Despite growing up in largely Jewish neighborhood in California, the first time I experienced the magic of babka was after graduating college. I’d been working in New York for not quite a year and was tagging along to a friend of a friend of a friend’s Superbowl potluck. While my contribution of sadly soggy quesadillas went largely untouched, some genius brought a loaf of chocolate babka from Bread Bakery just around the corner. The thing was devoured in no time, buried under a tackle pile of ravenous potluckers.
I barely had time to appreciate the incredible beauty of the loaf before the babka was literally torn to pieces. Still, the image of the alluring buttery braids and veins of crumbly chocolate filling stuck with me. At the time my baking itinerary hadn’t ventured much beyond cookies and cupcakes, so I never even dreamed of making something so beautiful in my own home. I relegated babka to an untouchable pedestal of pastry heaven in the back of my mind.
Fast forward to today – while I still have a looooooooong way to go, I certainly am much more comfortable with a greater variety of baking techniques and goodies than I was a year ago. When someone at work mentioned that Passover is coming up, all of a sudden the image of that glorious babka popped into my head and refused to budge. I began researching recipes and shaping techniques, finally deciding on Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipe as featured on one of my favorite blogs, Smitten Kitchen.
…and then I couldn’t control myself and threw in some matcha in the bread dough and espresso powder in the filling – like a matcha latte in pastry form! I toyed with the idea of trying a red bean filling, but taking out the chocolate somehow seemed morally wrong… plus I just couldn’t pass up the name Matcha Mocha Babka. Try saying that five times fast without smiling!
I think my first try at babka came out pretty well! At least, no complaints from my coworkers when I brought this in (far from it; another tackle pile was witnessed). Thankfully, the shaping process is actually pretty forgiving, as any oopsies end up kind of smoothing out while baking. I found this visual guide to be very helpful. Despite Deb’s warning that the dough can be difficult to work on without an overnight rise in the fridge, I found the dough a dream to play with at room temperature – soft and supple with a nice stretch. (Perhaps because it’s been a little bit chilly in NYC recently?) This recipe makes two loaves and I only have one loaf pan, so I baked up one loaf the same night and stored half the dough in the fridge overnight to bake the next day. I noticed no difference with the dough left to rise room temperature and baked the same day versus the dough chilled overnight and baked the next day.
A few other modifications I played with – while the original recipe states to roll the dough out to about 10″ width (short end), I find it easier to shape if you actually roll it out to a little less than that, about 8″ or 9″ width. This way you can roll it out thinner length-wise to about 15″ (instead of 10″-12″ per the original recipe) for even more swirly flakiness in the final baked babka, and more importantly it makes the shaping process easier as the braiding part naturally tends to stretch the dough out a little longer. I also swapped out the recipe for simple syrup (to be brushed on the loaves fresh out of the oven) for natural raw honey, because honey and green tea go so well together. For veganizing, I found that vegan butter worked great; I haven’t tried any substitutes for the egg in the dough, which provides some of babka dough’s characteristic richness, but this recipe for vegan challah by My Darling Vegan suggests chickpea flour as the best substitute in yeasted breads – will definitely give it a shot next time.
Bonus: the trimmed ends of the dough look and taste great twisted up into little mini babka wreaths! Not so packed with chocolate as is the middle of the loaf, but makes a great snack and good way to taste test without cutting into the pretty loaf.
Orrrrr just slice that bad boy open and revel in the swirlage!
Mark my words, this will not be the last time I attempt babka – any applications for taste testers? 😉
Matcha Mocha Babka
adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem, as featured on Smitten Kitchen
makes 2 loaves, around 16 slices each (32 slices total)
dairy free options available
- 4 1/2 cups (530 g) all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons instant yeast
- 1 1/2 tablespoons matcha powder (culinary grade)
- 3 large eggs, or 9 tbsp chickpea flour + 9 tablespoons water (this vegan substitution has not been tested by me yet – will update once has been tested)
- 1/2 cup water + more if needed
- 3/4 teaspoon fine sea or table salt
- 2/3 cup (150 grams) unsalted butter, softened, or vegan butter (reduce salt if using vegan butter)
- 4 1/2 ounces (3/4 cups if using chips) dark chocolate
- 1/2 cup (120 grams) unsalted butter, or vegan butter
- Scant 1/2 cup (50 grams) powdered sugar
- 1/3 cup (30 grams) cocoa powder
- 4 tablespoons instant espresso powder
- 1/3 cup honey
- Combine flour, sugar, yeast, and matcha in the bowl of a stand mixer or a large bowl. Tip – if not in a hurry, chilling the bowl in the freezer/fridge for a bit first will help with the following steps to keep the butter cold while mixing. Add water and eggs and mix on low speed or by hand (a dough whisk like this is a great cheap hand tool for mixing dough, especially wet doughs) until dough comes together into a rough mass (add more water a tablespoon at a time if dough does not come together at all, but it’s fine to be a little dry.
