Salted chocolate & halva babka loaf| the babka diaries | recipe
I'm not going to say that I'm not obsessed with babka, because out of a sum total of three recipes on my fancy updated blog, one is a babka recipe. And here I am with another. What I am, however, is obsessed with getting things just right. I'm obsessed with the idea of babka. With the dream babka. And, after a trip up to North London, a little bit obsessed with the Monty's Deli babka.
Well, seeing as I can't exactly justify a trek all across London for baked goods (something I never really understood until I moved down here. How can you not visit someone in the same city for months? Madness! But nobody's going to drag me over to Islington unless I really really like them or it's some damn good food), a-researching I did go.
So before I go full-nerd into the intricacies of babka (which you are more than welcome to skip), here's the gist; it's GREAT. My last babka was like the first pancake in the pan - not brilliant and certainly not how you imagined it coming out, but you eat it anyway because you know it's still a pancake and it's still a mess of carbs and sugar. This babka is one of those picture-perfect fluffy Japanese pancakes that are about an inch thick and just so evenly browned with a perfectly square pat of butter on top.
The bread part is beautifully soft with a tender crumb and actually keeps pretty well for up to 2 or 3 days if you keep it in an airtight container. The salted chocolate part is VERY rich and chocolatey with a hit from the sea salt flakes (go Maldon or go home) and the crumbled halva adds a little nuttiness and even more richness and my god I just love sesame. This is my more traditional babka loaf, as I've got a slightly fancier pull-apart babka bun recipe with a roasted halva twist up my sleeve. That version has a couple of extra steps with both the filling and the twisting, so this is a good place to start. For that version, click here.
Notes on babka, for fellow obsessives
The old babka dough was essentially a butter enriched brioche dough, which was then formed into individual buns. This dough dried out really quickly - even by the next day I felt that it had become hardened and a bit tough, which was partly due to the dough itself and partly due to the increased surface area open to my harsh fan oven when making individual buns. This recipe uses a Japanese method called tangzhong, where a portion of dough is precooked and then cooled and added to the larger dough mix, to keep it softer and moister for days. This method is also used by Bravetart in her bagel recipe to similar results. The dough also has glutinous rice flour, to create a nice chew in the dough.
The chocolate filling is borrowed from Honey & Co, and uses both melted chocolate and cocoa powder for a rounded flavour. Be wary of putting too much filling in the dough, as much as you may be tempted, because not only does it make it a little bit gummy from all the moisture, but it becomes a little less portable and more like a dessert than something to have with a cup of coffee. You definitely can't justify it as a mid-morning snack. Take heed from my mistakes.
Makes 1 loaf, takes about 2 hours not including an overnight rise
For the dough (borrowed from Lady & Pups)
- 75g sticky rice flour
- 160g (2/3 cup) water
- 1 tsp (4 grams) instant dry yeast
- 245g bread flour
- 1 large egg white
- 2 tbsp granulated sugar
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
For the filling
- 100g (7 tbsps) unsalted butter, cubed
- 150g (3/4 cup) granulated sugar
- 80g bittersweet chocolate coarsely chopped
- 30g (4 tbsps ) unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- flaked sea salt, for finishing
- 150g halva, crumbled
- 65g (1/2 cup) chocolate chips (optional)
For the syrup
- 100g (1/2 cup) sugar
- 125ml (1/2 cup) water
- Make the dough. Whisk the sticky rice flour and water together to make a smooth batter, then pour half of this into your stand mixer bowl. Microwave the remaining half on 20 sec intervals, mixing in between, until it forms a smooth gummy dough (about 60-80 secs). Add this cooked dough into the stand mixer bowl as well, and leave to cool for 5 mins. When cool, sprinkle the yeast over the surface of the mix and leave for 10 mins.
- Add the bread flour, egg white, sugar and salt into the mixer and knead with the dough hook on medium speed until it comes together, then add the unsalted butter and knead on high for around 8 mins until it forms a smooth, sticky dough. Place this in a largish bowl (so it only comes up halfway), cover with clingfilm and place in the fridge overnight to rise.
- The next morning - make the filling. Melt the butter over a low heat in a saucepan, and then add in the sugar and stir until it's mostly dissolved. Take the pan off the heat and add the chocolate, stirring until it's also dissolved, popping back on the heat briefly if necessary. Stir in the cocoa powder and salt and set aside to cool slightly.
- Take the dough out of the fridge and roll out on a well floured surface into a rectangle around 0.5cm thick. Angle the longer edge towards you and the shorter edge on the side. It should be around 30cm by 50cm but I'm terrible at measuring these things.
- Spread the filling over the dough, around a couple of millimetres thick, going all the way to the edges. Take a 1-2 big pinches of flaked sea salt and sprinkle this over the dough, using a proportionate amount to how much salt you like with your sweet. I'm a big salt lover, so I tend to use a good amount to get a flake or so ever couple of cm. Now crumble the halva over this and the chocolate chips, if using.
- Roll up the dough tightly lengthways, away from you, so you get a big long log. Using a pizza cutter or a very sharp knife, slice right down the middle of this log (see the photos above). Now plait the loaf by simply overlapping the two sides over each other, trying to keep the cut sides facing up. Line a loaf tin with parchment paper and gently place the loaf into the tin. You may need to squish it slightly lengthways before you put it in the tin, so it's not too long, then just compress it into the tin - you get more swirls this way!
- Leave the dough to rise in a warm place for around 60 mins until it has nearly doubled.
- Preheat the oven to 170C and then when it has risen, place in the lower half of the oven and bake for 40-45 mins, turning halfway.
- While the babka is in the oven, make the syrup. Over a medium heat, bring together the water and syrup in a small saucepan and boil for around 5 minutes, until it's completely clear and has reduced slightly. Leave to cool.
- When your babka is cooked and golden, and the filling has bubbled over slightly, take it out of the oven and test if it's done by inserting a skewer into an area with slightly less filling. The skewer should come out clear of dough. Now brush the syrup over the babka and leave to cool before removing from the tin and slicing.
- Keep any leftovers in an airtight container for up to 3 days. The leftovers would be delicious toasted, or even used as french toast.