in Two

All 3 recipes and my local professional baker said the trick to making Babka is keeping the dough chilled and handling it quickly as it is soft.
The Jerusalem cookbook recommends to divide the proved dough into two equal pieces, roll out one and keep the other half chilled. I decided to use this method. Also my kitchen top is granite so is a cold surface, ideal for working with Babka dough.

Warm place for 2nd Prove

The disadvantage of a cold kitchen means that after shaping the dough the second prove can take around 2 hours.

I have an easy way to overcome this. I heated my oven to 50C/122F, for 10 minutes, then switched it off keeping the door shut for the same amount of time. I created a nice warm space to prove the Babka before baking. Using this method the dough proved in 1 hour 20 minutes. Proving times depend on temperature. I include some before and after photos as a guide. Babka should increase by about 20-30 % after the 2nd prove.

Loaf Tin size

The Jerusalem recipe makes a bigger batch of dough and suggests baking two Krantz loafs. I decided to use the Honey & Co dough recipe size. I still used two loaf tins 12cm Width x 22cm Length x 6 cm Height. In imperial that’s 4 1/2 W x 8 3/4 L x 2 1/4 H in inches.

Loaf Tin Preparation

Brush a little sunflower oil on the base of both tins. Line the base and sides with baking (parchment) paper.

Chocolate Filling Recipe

Both cookbooks had slightly different recipes. Jerusalem uses mostly icing ( powdered sugar) with a sprinkling of caster sugar on top. Honey and Co. uses all caster sugar. Jerusalem says use a good quality dark chocolate whereas Honey & Co. mention 70% cocoa solids.

I made my own version with slightly less sugar and used 50:50 mix of icing and caster sugar. I used a 65% cocoa solids dark chocolate from Dominican Republic as I like the fruity mellow flavour. I suggest using a dark chocolate you like! Ensure the chocolate filling is kept at room temperature and not chilled as it will set solid and be hard to spread on the soft thin dough.

Baking Temperature and Time

In Jerusalem Cookbook it recommends pre heating your oven sufficiently. I heated mine for 15 minutes before baking my Krantz loaves.

The Jerusalem recipe says 190C (374F) or 170C (338F) fan for around 30 minutes. The Honey & Co recipe says 220C (428F)or 200C (392F) fan for around 30 minutes. David Lebovitz suggests 190C (374F) for around 30 minutes. As every oven is different, I decided to bake at 185C (365F) fan for 27 minutes. I used the Honey & Co tip and turned my loaf tins after 10 minutes  baking. All 3 recipes suggest testing the baked dough with a skewer which should come out clean. Just make sure you pierce through a section without chocolate filling.

Chocolate Krantz Loaf ( makes 2)

Yeast Dough Recipe

20g fresh yeast (or 2 teaspoon dried yeast)

330g strong white bread flour

40g caster sugar

a pinch table salt

1 large whole egg, beaten ( at room temperature)

85g milk ( I used semi skimmed warmed slightly to room temperature)

90g unsalted butter cut into 2cm cubes at room temperature)

Method

Combine the yeast with the milk. If using dried yeast ensure it’s dissolved. If using fresh yeast, crumble it into the milk.
Add the sugar and 40g of flour to your mixing bowl. Stir briefly with a spoon and leave for 15 minutes. You will see small bubbles on the surface as the yeast is activated ( see photo below).

I used a Kenwood mixer with the dough hook attachment. With the mixer on its slowest speed slowly add the cubes of butter, then the beaten egg. Mix for 1-2 minutes to combine. With the mixer running on slow gradually add the flour and a pinch of the salt. Once the flour is added and the dough starts to form turn the mixing speed up to medium. That is number 4 ( of 8) on the Kenwood mixer I used. Knead the dough for 5-6 minutes. if there is dough sticking to the sides of the bowl, scrape down part way through. When the dough is fully mixed and kneaded,  the mixing bowl should be clean with minimal dough stuck to the sides (see photo).

Dough after kneading

Brush a large bowl with a little sunflower oil and add the ball of dough.

