Who doesn’t love enriched breads??? I know I do! I live for them sometimes, and most mornings I would rather have a lovely pastry or some kind of “fancy” bread than a plate of eggs, bacon and toast or other “typical” breakfast foods.
One of my fondest memories with my grandma is centered around bread.
It was the first time I had ever experienced grocery shopping from home. She sat on a square cushion on the bamboo mat floor of her living room and carefully checked each item that she wanted from a large, map-like, folded paper with practically everything you could want. A young man came to the door a little while later to collect her order and a few hours later, he returned, carefully balancing a couple of brown paper bags in his arms with all the items she wanted.
She sat on the floor just inside the garden door, that slid open, and made room next to the bags that he placed on the floor so she could carefully inspect each item as he lifted it from the bag, awaiting her approval. This was something they had done many times before.
She accepted each item with a nod, as he bowed his head and extended the item in the palms of his hands. A single melon was returned that just didn’t seem quite right. They said their goodbyes and my grandmother stood and slid the garden door shut. I scurried over to help her carry the groceries to the kitchen and put them away. Among the loot? A perfect, tall and bubbly loaf of something delicious. Something that I would remember for decades and measure other breads against.
It was a loaf of chocolate coffee bread. From the outside it looked like a regular sandwich bread loaf. But each slice revealed a dose of hypnotizing chocolate coffee smell that sat in a delicate but perfect swirl within the confines of the loaf. It was simply magical.
Once my siblings arrived in the kitchen the next morning, we were all given a slice of this magical bread. Chocolate for breakfast? Who were we kidding? This was AWESOME!!
For the remainder of our visit, we begged and pleaded to have as much of this special bread as our grandmother and mother would allow.
So I was very excited when I decided to make this chocolate babka. We were visiting all of our family on the farm – all the cousins were there and what would be a tastier treat for a bunch of under fives than chocolate bread for breakfast?
The two things that I struggled with were the pans and how thin I rolled the dough. I might have gone too thin with it because the center of the loaf was quite dense and a quarter size bit in the center was undercooked – which corrected itself upon toasting, but you can tell that no amount of time was going to correct that because the bottom of the loaf became quite dark as we baked the loaf longer and longer. Poking a couple of holes through the loaf to allow air to escape would help the loaf to bake through more evenly as well.
The pans? Well… they are older pans that had craters on the bottom and I’m certain they don’t bake evenly any longer, so this had an interesting effect on the loaf. There were certainly parts of the loaf that baked out faster and more effectively than other parts that seemingly went unbaked for the longest time. I might have to plan to bring my own pans the next time to correct this. This is easily a recipe that I will make again, but I will wait for company to come over first. It is a very rich loaf for just a couple of us to eat. It’s so rich in fact that Mei and Emily each only manage to eat about a half of a slice each at capacity. But I have quite a few ideas for different toppings and spices for the inside that have me excited to make this again soon!
INGREDIENTS for the bread: from Peter Reinhart’s “Artisan Breads Every Day”
- 2 TBS (19g) instant yeast
- 3/4 C (170g) lukewarm milk, any kind
- 6 TBS (85g) unsalted butter, melted at room temperature
- 6 TBS (85g) sugar
- 2 TBS (28g) vegetable oil
- 1 tsp (7g) vanilla extract
- 4 egg yolks (85g)
- 3-1/3 C (425g) unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp (7g) salt or 1-1/2 tsp coarse kosher salt
- 1 egg, for egg wash (if using streusel topping)
- 1 TBS water, for egg wash (if using streusel topping)
Whisk the yeast into the lukewarm milk until dissolved, then set it aside for about 5 minutes before mixing it into the dough.
Cream the butter and sugar together until smooth. If using a mixer, use the paddle attachment and mix on medium speed for 1-2 minutes. If mixing by hand, use a large wooden spoon and beat vigorously for about 2 minutes. Add the oil and vanilla to the egg yolks and whisk lightly to break up the yolks, then add the yolks to the sugar mixture in four portions, mixing until each is incorporated before adding the next. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high or continue mixing by hand for another 2 minutes, until the mixture is fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl a couple of times during the process.
