Monday, November 24, 2014

Thanksgiving Way Out West...Chocolate Babka from Martha Stewart

            One day last summer, 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 this glorious over-the-top indulgence with obscene amounts of chocolate miraculously held together by Brioche-like bread.  And something more:  A great Babka not only contains masses of chocolate, it combines all that chocolate with, yes, Cinnamon!  And 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.  And as I started to think of Thanksgiving recipes, I thought back to that Babka. 
         Because it 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 anytime 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. 
Martha Stewart and her mother,
the late Martha Kostyra.
         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. So I had to wonder what the degree of difficulty Andrew would have with the Babka recipe.  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.  And let me tell you, it was and I cannot wait until Andrew makes Babka again.  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.
Recipe for Martha Stewart’s Mother’s Chocolate Babka with Streusel topping

What 2 1/2 lbs of chocolate looks like
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
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

Pour warm milk into a small bowl. Sprinkle yeast and pinch of sugar over milk; let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.

In a bowl, whisk together 3/4 cup sugar, 2 eggs, and egg yolks. Add egg mixture to yeast mixture, and whisk to combine.

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.
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.

While the dough is rising, make the streusel:

In a large bowl, combine sugar, flour, and butter. 

Using a fork, stir until fully combined with clumps ranging in size from crumbs to 1 inch. Drizzle this all over the top of the Babka.  

Next combine sugar, chocolate, remaining 1 1/2 sticks of butter and cinnamon in a large bowl. 

Using two knives or a pastry cutter, cut in the butter until well combined; set filling aside.

Generously butter three 9-by-5-by-2 3/4-inch loaf pans; line them with parchment paper. Beat remaining egg with 1 tablespoon cream; set egg wash aside. Punch back the dough, and transfer to a clean surface. Let rest 5 minutes. 

Cut into 3 equal pieces. Keep 2 pieces covered with plastic wrap while working with the remaining piece. 

On a generously floured surface, roll dough out into a 16-inch square; it should be 1/8 inch thick.

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. 

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. 

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. 

Twist roll 2 turns, and fit into prepared pan. Repeat with the remaining 2 pieces of dough and remaining filling.

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. 
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.


  1. I've never had this insanely delectable-looking concoction before and have decided I MUST make this recipe! Once again, you've presented a winner. Thank you.

    1. Dear Recipe Addict. This is insanely good and well worth the effort. Happy Thanksgiving to you! Monte