Dough ready to prove

Cover with a clean tea towel and put in the fridge for at least 6 hours. I left mine overnight for 15 hours.

Once the dough has proved and is ready to roll out make the chocolate and hazelnut filling.

Chocolate and Hazelnut Filling Recipe

90g unsalted butter

75g icing ( powdered) sugar, sieved

75g caster sugar

80g dark chocolate, broken into small squares

40g cocoa powder, sieved

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon of freshly ground nutmeg

70g roasted hazelnuts chopped

Method

Melt the butter in a small saucepan on a low/medium heat. Remove from the heat, add the icing and caster sugars, then  stir to dissolve. Add the cocoa powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and stir to combine. Add the dark chocolate squares and mix. The heat of the filling will melt the chocolate. Give the mixture a good stir to ensure everything is combined ( see photo).

Chocolate Filling

Roll out the dough and make the Krantz Loaf

Divide the dough into 2 equal pieces. Place 1 half back in the bowl, cover and put back in the fridge.

Dough after 1st Prove Overnight

1st Prove done, dough cut into two

Place the other half onto a lightly floured surface and roll out into a rough rectangle shape around about 26 x 30 cm (10.2 x 11.8 inches). The dough should be thin, approximately 3 mm ( 0.1 inch) thick. If it has warmed up and softened put the dough on a tray and chill in the fridge for 10 minutes.

Half the dough rolled out

Spread half the filling on the dough with a knife until an even layer leaving about a 1 cm( 0.4 inch) gap around the edge. Sprinkle with half of the chopped hazelnuts.

With the long side of the rectangle in front of you, use a little cold water to dampen the dough edge furthest away from you.
Carefully and quickly roll up the dough into a long sausage and lightly press the dampened edge to seal.

Start Rolling

Using a sharp knife trim the ends ( about 1/2cm ).

All rolled up

Then split the dough down the middle of the sausage shape to reveal layers of dough and chocolate/hazelnut filling ( see photo).

Roll cut into two, ready to plait

You will have 2 semi cylinders with the cut side upwards.
Work quickly so the dough doesn’t soften too much. Twist each half and plait ( see photo).

Krantz plaited

Place into a loaf tin.

Krantz plait before 2nd Prove

Repeat with the other half of yeast dough.

Second Prove

Once both Krantz doughs have been rolled, filled and shaped, leave in the tins in a warm place for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. The Krantz loaves should increase in size by about 20-30% (see photo).

After 2nd Prove, ready to bake

Baking

Approximately 15 minutes before the end of 2nd prove heat the oven to 185C (365F) fan. Bake the Krantz loaves on the middle shelf for 10 minutes then turn the tins round and bake for another 15-20 minutes.

I baked mine for 27 minutes.

Sugar Syrup Recipe ( quantity for 2 Krantz)

100g caster sugar

100g cold water

1 tablespoon of honey

Heat the ingredients in a small saucepan on a medium heat until boiling. Cook for 3 minutes, take off the heat and then cool to room temperature.

Check the Krantz loaves are baked by inserting a skewer into the dough not the filling. The skewer should come out clean.

Just out the oven ready for syrup

Remove the loaf tins from the oven and immediately brush with the sugar syrup whilst they are still hot. The recipe recommends using all the syrup even though the top of each loaf looks quite drenched in syrup.

After Krantz has been brushed with syrup

Cool the Krantz loaves completely in the tin before removing. To serve use a serrated knife to slice. The Krantz loaves are best enjoyed eaten freshly baked. They will keep up to 3 days in an airtight container. They can also be frozen, which I recommend doing the day they are baked. They will keep for 2- 3 months frozen.

Two Krantz Loaves are better than one!

I really enjoyed making Chocolate Babka Krantz Loaves. These would be great for Easter, birthdays or for any reason whether in or out of lockdown!

Thanks to Yotam Ottolenghi, Sami Tamimi and David Lebovitz for guiding me through my first Chocolate Babka experience.


3 Comments

    • Hi V I would ask your local independent baker. They maybe able to sell you a small quantity of fresh yeast.
      Please let me know if you do make one.
      Happy Babka baking!

      Like

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