Meet Babka, the newest dessert sensation sweeping the country
Bye-bye, Banana Bread
Babka isn’t just the new banana bread, but also the perfect excuse for sweet-toothed Shireens to get away with eating dessert for breakfast (“It’s bread, and it’s completely acceptable to have a slice or two or twelve of bread for breakfast, right?”). It’s also a godsend for carb lovers, who’ve been dreaming about cutting into a zhuzhed-up loaf on their birthdays.
The origins of the holy union of bread and cake, sometimes drenched in alcohol, often filled with chocolate, cinnamon, cheese and nuts, can be traced back to Eastern Europe. It is alleged that this spongy, sinful bread was birthed in the ovens of the Jewish communities of Poland and Ukraine. With swirls of chocolate, peeking out between perfectly crusty bread, babka is as just as Instagrammable as the sets of Games of Thrones – another one of Eastern Europe’s much-loved offerings.
But babka didn’t always look like the chocolate braid of heaven that it does now — in its most traditional form, babka was made by twisting a yeast-based dough with nuts and seeds, often topped with a streusel, which the internet will tell you is a crumbly topping of flour, butter, and sugar. The name loosely evolved from the Polish word for grandmother, babcia.
The Insta-famous version of babka, with ribbons of chocolate peek-a-booing from in-between folds of bread, came into being later. Apparently, it is North America that is credited for the serendipitous coming together of babka and chocolate. Our relentless affair with baking during lockdown may have been brief, but the liaison cemented our love for calorific-baked goods, with babka as the Internet’s newest sweetheart. And we’re (b)raidy for it.
Scroll down to find out where you can get your hands on freshly-baked babka, and to get a chance to use all the baking tools and trinkets you’ve stocked up on but never used.
Get your hands on the best babka near you
We’ve put together a list of places that you can head to for your first ever babka experience, that is, if you’re a babka virgin. If not then, why aren’t you already in your car, whizzing to the nearest spot to relive the best moment of your life?
Belgian chocolate and pistachio babka from Rosarté, New Delhi
Dark chocolate babka and Nutella babka from Babka Goa, Goa
Lindt and rum babka from The Rolling Scones, Bengaluru
Pesto, walnut, and cheddar babka from Flour & Stone, Mumbai
Chocolate hazelnut babka from Dessert Lane, Jaipur
Apple cinnamon babka from Babka by Riva, Chandigarh
Cinnamon swirl babka and two other exciting options from The Notting Hill Bakery, Mumbai
Get, set, and braid
If you’re a member of the Go Big or Go Home club, then this is the perfect lockdown baking challenge for you.
Satisfy the overachiever and DIY addict in you, all at once, with these delicious babka recipes. Fair warning: Babka is not for the baking noob, even if you have binge-watched all seasons of Master Chef Australia.
Traditional Polish babka from Afamilyfeast.com
For the biga (pre-fermentation dough) made a day prior
- 2 1/2 cups bread flour
- 1/2 tsp dry yeast
- 1 cup warm water (110°F)
For the babka dough
- 1 cup whole milk
- 3/4 cup butter
- 1/4 cup warm water (110°F)
- 2 tsp dry yeast
- 3 eggs at room temperature
- 3 egg yolks at room temperature
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp orange extract
- Zest from one large orange
- Zest from one lemon
- 2 tsp Grand Marnier, Triple Sec or any other orange liquor
- 6 cups bread flour plus more for dusting counter
For the filling
- 1 cup golden raisins
- 1 cup regular raisins
- 1 cup currants
- 1/3 cup spiced rum
- 1 cup walnuts, chopped to rice-sized pieces
For the egg wash
- 1 whole egg
- 1 tablespoon water
- Make the biga the day before by combining the flour, yeast and water. Mix by hand or with a stand mixer with a dough hook to form a dough that sticks a little to the bottom while mixing. Add more water or flour if required to achieve that consistency. Place in an oiled bowl, cover, and set in a warm place for an hour or two until it’s doubled in size. Punch down, cover and place in the refrigerator overnight
- Four to five hours before serving, remove biga from the refrigerator and cut into golf ball-sized pieces and lay out on your counter. Cover with plastic film and a towel, and let it rest for 45 minutes, and come to room temperature.
- While biga is coming to room temperature, measure out all of your ingredients and prepare milk and butter by combining in a microwave safe bowl and microwaving until hot and until the butter has melted. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
- In a small bowl, combine water and yeast.
- In a medium bowl, combine eggs, egg yolks, sugar and salt. Using an electric mixer or by hand, whip for about three minutes or until the mixture turns pale.
- To the egg mixture, add nutmeg, both extracts, both zests, and orange liquor and stir to combine.
- Place all six cups of flour on your counter and make a large well in the centre.
- Mix and stir as you go and add contents from each of the three bowls, a little at a time, starting with warm yeast and water, then cooled milk and butter and finally eggs and sugar mixture, pulling the sides into the centre over and over to form a dough.
- Add the pieces of biga to the dough, working them in as you press and turn. This process will take a good five minutes of working the dough to completely blend together.
- The dough now needs to be kneaded for five additional minutes. Pull the back of the dough to the front and press with the heel of your palm over and over, working the dough for five minutes.
- Oil a large bowl and place the dough ball in and swirl to coat all sides with oil.
- Cover with plastic and a towel, and place in a warm place for at least two hours or until doubled in size.