Stop mixing and add the flour and salt, then pour in the milk mixture. Resume mixing at low-speed, or continue to stir by hand, for 2-3 minutes, to make a soft, supple, tacky dough. If using a mixer and the mixer begins to struggle, switch to the dough hook; if mixing by hand, use a very sturdy spoon or your hands.
Transfer the dough to a floured work surface and knead by hand for 2 minutes more, adding more flour as needed to make the dough pliable. The dough should be a beautiful golden color and feel soft and supple. Form the dough into a ball.
Place the dough in a clean, lightly oiled bowl, cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and leave it at room temperature for about 2-1/2 hours. It will rise somewhat but it wont double in size. If it rises in significantly less time, you can move to the shaping step or place it in the fridge overnight to be rolled out the next day.
INGREDIENTS for the filling:
- 1-1/2 C (255g) frozen semisweet dark chocolate chips or chunks
- 1 tsp (7g) ground cinnamon
- 1/4 C (56.5g) cold unsalted butter
Prepare the filling while the dough is rising. Grind the chocolate in a food processor until it’s nearly powdered; if you don’t have a food processor, chop the chocolate as fine as possible with a knife or metal pastry scraper. Add the cinnamon and pulse a time or two to incorporate. Cut the butter into 8-10 pieces, add it to the food processor, and pulse until the butter is evenly dispersed into the chocolate mixture; or cut the butter into the chocolate mixture with a metal pastry scraper to make a streusel-like chocolate crumble.
Once the dough has risen, roll it into a 15 by 15-inch square on a lightly floured surface. It should be between 1/4-1/8 inch thick. As you roll, frequently lift the dough with a metal pastry scraper or bowl scraper and dust with more flour underneath to prevent sticking. Sprinkle the chocolate mixture over the dough, breaking up any clumps, so the filling covers most of the surface of the dough evenly, leaving a 1/4 inch border.
Roll up the dough like a jelly roll and place it seam side down on the work surface. With firm but gentle pressure, rock the log back and forth to extend its length until its 18-24 inches long.
For a loaf shape, grease a 5 by 9-inch loaf pan. Carefully twist the log from both ends without tearing it, just enough to accentuate the chocolate spiral. Coil the log into a circular snail shape, then stand the coil on its end so its perpendicular to the counter rather than laying flat. Press down on the coil to compress it into a loaf shape. Place it in the greased loaf pan or on a parchment-lined sheet pan with the smoothest, doomed side up.
Cover the loaf pan loosely with plastic wrap and let the dough rise at room temperature for 2-3 hours, until the babka fills the pan or has increased to about 1-1/2 times its original size. At this point, you can proceed directly to baking or refrigerate the babka overnight. If holing it overnight, remove the dough from the refrigerator about 2 hours before you plan to bake it.
Preheat the oven to 350F. Use a toothpick to poke a few holes in the top of the babka to eliminate possible air pockets between the layers of chocolate and dough.
INGREDIENTS: for the streusel topping
- 1/4 C (56.5g) cold unsalted butter
- 1/2 C (64g) all-purpose flour
- 1/2 C (113g) brown sugar
- pinch of salt
- 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
While the oven preheats, make the streusel if you’d like to use it. Combine all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse to combine, or cut the butter into small bits, then add the other ingredients and stir or mix with your hands. The texture should resemble cornmeal.
Bake 20-25 minutes, then rotate the pan and bake until the top is a rich dark brown, the sides are a rich golden brown, the loaf sounds hollow when thumped on the bottom, and the internal temperature is about 185F in the center. The babka will begin to brown quickly because of the sugar, but it wont burn. The total baking time is about 50-60 minutes for a loaf. The sides may feel soft because of the air pockets in the spirals. The babka will soften as it cools.
Cool for at least 90 minuets before serving. The babka is best served at room temperature after the chocolate has had time to rest.
We enjoyed this one toasted for breakfast with some bacon and eggs and snacked on it all day long. It was tasty!