- Add salt, then butter gradually one pat at a time while continuing to mix. Dough will look very sticky. Once all the butter is incorporated, turn the mixer on to medium speed and let it run for about 10 minutes, scraping down whenever needed, until you see the dough pulling away from the sides of the bowl and the dough looks smooth, soft, and elastic. If mixing by hand, you will be getting quite a workout, but I know that it is completely feasible to make rich eggy buttery doughs by hand – especially with the help of a dough whisk. If I can do it you can do it! Bonus, you’ll get to show off your arm muscles while presenting the babka later!
- A few options at this point. If you want to bake one now and one later, lightly oil two bowls; if planning to bake them both at the same time, just oil one. Divide the dough in half (or not) and place in bowl(s), covering with plastic wrap or a wet dishtowel/paper towel. If wanting to bake the same day, let rise at room temperature for about 3 hours. If you want to bake later, or it’s very warm where you’re at, let rise in the fridge for at least half a day or up to several days. Note – the word “rise” is a bit misleading, as this dough will not rise much at all. Don’t worry, it’ll all turn out beautifully in the end.
- While waiting for dough to rest and rise, make the filling. Melt together the butter and chocolate, then stir in the cocoa, powdered sugar, and espresso powder.
- Lightly oil or flour a clean working surface. If you haven’t divided the dough in half yet, do so now and wrap up one half while working on the first. Gently press out any air and stretch/pat out into a rectangle shape. Lightly oil/flour a rolling pin and roll out the dough half into a rectangle about 8-9″ one side and about 15″ the other, about 1/4″ thick.
- Use a spoon/knife/spatula to spread half of the mocha filling evenly on the dough rectangle, leaving 1/2″ clean border all around.
- For a visual guide to the shaping process, see here. Moisten one of the 8-9″ borders with a little bit of water. Starting at the other end (8-9″border facing you), roll cigar style tightly. Place roll in the fridge to firm up for about 10 minutes.
- While waiting for roll to chill, prepare a loaf pan (or pans) by lightly greasing and cutting a parchment paper rectangle to fit the bottom.
- Take the roll out of the fridge. Wet a large sharp knife and slice the roll in half length-wise (like a hot dog bun). Braid the two halves together, veins facing outward. Trim off the ends for a nice neat loaf and transfer to the loaf pan. Repeat the shaping process with the other dough half (either now or later, whatever you prefer). Cover loaf pan(s) with plastic wrap or damp towel and let rise at room temperature for 1-1.5 hours (again, the dough will not rise super high so don’t worry).
- In the last minutes of proofing, preheat oven to 375 F. Bake the loaf for 25-30 minutes – to test for doneness, insert skewer into center of loaf; if it feels at all gummy, it’s still raw inside, but the skewer goes in easily with no resistance then the loaf is done. If you have an instant read thermometer, you can check if the temperature in the center has reached about 185-190 F. The trimmed ends (which I twisted into little wreaths) baked up faster, taking about 10-12 minutes to reach doneness.
- While baking, microwave the honey for 10 second bursts until the consistency of maple syrup. Immediately brush the liquidy honey on the baked loaf right after removing from the oven – use up all of it, it will soak in nicely. Let rest in loaf pan for about 10 minutes then remove to cool on cooling rack (not essential, just cool on the room temperature counter if you don’t own a cooling rack) the rest of the way.
- Slice and serve slightly warm or at room temperature. You can store in an airtight container at room temperature for several days (do NOT store in the fridge as it dries out bread), but if making ahead more than three days then you can freeze the baked loaf by wrapping tightly in aluminum foil, placing in a ziploc bag for further protection from freezer burn, then freezing. Unwrap and place on the counter an hour or more to defrost before serving.
Nutrition description: just enjoy it and savor each rich bite of buttery chocolatey goodness. Babka is truly the definition of indulgent, though Ottolenghi’s recipe actually uses fewer eggs and less butter than others I’ve seen. At least this particular one also happens to be caffeine happy so it might give you a nice boost of energy!
Nutrition information (calculated without vegan substitutions, based on 16 slices per loaf about 1/2″ wide): Calories 171, Total Fat 9.2g, Saturated Fat 5.8g, Cholesterol 34.8mg, Carbs 22.3g, Fiber 0.9g, Sugars 9.6g, Protein 2.3g, Sodium 61.2mg