Have you ever been in the mental space where you wonder why you exist? Where you wonder why the hell you even try, and are you even trying the right thing? Do you ever wonder where your life is going, if it has meaning, if you're touching other people, if you're even reaching other people? So you too, huh? Well I have the solution for you, me, and the rest of the world:
Bake Chocolate Babka.
This chocolate version of babka is my personal favorite and holds a place in traditional Jewish households. If you're not familiar with babka, this guy is a sweet yeast bread with a chocolate and cinnamon sugar filling. The marble-y cut is from folding and twisting the bread before adding streusal and baking. Babka originated from the Polish kitchens and the word meant "grandmother"... Which is perfect for comfortable yet traditional, delicate yet sturdy, and crunchy yet spongy, chocolate and spice perfection. I'm not exaggerating, this bread is what dreams are made of.
This recipe is adapted from Ms. Stewart and will make one giant loaf or two small baby breads!
The Yummy Bread Part:
¾ c warm milk (at 110 degrees exactly)
1 package of active dry yeast (1/4 oz)
¾ c sugar
3 c flour
½ t salt
¾ c (1 ½ sticks) of softened/room temp butter
1 lb of chocolate (finely chopped)
1 T cinnamon
1 T heavy cream
Pour the warm milk in a bowl and sprinkle a pinch of sugar and the yeast on top. Let it sit for 5 until it gets a little foamy. While that's sitting, whisk together 2 eggs and half of the sugar (the rest of the sugar is for the filling). Combine the yeasty milk and egg stuff and whisk.
In a mixer, use the paddle to combine the flour and salt. Pour in the egg yeast milk and mix it just until it's combined. Change it to the dough hook and add the butter and "knead" mix it for 10 minutes until its smooth and silky. When you throw the butter in, you can do it a little at a time or all at once. It will take a while for the butter to combine and will look seperated for a while, but have faith. It will happen. Walk away from the mixer if you're a micro-manager or control freak and come back after 10 minutes:) It will be perfect then, promise!
Knead your dough for a few minutes by hand on a floured surface and then put it in a greased bowl covered tightly with plastic wrap and let it rise until it's twice as big. I am SO impatient so this is the hardest part for me. I left it for about 40 minutes on a rack above a bowl of boiling water and it worked well. Fanagle this if you can... the water helps.
The filling: Mix the chocolate, remaining sugar, cinnamon, and butter by hand. Good job.
K, back to the bread. Take your giant bread out of the bowl and punch (literally) it down to get rid of the air pockets. Just a couple, ladies. Don't take out ALL of your aggression on the poor dough :) Roll it into a square so it is 1/8 inch thick... that pretty much means as thin as you can without tearing it. Mix the last egg with the 1 T of heavy cream... you can use milk if you want, or even water. You're just making an egg wash, so whisk it hardcore like. Using a brush (or your fingers) cover the outside edges (bout an inch) with the eggy stuff and then take the filling (leave a 1/2 cup out) and spread it out to almost the edges. You can pat the chocolate down if you want... it's a little easier to roll that way. Fold the first inch in before you roll... by creating this lip you are making the rolling process easier. Roll it like a jelly roll/cinnamon roll. Take the long tube (stretch and shape it so its mostly even) and THIS IS THE FUN PART: twist the whole thing four times. As in, hold one end down and flip the rest four times. THEN brush eggy stuff on half of it and pat down that reserved 1/2 cup of filling on top (see below) and then fold it in two (also below). FUN PART AGAIN: Twist it two or three more times. Basically, you just want it to look like the fourth picture.
Use some parchment paper and put it in a loaf pan. Spray the shit out of it and place your loaf in it. Make this streusel topping recipe:
¾ c powdered sugar
2/3 c flour
6 T softened butter
Use your fingertips to combine the ingredients into an inconsistent crumble... Use the rest of the egg wash on the top of the bread loaf and then sprinkle the streusel on top. Lightly wrap the loaf pan(s) and let them proof one more time... maybe another half hour until its 1 1/2 times the size you started with. I would recommend the bowl of hot water again.
Bake at 350 for 55 minutes and rotate once in the middle. Turn the oven down to 300 degrees and bake for another 20 minutes. I always add an extra 10-15 minutes because I reeeeeeeally don't want the middle to be doughy. These babies will be nice and toasty brown on top. Let them sit until they have come to room temperature... if you are impatient like me you will try and cut them sooner and be distraught when the delicate inside collapses thanks to your knife. While we're on the subject of knives, make sure you use a serrated one and that when you cut the bread you gently "saw" it.
There is something about the manual labor that this recipe takes that just... completes me.
I can't put it into words... its the whole: using my hands to knead and dusting the flour off my hands and using my arms to wipe my forehead and standing back and admiring the gorgeous swirls that have appeared in my dough...
It's like Babka has given me a reason to live.
And it's a beautiful reason, at that.