Thursday, February 6, 2014

Because I Can't Wait for Two Rises: Shortcut Chocolate Babka

When I was a child, I grew up occasionally going to Noah's Bagels at the Capitola Mall. I like a bagel okay, and that was in the pre-meat days so I'd generally order one with hummus and a stack of fresh vegetables and pat myself on the back for being "healthy". While that meal sounds simple and fabulous right now because of the sheer nostalgia the memory of it conjures - it was fairly forgettable, and the primary reason I ordered it repeatedly was because, raised in a finish-your-dinner-before-you-can-have-dessert home, upon completing my veggie bagelwich, I'd feel as though I'd earned what I really went to Noah's Bagels for: chocolate babka. I have no idea if they still offer those individually-wrapped slices of crazy delicious ooey gooey cinnamon-chocolate nirvana, but I can still taste them as if I had one yesterday. Chocolate babka = unforgettable. Lover of superlatives that I am, I think I'm going to go ahead and get bold here. Because, it's true: Noah's Bagels' chocolate babka is (was?) one of the best foods ever. In my top 5 for sure.

Marbled Perfection

So, remember in my last post when I raved about Jerusalem? Well, if you haven't yet, you should go make that chicken with cardamom rice right now. But I'm not bringing up Jerusalem just to remind you to make chicken. I'm bringing it up because it's got a recipe for a Jewish form of chocolate babka called Chocolate Krantz Cake, that looks in the pictures an awful lot like Noah's Bagels' chocolate babka. It also looks in the pictures like I want to stuff my face with both loaves stat. (You could do a photo search of "Jerusalem Krantz Cake" real quick to get us on the same page, if you'd like.) Krantz cake (and babka, generally) is basically a rich yeasted white flour dough, filled with a chocolate-sugar paste and some nuts, and rolled. All kinds of shaping gymnastics can ensue, depending on what you're game for. This is a case of hard work paying off. The more deliberation you put into it, the more impressive the cakes tend to turn out.

The one word in the above paragraph you should have noticed (I italicized it for you) was "stat". I want to eat babka whenever I think about babka. But babka takes some time, what with two rises, one of them an overnighter. Also, I generally leave the yeast in this household to my husband. While I'm no longer afraid of it, I just feel like it should be his thing. He's super skilled at it, he missed it during the gluten-free years, and he really does want to make a yeasted babka one of these days. (Although he is leaning towards Peter Reinhart's recipe rather than Ottolenghi's because, well, why fix something that isn't broken, eh? Peter Reinhart's never let him down.)

Enter: my yeast-free dough for everything. You've seen it before on this blog, in some classes, at my brunches. It's the dough I use to make cinnamon rolls, poppyseed-prune pull-aparts, and - omitting sugar, opting for olive oil, considerably reducing amount of baking powder - adorable pizzette. It's made in the food processor, benefits from a rest/chilling time but doesn't require it, and is absolutely delicious and decadent, even sans eggs. It's like a super elastic scone or biscuit dough. Cottage cheese makes it creamy, yogurt gives it a tang. It's a revelation, really, over and over again. Once I accepted that I couldn't afford two rises, I knew this dough would have to do. And it did. So. Flipping. Good. This babka is insanely addictive. Imagine a buttermilk pancake meets glazed donut meets chocolate fudge. It's something like that but better than all three. It is almost - almost - as good as the Noah's Bagels version. It is also almost gone. 

You should give it a whirl. (Get it? Like in your food processor? Ha!)

Filled!Shaping instrcutionsShaped!Simple syrup glazeBaked!

P.S. Here's what "Best Quality" cocoa powder looks like. MC got it for me for Christmas.

"High Quality Chocolate"

Shortcut Chocolate Babka
Yield: 1 standard loaf (perhaps 8 servings)
Filling and folding technique from Jerusalem

For dough
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus 1/2 cup more for kneading/dusting/rolling
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup cottage cheese
1/3 cup plain or vanilla yogurt
1/4 cup olive oil or unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For filling
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons / 2 oz) unsalted butter, melted
2.5 ounces good dark chocolate (I used 80%), melted
2 heaping tablespoons best quality chocolate powder (Askinosie!)
2 heaping tablespoons powdered sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

For glaze
1/3 cup water
1/2 cup sugar

In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda, making sure everything gets mixed thoroughly. In the bowl of your food processor, fitted with the S-blade, place cottage cheese, yogurt, olive oil or melted butter, sugar, and vanilla. Process until the mixture has the consistency of a cream cheese glaze (no cottage cheese curds left). (If you don't have a food processor, you could also do this part in a blender. Once you've blended wet ingredients so that they are thoroughly mixed, pour them into bowl with dry ingredients and stir with a spatula or spoon until a tacky dough forms.) Add dry ingredients to food processor and pulse until a tacky dough forms. Spread a large sheet of Saran wrap on a flat surface and carefully remove all the dough from the food processor and center it onto plastic wrap. Shape it into a 8 X 5" rectangle, wrap it tightly, and refrigerate the dough for at least 30 minutes, up to a couple days. A very cold dough will be easier to work with.

Once you are ready to make your cake, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a loaf pan. Melt chocolate and butter and stir together all your filling ingredients in a bowl or measuring cup until there are no lumps. 

Generously flour a work surface. Have a rolling pin ready to go, as well as a bench scraper or metal spatula to help work the dough if it sticks to your work space (it is v. tacky). Unwrap the dough, discard the plastic wrap, and place dough on your floured work surface. Knead it a bit to get rid of any air pockets that have formed and flatten it into a slightly larger rectangle. Dust top of dough with flour, dust rolling pin with flour, and roll dough into 12 X 15" rectangle, ideally about 1/4" thick. Pour chocolate filling into center of rolled dough and spread it so that it evenly coats the dough, leaving an inch on the far end of your rectangle. Roll the dough tightly, starting with side closest to you and rolling towards the far side, using a spatula or bench scraper to help get any sticky bits off counter. Pinch the ends when you're done. Massage it a bit so it's uniformly thick. Use a sharp knife to slice it down the center lengthwise, so you end up with two long cords. Press the two cords together at one end, then gently twist them, about 3-4 times. Press the cords together at the other end. Carefully lift the twist and place it into loaf pan. Bake for 30-35 minutes, rotating pan 180 degrees after 15 minutes so that it bakes evenly. It will be light brown when it's done and a knife inserted in the center should come out with no crumbs (although it will probably have some ooey gooey chocolate filling on it).

While loaf is baking, place sugar and water into a small saucepan and bring to boil. Stir occasionally until sugar has dissolved and the glaze is clear, about 3-4 minutes. When the loaf is done, remove it from oven and drizzle half the glaze over the cake. Use a pastry brush to spread the glaze into bumps and crevices. Repeat with remaining half of glaze. Allow to cool in pan until just warm, then run a knife along the sides of the pan to loosen the loaf before removing it. Allow it to cool completely before slicing and serving.


  1. Amazing! I just tried this recipe with great success! I love this quick dough!! Maybe a be new favorite. Thanks for sharing and giving us your spin on it. I even cut off the ends of the roll and baked a little sample to try all to myself. I did add streusel but I don't think it was necessary.

    1. I'm so glad you liked it! Dough recipe is incredibly versatile so I hope it becomes a new standard for you!