Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Recipe: Chocolate Babka

I don't really remember how the obsession with Dean and Deluca's Chocolate Babka grew. I don't even remember who it was who first introduced me to the slab of light but chewy chocolate bread, or who made me take my first bite; I only have a hazy memory of carrying a thin plastic bag around New York and slowly but surely infecting each one of my university mates with an odd love for this loaf. In our household, we even came up with a formula for how much to dampen it and how long to nuke it in the microwave for, to achieve maximum softness and chocolate richness. I once had a friend from Cornell mail me loaves of babka bread. Always chocolate, never cinammon.

Now I can finally recreate the taste sensation, with an even better version, I think, then Dean and Deluca's. Babka is a cross between challah and pain au chocolat, a Jewish holiday bread made luscious with butter and chocolate. Although the recipe takes a while to complete, the risen airy lightness of the crust and the sweet, slightly alcoholic crumb of the bread, is entirely worth it . I was taught this recipe in a New York winter by my dear friend M, who shares the most soulful food, reviews and photography at her site, melissamansur.com here.

Be aware that you need time to execute this recipe. You have to rest the dough for two hours between making and rolling it into the babka. You then need another two hours let the bread proof within the baking tins. So the earliest you can eat babka from the time you start is at least four and a half, more like five and a half hours.

M. traditionally uses 60% Schaffen-Berger chocolate in this recipe so I have stuck to that, but I have also used 70% Arugani Valronha chocolate. I've got the best results from chopping the chocolate very fine (you otherwise get lumps of unmelted chocolate) and sprinkling a little sugar onto the chocolate, as the recipe calls for. I use a egg yolk and whipping cream wash for the surface of the bread as I find milk too liquid, it leave a dark stain rather than a glossy shine. In Singapore, there are two kinds of dry yeast that are easily available in stores, the first is Fleichmann's Dry Active Yeast (in yellow packagin) and the other is a European bread yeast. I use the former as I find the latter gives a very strong, sour yeast flavour. The recipe leaves you with excess egg whites, so use them for macarons or to make a frittata afterward!

Chocolate Babka (Source: Gourmet | December 2006)

For dough:
3/4 cup warm milk (105–115°F)
1/2 cup plus 2 teaspoons sugar
3 teaspoons active dry yeast (from two 1/4-oz packages)
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour plus additional for dusting
2 whole large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 sticks (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into pieces and softened

For egg wash:
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon heavy cream or whole milk

For chocolate filling
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, well softened
8 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (no more than 60% cacao if marked), finely chopped
1/4 cup sugar

Make dough:

1) Stir together warm milk and 2 teaspoons sugar in bowl of mixer. Sprinkle yeast over mixture and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. (If yeast doesn’t foam, discard and start over with new yeast.)
2) Add 1/2 cup flour to yeast mixture and beat at medium speed until combined. Add whole eggs, yolk, vanilla, salt, and remaining 1/2 cup sugar and beat until combined. Reduce speed to low, then mix in remaining 2 3/4 cups flour, about 1/2 cup at a time. Increase speed to medium, then beat in butter, a few pieces at a time, and continue to beat until dough is shiny and forms strands from paddle to bowl, about 4 minutes. (Dough will be very soft and sticky.)
3) Scrape dough into a lightly oiled bowl and cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled in bulk, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Assemble babkas with filling:

4) Line two 8inch x 2.5 inch loaf pans with 2 pieces of parchment paper each (1 lengthwise and 1 crosswise).
5) Punch down dough with a lightly oiled rubber spatula, then halve dough. Roll out 1 piece of dough on a well-floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into an 18- by 10-inch rectangle and arrange with a long side nearest you.
6) Beat together yolk and cream. Spread 2 1/2 tablespoons softened butter on dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border all around. Brush some of egg wash on long border nearest you.
7) Sprinkle half of chocolate evenly over buttered dough, then sprinkle with half of sugar (2 tablespoons). Starting with long side farthest from you, roll dough into a snug log, pinching firmly along egg-washed seam to seal. Bring ends of log together to form a ring, pinching to seal. Twist entire ring twice to form a double figure 8 and fit into one of lined loaf pans.
8) Make another babka with remaining dough, some of egg wash, and remaining butter and chocolate in same manner. Chill remaining egg wash, covered, to use later. Loosely cover pans with buttered plastic wrap (buttered side down) and let babkas rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until dough reaches top of pans, 1 to 2 hours. (Alternatively, let dough rise in pans in refrigerator 8 to 12 hours; bring to room temperature, 3 to 4 hours, before baking.)
9) Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F.
10) Brush tops of dough with remaining egg wash. Bake until tops are deep golden brown and bottoms sound hollow when tapped (when loaves are removed from pans), about 40 minutes. Transfer loaves to a rack and cool to room temperature.

Cooks’ note:
Babkas keep, wrapped in plastic wrap and then foil, frozen 3 weeks.
Yield: Makes 2 loaves
Active Time: 1 hr
Total Time: 6 1/2 hr

No comments: