Babka is an Eastern European dessert that was virtually unheard of outside of Jewish communities until the latter part of the 20th century. It’s made with a leavened dough that is rolled out, spread with a filling like chocolate, poppy seeds, cinnamon, fruit, or cheese, braided, then baked in a hot oven.
Hanukkah, Hebrew for ‘dedication’ is celebrated from the 10th to the 18th of December. The eight-day holiday celebrates the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem after it was retaken by the Maccabees, a group of Jewish warriors, from the Greeks in the 2nd century BCE.
The menorah is the symbol most associated with Hannukkah. It is described in the bible as the seven-lamp (six branches) ancient Hebrew lampstand made of pure gold and used in the portable sanctuary set up by Moses in the wilderness and later in the Temple in Jerusalem.
How to Make Babka Dough
Babka dough is very similar to challah bread. It is leavened by yeast which you need to activate by mixing 3/4 of a cup of milk (heated to 90f) with one tablespoon of sugar and a standard packet of dried yeast. Cover with a dishtowel and let it foam up for 10-15 minutes while you prepare the rest of the dough.
Combine 3 cups of all-purpose flour with 1/4 cup of sugar and 1 teaspoon of salt in a mixing bowl then pour in one large egg, and egg yolk, 1/4 cup of melted butter, and the activated yeast. Combine the ingredients into a rough dough using whichever method or equipment (dough whisk, stand mixer, etc). KNead the dough until a silky dough forms then transfer it to a bowl greased with olive oil. Roll the dough around in the bowl to give it a light coating of the oil then leave in a warm place to proof for 1 1/2 hours.
How to Make a Hazlenut Chocolate Filling
Preheat your oven to 400°F and prepare to blanch 65g of hazelnuts by bringing a cup of water to the boil then dropping the nuts in there for 3 minutes before transferring them to a bowl of ice water. Raw hazelnuts taste bitter with their skin, blanching them makes the skin really easy to feel off.
Place a saucepan with water onto the stove and bring it up to a rolling boil. Place a glass bowl over the boiling water and pour in the 70 grams of semi-sweet chocolate, 3/4 cup of sugar, and 1/3 of a cup of butter then slowly heat until melted and smooth. Take off the heat then whisk in 1/2 a cup of cocoa powder until smooth.
Place the hazelnuts into a food processor and pulse until roughly chopped then pour in the melted chocolate mixture. Pulse again until smooth then transfer to a bowl to cool and thicken.
How to Shape & Bake a Babka
After your dough has doubled in size, punch the air out of it and turn it out onto a floured surface. Use a floured rolling pin to roll the dough out into a 5×10 inch rectangle. Spread the chocolate spread onto the dough and roll it into a tight log then cut an inch off both sides.
Cut down the middle of the log to split it into two pieces. Tightly twist the two halves into a tight braid and lay it into a parchment paper-lined bread pan to proof for another 30 minutes while your oven preheats to 400°F.
Brush the loaf with egg wash then bake the bread for 30 minutes until the top has nicely browned. Remove the loaf from the oven and cover with a dishtowel to let it steam slightly and stay soft.
For the dough:
3/4 cup of whole milk, heated to around 90°F
2 1/4 tsp dried yeast
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp granulated sugar, divided
3 cups of all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
1/4 cup of unsalted butter, melted
For the Filling:
65g blanched hazelnuts
1/3 of a cup unsalted butter
3/4 of a cup caster sugar
70g semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup cocoa powder
- Whisk one tablespoon of sugar and the yeast into the warm milk and cover with a dishtowel for 10 minutes.
- Whisk together the flour, 1/4 cup of sugar, and salt then make a well in the center and pour in the activated yeast, melted butter, and eggs.
- Use a dough hook/blender, stand mixer, or just a butter knife to combine the ingredients in a rough dough.
- Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead the dough for 2-3 minutes until a silky dough forms.
- Lightly grease a bowl with some olive oil then place the dough into the bowl and roll around to cover in oil.
- Cover the bowl with cling film and leave it in a room area for 1 1/2 hours to double in size.
- To make the filling, preheat your oven to 400°F, lay the hazelnuts onto a baking tray, and roast for 4–5 minutes. Pour the hazelnuts into a food processor and pulse until roughly chopped.
- Place the butter, sugar, and chocolate into a glass bowl over a saucepan with water at a rolling boil and melt the chocolate slowly, stirring until smooth and combined. Remove from the heat, whisk in the cocoa powder, then set aside to cool and thicken.
- Once the dough has risen, punch it down and turn it out onto a floured surface.
- Use a floured rolling pin to roll the dough out into a rough rectangle around 5x10 inches big.
- Spread the chocolate across the dough leaving an inch border along all the sides.
- Roll the dough up tightly then cut an inch of both sides.
- Cut down the middle of the roll, separate them, then twist them together into a tight braid.
- Place the twist into a bread pan lined with parchment paper, cover with a dish towel, and leave to proof again while your oven preheats to 400°F.
- Brush the loaf with egg wash and bake for around 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and cover with the same dishtowel to cool.