This Decadent Chocolate Babka Is a Nutella-Lover’s Dream
Uri Scheft’s Lehamim Bakery in Tel Aviv and Breads Bakery in New York should be on everyone’s list of must-eats in those cities. I first visited Lehamim in 2015 while writing about the best bakeries in Israel for Hadassah Magazine. (It’s a tough job, I know.) It was the first time I tasted baked goods that combined chocolate and tahini, and I instantly fell in love.
The baked goods at the New York location, Breads Bakery, is equally delicious — my favorites being the granola cookies and chocolate rugelach. But if there’s one thing Breads Bakery is known for, it’s the chocolate babka, which was voted best babka in New York City by New York Magazine and Serious Eats. In fact, you can even order it online through Goldbelly.
I am grateful that Uri brought the fabulous world of Israeli baking to America through his bakery, as well as his 2016 book Breaking Breads, which includes a recipe for chocolate babka. The recipe in the book is sweeter than the bakery version, but it’s the one I recommend trying at home. Here’s what happened when I gave it a go myself.
Get the recipe: Uri Scheft’s Famous Chocolate Babka
How to Make Uri Scheft’s Chocolate Babka
Kudos to Uri for writing a clear, detailed recipe that makes you feel like he’s standing in the kitchen right next to you, ensuring your success.
I began by making the dough. I whisked together vanilla and milk in the bowl of a stand mixer, then mixed in the yeast (I used dry). I then mixed in the flours, eggs, sugar, salt, and butter. The recipe calls for a combination of all-purpose and cake flours, and I had to sift both separately. I can’t recall the last time I sifted anything, and while it’s possible this extra step makes the dough more cakey, it’s more likely that texture is due to the cake flour.
Uri says to add the butter in small pinches, which was a strange way to add soft butter, so I got out a small espresso spoon and dropped small clumps into the mixing bowl. I did appreciate how he explained what to do if your dough is too wet or too dry. Having the troubleshooting advice right in the recipe ensures the dough comes out as it should.
This recipe is unique in that it includes an extra step to stretch and fold the dough, which he instructs you to do for about five minutes. The only time I pull and stretch dough is when I make sourdough; this was my first time doing this with a yeast cake. I found it hard to stretch at first, but I stuck with it, and the dough got marginally stretchier over time.
Next, it was time for the rise. This recipe has the longest rising time of all the babka contenders. The dough rises for 30 minutes at room temperature, then overnight in the fridge. When I removed the dough from the fridge the next day, it had risen just a bit. Because it was cold and dense, it was difficult to roll out. His instructions are for two loaves that you roll out at the same time. I was only making one, so I rolled the dough into a 9×12-inch rectangle rather than 9×24.
In the recipe, Uri notes to “embrace the mess,” and he’s not kidding. Instead of a from-scratch filling, Uri calls for Nutella and a sprinkling of chocolate chips. My hands were so covered in Nutella that I had to stop midway to wash them before continuing to shape the loaf. To fit the babka into the pan, I pressed the ends together towards the middle.
I let the braided loaf rise at room temperature for two hours, but it didn’t rise much, so I followed Uri’s suggestion of placing the loaf pan in a cold oven with a bowl of hot water on the rack underneath the pan. I did that for another hour-and-a-half, and the babka rose to the edge of the pan but never one to two inches higher than the pan, as the recipe called for. After 3 1/2 hours, I decided it had risen as much as it was going to and I baked it. Although Uri instructs you to bake the babka until it’s dark, I tented the pan with foil after 35 minutes because the top was getting too brown, in my opinion. While still warm from the oven, I brushed it all over with simple syrup, then sliced and served.
My Honest Review of Uri Scheft’s Babka
I have often spoken about the need to make food that evokes memories, and Uri has written that he puts Nutella in his babka to remind him of his childhood. This babka will certainly bring you back to your youth, as the combination of chocolate chips and Nutella make it taste like a candy bar! Although the pop of chocolate taste from the chips is nice, and stays gooey the next day, the Nutella flavor fully takes over. My husband called the babka “a delivery device for Nutella.” If you love Nutella, this is the babka for you. But for me, the Nutella gives the babka an artificial aftertaste.
The texture of Uri’s dough is dense, which I enjoyed, but the overall look of the loaf was too messy for me. It’s somewhat forgiven, as the “mess” is an oozy, chocolatey filling, but I would have preferred a homemade chocolate filling, and maybe just a tad less of it.
Finally, making this babka was a two-day affair, but I’m not sure all of the extra time and effort added up to a better babka. It’s not hard to make, because Uri walks you through every step in the recipe — it’s just time-consuming.
If You’re Making Uri Scheft’s Babka, a Few Tips
- Pull the dough as you roll. Uri explains how to roll the loaf up tightly by pushing and pulling the cylinder as you go. I’ll absolutely use this tip again in the future.
- Bake for five minutes less. Even though Uri says to bake until the loaf is dark brown, I would recommend baking it for five minutes less, so the top is not quite so dark and hard.
Have you made Uri Scheft’s babka recipe? Let us know in the comments!