This New York Bakery-Style Chocolate Babka Reminds Me of My Childhood

published Sep 5, 2021
Recipe Review
Chocolate Babka

This chocolate babka gets a sweet crumb topping scattered on top.

MakesMakes 3 (8x5-inch) loaves

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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Ben Weiner; Headshot: Courtesy of Naomi Elberg

Naomi Elberg’s instagram feed always makes me hungry. Every few posts feature babka in different shapes and flavors, and I fully respect anyone who puts booze in a babka filling. I chose to include Naomi’s babka in our recipe showdown because it was high time I experienced what her followers are so excited about. Plus, it calls for two fillings — a wet and a dry — which is a babka technique I’d never tried before.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Ben Weiner; Headshot: Courtesy of Naomi Elberg

How to Make Naomi Elberg’s Chocolate Babka

I began by combining milk with sugar and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer. (I used whole milk; the recipe gives options for warm water and non-dairy milk, too). After the mixture bubbled, I added more sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Naomi calls for either vanilla bean paste or vanilla sugar; I used the latter. Then, I added butter, flour, and sea salt. The recipe didn’t indicate how to add the butter, so I added it in one-tablespoon pieces. As the dough mixed, I added a bit of extra flour until it came together and pulled away from the sides of the bowl. Interestingly although this recipe calls for bread flour rather than all-purpose, the baked babka did not taste bread-like.

When the dough was done, it was spongy and soft. I divided it into three 1-pound portions. I placed one in a bowl and popped it in the fridge overnight for the cold rise, and took Naomi’s advice and froze the two other in gallon-size freezer bags. (I have never frozen babka dough before.)

Naomi’s recipe has two fillings: one wet and one dry. For the wet, I combined all the ingredients and melted them in the microwave at full power for 2 minutes. I then mixed together the dry. I didn’t understand why the recipe called for “2 to 3” tablespoons pudding powder without explaining why you would use more or less (I used a little more than two). When I was done, it seemed like a lot of both wet and dry fillings, even for three loaves.

To create the crumb topping (yet another component of this busy project), Naomi gives the option of using butter or oil. I used butter, but again didn’t understand why there was a range provided. I used 2 tablespoons per loaf, but maybe more would have been better. Naomi says the consistency should be like wet sand; mine was somewhat like that but also powdery. Crumb toppings are usually clumpier than wet sand.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

The chilled dough was hard to roll at first, but it softened quickly, which made things easier. I didn’t need to sprinkle much flour on it — I just lifted it up a few times and added a light dusting underneath. After spreading on a thick layer of the wet filling and a sprinkling of the dry, I followed Naomi’s basic babka shaping rather than the advanced option. When I cut the log in half, the dry filling prevented the layers from sticking to each other, so the inside opened up and some of the powder spilled out. I did my best to twist the two pieces together and then sprinkled the crumb topping over the loaf, but it didn’t stick well.

The recipe says to bake the loaf until the top doesn’t sink when touched, but warm babka will always be a little soft when pressed, so I overbaked it a bit. I let the babka cool for about 15 minutes before unmolding — the dough slid easily out of the pan and sliced nicely. A few days after I made the first loaf, I thawed a piece of frozen dough at room temperature until it was soft. I was impressed by how easily it rolled out. This time, I added a little less of each of the fillings and baked the loaf for 38 minutes. The result was tastier than the first babka. 

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

My Honest Review of Naomi Elberg’s Babka

This is a truly beautiful-looking loaf — tall, with the contrasting color and texture of the crumb topping. When sliced, the inside is very swirly, like the babkas I remember from the local bakeries I grew up with in Long Island. The double filling definitely gives the babka a strong chocolate flavor but without too much goo and mess. I especially liked the even distribution of dough and filling so you experience both together, rather than a bite that is largely dough and another that is mostly filling.

The taste further recalled bakery babkas, with a slightly processed aftertaste, which I attribute to the chocolate pudding powder. I’ve never used pudding powder in a recipe before, as I prefer more natural ingredients, and I wonder if just the addition of cornstarch to Naomi’s list of dry ingredients would have accomplished the same thing.

The recipe was a lot of work, uses a multitude of ingredients, and consequently, many measuring utensils and bowls. By the time I was ready to roll out the dough, my counter was a complete mess from making the fillings. I cleaned it up to have space to shape the babka, but I quickly had another mess on my hands.

If you’re looking for a really pretty loaf with an intense flavor, you will like this babka. But if you’re looking for something fairly quick and easy, this isn’t the recipe for you.

Credit: Paula Shoyer
Chocolate Babka

If You’re Making Naomi’s Babka, a Few Tips

  1. Proof the yeast in a liquid measuring cup. This recipe directed me to proof the yeast in the mixing bowl, which I did, but I prefer to do it in a liquid measuring cup. I find the mixture bubbles faster and thicker in a smaller environment, and while it proofs, I can place the other ingredients into the mixing bowl to save time.
  2. Use an offset spatula to spread the wet filling: I typically use the silicone spatula I use to make the filling so as not to wash another tool. But an offset spatula spread the filling so nicely that this will be my preferred method in the future.
  3. Press the babka like an accordion. I like Naomi’s tip to press the ends of the loaf together like an accordion so that the babka fits in the pan (although I had to call her for this tip; it’s not in the recipe). That technique creates a prettier loaf than tucking the ends underneath.
  4. Place the loaf pan on a sheet pan to catch any drippings. I’ve definitely cleaned up chocolate babka filling from my oven, so this is a great piece of advice from Naomi.
  5. Bake it for less time. If I make this recipe again, I’ll bake the loaves for 40 minutes maximum, as the dough layers could have been more moist.

Rating: 8/10

Chocolate Babka

This chocolate babka gets a sweet crumb topping scattered on top.

Makes Makes 3 (8x5-inch) loaves

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

For the dough:

  • 1 1/2 sticks

    (6 ounces) unsalted butter or margarine (see Recipe Notes)

  • 2

    large eggs

  • 1

    large egg yolk (optional, for extra richness)

  • 1/2 cup

    granulated white sugar, divided

  • 1 1/4 cups

    warm water, non-dairy milk, or dairy milk

  • 2 (1/4-ounce) packets

    active dry yeast (4 1/2 teaspoons)

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    vanilla bean paste, or 1 tablespoon vanilla sugar

  • 4 1/2 to 5 cups

    bread flour

  • 1 teaspoon

    kosher salt

For the wet filling:

  • 2 1/4 cups

    chocolate chips

  • 3/4 cup

    granulated sugar

  • 1/2 cup

    Rich’s whip non dairy whipping cream or heavy cream

  • 1/4 cup

    plus 2 tablespoons Dutch-processed unsweetened cocoa powder

  • 4 tablespoons

    unsalted butter or margarine

  • 1 tablespoon

    canola oil

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    kosher salt

For the dry filling:

  • 1 1/2 cups

    powdered sugar

  • 1/2 cup

    Dutch-processed unsweetened cocoa powder

  • 2 tablespoons

    instant chocolate pudding powder (not cook and serve)

  • 1 tablespoon

    vanilla sugar

For the crumb topping:

  • 1 cup

    granulated sugar

  • 1 cup

    all-purpose flour

  • 1 tablespoon

    vanilla sugar

  • 8 tablespoons

    (1 stick) cold, cubed, unsalted butter or margarine, or 6 tablespoons canola oil

Instructions

Make the dough:

  1. Place 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter or margarine, 2 large eggs, and 1 large egg yolk (if using) on the counter. Let sit at room temperature until the butter is softened.

  2. Measure out 1/2 cup granulated sugar. Place 1 1/4 cups warm water or milk in a stand mixer (or large bowl if mixing by hand) and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of the granulated sugar and 2 packets active dry yeast. Mix gently and let sit until the yeast bubbles.

  3. Add the remaining granulated sugar, eggs and egg yolk, and 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste (or 1 tablespoon vanilla sugar) and beat on medium speed with the dough hook until lightened in color. Add the butter, 4 1/2 cups of the bread flour, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Beat on low speed, gradually increasing to medium speed, until a smooth, slightly sticky dough forms that doesn’t stick to the sides of the bowl. Beat in more flour a tablespoon at a time if the dough is sticking to the sides of the bowl.

  4. Cover the dough and refrigerate at least 3 to 4 hours or up to 24 hours.

Make the wet filling:

  1. Place 2 1/4 cups chocolate chips, 3/4 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 cup heavy cream, 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons Dutch-processed cocoa powder, 4 tablespoons unsalted butter or margarine, 1 tablespoon canola oil, and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt in a small saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring often, until the chocolate and butter are melted and the mixture is smooth. (Alternatively, place the ingredients in a medium microwave-safe bowl and microwave at 100% power in 1-minute increments, stirring between each, until smooth.) Let cool to room temperature.

Make the dry filling:

  1. Place 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, 1/2 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder, 2 tablespoons instant chocolate pudding, and 1 tablespoon vanilla sugar in a medium bowl and whisk to combine.

Make the crumb topping:

  1. Place 1 cup granulated sugar, 1 cup all-purpose flour, and 1 tablespoon vanilla sugar in a medium bowl and whisk to combine.

  2. Cut 1 stick cold unsalted butter or margarine into 1/2-inch cubes and sprinkle over the flour mixture. (Or drizzle 6 tablespoons canola oil over the sugar mixture.) Use your hands to squeeze and combine the mixture until it has the consistency of wet sand. Refrigerate until ready to use.

  3. (At this point, if you do not plan to bake off all 3 loaves at the same time, divide each filling and topping into 3 portions. Refrigerate or freeze the wet filling and crumble topping portions you are not using; the dry filling can be stored at room temperature. Rewarm the wet filling in the microwave until melted, stir until smooth, and let cool to room temperature before using.)

Assemble the babka(s):

  1. Cut the dough into 3 pieces (each piece makes 1 loaf). (At this point, if you do not plan to bake off all 3 loaves at the same time, form each remaining piece into a disk, place it in a quart-sized resealable bag, and freeze for up to 2 months. Thaw at room temperature until pliable before proceeding with the recipe.)

  2. For each babka you plan to assemble and bake, line an 8x5-inch loaf pan with parchment paper so that it hangs a few inches off of each long side.

  3. Form 1 babka at a time: Roll 1 portion of dough out into a rectangle that’s 1/8-inch thick. Spread 1/3 of the wet filling onto the dough with an offset spatula, going all the way to the edges. Sprinkle with 1/3 of the dry filling.

  4. Starting on a long side, roll the dough up into a tight log. Position it seam-side down. Using a bench scraper or knife, cut it in half lengthwise. Starting at one end and working your way down to the other end, twist the two halves together.

  5. Cut the twisted log in half crosswise. Place the two pieces side-by-side, then twist the two pieces together from top to bottom. Place in the loaf pan by arranging it along one long side, then up the middle, and then back along the other long side. Sprinkle with 1/3 of the crumb topping.

  6. Cover loosely with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and let rise for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 350ºF.

  7. Place the babka(s) on a baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes. Place on a wire rack and let cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Remove the babka(s) from the pan to the wire rack and let cool completely.

Recipe Notes

Recipe adapted with permission from Naomi Elberg.