- In a medium bowl, place both raisins, currants and rum, cover and microwave for one minute on high. Set aside after covering.
- Once the dough has doubled in size, generously flour your counter and pour out the dough. Cut it into three equal pieces, about one and a half pounds each.
- One at a time, roll out each piece of dough into a strip, nine inches wide and 13 inches long.
- Divide the raisin mixture into thirds and place one third over the rolled-out dough. Discard any liquid in the bowl.
- Do the same with the chopped nuts; dividing in thirds and sprinkling evenly.
- Take the long end and roll tightly towards the centre. Take the opposite long end and do the same so that both rolls meet in the centre.
- Gently lift and place the rolls in a loaf pan, seam side up.
- Brush a little water between the seam and pinch together to seal.
- Repeat this procedure for the other two loaves.
- Cover with plastic and a dish towel and let it proof for 90 minutes or until almost doubled in size.
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Beat the egg with the water to make the egg wash, and brush the tops of each loaf, trying not to let the egg wash leak down the sides.
- Place all three rolls in the centre of the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until golden brown. If ready, the rolls when tapped, sound hollow.
- Half way through baking, rotate pans so that they brown evenly.
- Cool for a few minutes on a rack then invert out of the pan and cool.
- Once cool, bread should be tightly wrapped, and can be frozen if baking ahead.
Chocolate babka from Nytimes.com
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 7 g active dry yeast
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar, plus a pinch
- 4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, more if needed
- 1 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tsp grated lemon zest (optional)
- 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
- 10 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing bowls and pans
For the fudge filling:
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- A pinch of kosher salt
- 170 g extra bittersweet chocolate, preferably between 66 and 74 % cocoa, coarsely chopped
- 8 tbsp unsalted butter, diced, at room temperature
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
For the chocolate streusel:
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 3 tbsp granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 tbsp cocoa powder
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 4 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
- 1/3 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips
For the syrup
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- To prepare the dough, in a small saucepan or a bowl in the microwave, warm the milk until it’s lukewarm but not hot. Add yeast and a pinch of sugar and let sit for five to ten minutes, until slightly foamy.
- With an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook, or in a food processor, mix together flour, 1/3 cup sugar, salt, vanilla, the lemon zest (if using) and the nutmeg. (If you don’t have a mixer or processor, use a large bowl and a wooden spoon.) Beat or process in the yeast mixture and eggs until the dough comes together and forms a soft mass, it will take about two minutes. If the dough sticks to the side of the bowl and doesn’t come together, add an extra tablespoon of flour at a time until it does, beating very well in between additions.
- Add half the butter and beat or pulse until the dough is smooth and elastic, for three to five minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed. Beat in the rest of the butter and continue to beat or pulse until the dough is smooth and stretchy, for another five to seven minutes. Again, if the dough sticks to the sides of the bowl, add additional flour, one tablespoon at a time.
- Butter a clean bowl, form the dough into a ball and roll it around in the bowl so all sides are buttered. Cover the bowl with a clean towel and let it rise in a warm, draft-free place (inside of a turned-off oven with the oven light on is good) until it puffs and rises, it will take about one to two hours. It may not double in bulk but it should rise.
- Press the dough down with your hands, re-cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight.
- To prepare the filling, in a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine sugar, cream and salt. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until sugar completely dissolves. Scrape mixture into a bowl. Stir in chocolate, butter and vanilla until smooth. Let it cool to room temperature. The filling can be made up to a week ahead and stored, covered, in the fridge. Let it come to room temperature before using.
- To prepare the streusel, in a bowl, stir together flour, sugar, cocoa powder and salt. Stir in melted butter until it is evenly distributed and forms large, moist crumbs. Stir in the chocolate chips. Streusel can be prepared up to three days ahead and stored, covered, in the fridge.
- To prepare the syrup, in a small saucepan, combine sugar and two-thirds of a cup of water. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then simmer for two minutes, stirring occasionally until the sugar dissolves.
- Butter two nine-inch loaf pans, then line with parchment paper, leaving two inches of paper hanging over on the sides to use as handles later.
- Remove dough from refrigerator and divide in half. On a floured surface, roll one piece into a nine-by-seventeen-inch rectangle. Spread with half the filling (there’s no need to leave a border). Starting with a long side, roll into a tight coil. Transfer the coil onto a dish towel or piece of plastic wrap and stick it in the freezer for 10 minutes. Repeat with the other piece of dough.
- Slice one of the dough coils in half lengthwise to expose the filling. Twist the halves together as if you were braiding them, then fold the braid in half so it’s about nine inches long. Place into a prepared pan, letting it curl around itself if it’s a little too long for the pan. Cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place for one to one and a half hours, until puffy (it won’t quite double). Alternatively, you can cover the pans with plastic wrap and let them rise in the refrigerator overnight; bring them back to room temperature for an hour before baking.
- When you’re ready to bake, heat the oven to 350°. Use your fingers to clump streusel together and scatter all over the tops of the cakes. Transfer to oven and bake until a tester goes into the cakes without any rubbery resistance and comes out clean, it will take about 40 to 50 minutes. The cakes will also sound hollow if you un-mould them and tap on the bottom.
- As soon as the cakes come out of the oven, use a skewer or paring knife to pierce them all over going all the way to the bottom of the cakes, and then pour the syrup on top of the cakes, making sure to use half the syrup for each cake.
- Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before serving.