The Great British Baking Show Contestants could have used this recipe for Babke.
Andrew and I are great devotées of this wildly popular British TV series, now in its 11th season. Judges and Co-Hosts have come and gone but we’ve never strayed. We have had our favorite seasons no doubt. This season is different. On top of a change in hosts, the bakers are living in a ‘bubble’ to protect all concerned from the pandemic. Instead of returning home between weekends of filming, the bakers are at the tent as long as they survive. It’s painfully apparent that the time that was spent home baking for the next week’s challenge has taken its toll. Never was this more obvious than when during Chocolate Week not a single contestant produced a decent pan of brownies. And then there was the absolute disaster that Chocolate Babka presented on the same episode. But it did serve to remind me of Andrew’s fantastic Babka, a glorious over-the-top indulgence with obscene amounts of chocolate miraculously held together by Brioche-like bread. And I also remembered how good an idea Babka is for Thanksgiving.
A Summer Encounter with a Chocolate Babka leads to a great idea for Thanksgiving
One summer day Andrew was in a huge rush to catch the Jitney out to Bridgehampton. Starving, he ran into a gourmet shop on Lexington Avenue. Prior to this occasion, Andrew’s only encounter with Babka was on an episode of Seinfeld in which Jerry and Elaine were thwarted in their attempt to buy a Chocolate Babka and had to take a Cinnamon Babka instead. Andrew was much more fortunate and was soon tucking into his Bobke. Because Babka can be made in advance and frozen, you can bake it this week for the long Thanksgiving weekend. Martha’s recipe will make 3 of these incredible treats so you can bake a fresh one whenever you want. Babka is one of those amazing confections that is good any time of the day or night. In the morning, they’re ‘pain au chocolat’. At lunch or dinner, they’re an incomparable dessert and a great chocolate escape from the holiday’s pumpkin pies.
Great Babka not only contains masses of Chocolate, it combines all that Chocolate with, yes, Cinnamon!
As if the whole piece wasn’t already flawless, the Babka Andrew ate was covered in streusel. I don’t think he was off the Jitney five minutes before he headed straight to the cookbook library we keep in our kitchen. In very little time, he landed on a recipe calling for staggering amounts of chocolate, tablespoons full of cinnamon, streusel topping and no less than 5 sticks of butter. Eureka! Martha Stewart’s Mother’s Babka was coming to our kitchen.
Martha the Magnificent
Now Martha Stewart has a justifiable reputation for, how shall we say, slightly more complicated kitchen tasks than say, Ina Garten. One of my favorite direct quotes from Martha is the following: “I discovered a fantastic thing when preparing 1,500 potatoes for the Folk Art Show,” which Anthony Lane picked up from her “The Martha Stewart Cookbook” and used in a riotous piece in The New Yorker. No, the simple life is not for Martha. How difficult would her recipe be? Andrew assures me that this not at all a difficult recipe. It is just an intensely instructive one that takes in every step. I also have a strange feeling that since it was her late Mother’s Babka recipe, Martha likely slaved over it to make sure it was a success. Here’s Martha’s recipe and the following note from its author: “When shaping the babka, twist dough evenly throughout the length of the roll a full 5 to 6 turns. The babka can be prepared up to step 14 and frozen for up to a month before baking. When ready to bake, remove from freezer; let stand at room temperature for about 5 hours, and bake.” Sounds like a plan.
Martha Stewart's Chocolat Babka with Streusel Topping
A glorious over-the-top indulgence with obscene amounts of chocolate miraculously held together by Brioche-like bread
- 1 1/2 cups warm milk, 110 degrees
- 2 (1/4 ounce each) packages active dry yeast
- 1 3/4 cups plus a pinch of sugar
- 3 whole large eggs, room temperature
- 2 large egg yolks, room temperature
- 6 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 3/4 cups (3 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces, room temperature, plus more for bowl and loaf pans
- 2 1/4 pounds semisweet chocolate, very finely chopped
- 2 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon heavy cream
- For the Streusel Topping:
- 1 2/3 cups confectioners' sugar
- 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
- 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
- Step 1 Pour warm milk into a small bowl. Sprinkle yeast and pinch of sugar over milk. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.
- Step 2 In a bowl, whisk together 3/4 cup sugar, 2 eggs, and egg yolks. Add egg mixture to yeast mixture, and whisk to combine.
- Step 3 In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine flour and salt. Add egg mixture, and beat on low speed until almost all the flour is incorporated, about 30 seconds. Change to the dough hook. Add 2 sticks butter, and beat until flour mixture and butter are completely incorporated, and a smooth, soft dough that’s slightly sticky when squeezed is formed, about 10 minutes.
- Step 4 Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead a few turns until smooth. Butter a large bowl. Place dough in bowl, and turn to coat. Cover tightly with plastic wrap. Set aside in a warm place to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
- Step 5 While the dough is rising, make the streusel. In a large bowl, combine sugar, flour, and butter.
- Step 6 Using a fork, stir until fully combined with clumps ranging in size from crumbs to 1 inch.
- Step 7 Next combine sugar, chocolate, remaining 1 1/2 sticks of butter and cinnamon in a large bowl.
- Step 8 Using two knives or a pastry cutter, cut in the butter until well combined. Set filling aside.
- Step 9 Generously butter three 9-by-5-by-2 3/4-inch loaf pans then line them with parchment paper.
- Step 10 Beat remaining egg with 1 tablespoon cream. Set egg wash aside.
- Step 11 Punch back the dough, and transfer to a clean surface. Let rest 5 minutes.
- Step 12 Cut into 3 equal pieces. Keep 2 pieces covered with plastic wrap while working with the remaining piece.
- Step 13 On a generously floured surface, roll dough out into a 16-inch square. It should be 1/8 inch thick.
- Step 14 Brush edges with reserved egg wash. Crumble 1/3 of the reserved chocolate filling evenly over dough, leaving a 1/4-inch border. Refresh egg wash if needed.
- Step 15 Roll dough up tightly like a jelly roll. Pinch ends together to seal. Twist 5 or 6 turns. Brush top of roll with egg wash.
- Step 16 Carefully crumble 2 tablespoons filling over the left half of the roll, being careful not to let mixture slide off. Fold right half of the roll over onto the coated left half. Fold ends under, and pinch to seal.
- Step 17 Twist roll 2 turns, and fit into prepared pan. Repeat with the remaining 2 pieces of dough and remaining filling.
- Step 18 Heat oven to 350 degrees if baking immediately. Brush the top of each loaf with egg wash. Crumble 1/3 of streusel topping over each loaf. Loosely cover each pan with plastic wrap, and let stand in a warm place 20 to 30 minutes. If freezing for later use, you may wrap your baking dishes tightly in a layer of plastic wrap and then a layer of aluminum foil. When you wish to bake your Babka, make sure it is out of the freezer 5 hours before you plan to do so.
- Step 19 Bake loaves, rotating halfway through, until golden, about 55 minutes. Lower oven temperature to 325 degrees. Bake until babkas are deep golden, 15 to 20 minutes more. Remove from oven, and transfer to wire racks until cool. Remove from pans. Serve.