Long long ago, in a far far away world (Auroville), a great friend told me that eating chocolate between two slices of bread and walking by the rocky stormy sea in France was one of his favourite things to do. I used to love the stories that Emmanuel told me. But even more, what I loved was the surprising realization that I could so feel so comfortable and at ease with someone from a culture so alien and unfamiliar. It felt like magic. That country, language, upbringing did not define friendships but people did felt like a great gift.
Perhaps a bit of my fascination for creating international food is about this. It feels like befriending someone from a faar faar away world. With a past so different from mine. Someone I have spoken to, thought of, read about, imagined.. but never met. And yet, with just some effort, research and imagination, I can conjure up the world that is theirs, enter it and make it partly mine. And the journey is as beautiful and full of discovery!
Having lost touch with Emanuel, I still cherish the memory of our friendship and this story he told me. And ofcourse, the concept of chocolate and bread continues to hold great fascination for me. As is typical for me, I tried to capture this in my kitchen but in the past, several attempts at combining bread and chocolate resulted in some very unhappy moments for me. The chocolate would stiffen or the bread would be lifeless. With time and familiarity with bread baking, I discovered that not all types of bread tasted good with chocolate. And many disastrous albeit educational attempts later, I finally found this recipe from Smitten Kitchen that was everything I wanted.
Babka is a traditional Jewish sweet bread. With chocolate, surprising quantities of cinnamon (and I added chopped walnuts… because I always do I guess) this part cake – part bread is truly sublime. The chocolate melts into the beautiful fluffy bread and the quantities cinnamon marrying the chocolate and yeasty yields a sweet, spicy, buttery and rich aroma. The crumb topping adds a fabulous crunchy halwa-ish touch that makes this an unusual flavor.Bewarned though, VERY addictive snack. Try it.
- 1½ cups lukewarm milk
- 2.5- 3 t active dry yeast (SKs recipe calls for much more but I find that in India, its always less is more with yeast. Just wait it out if required)
- 1¾ cups plus a pinch of sugar
- 3 whole large eggs, room temperature
- 2 large egg yolks, room temperature
- 6 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1¾ cups (3½ sticks) butter, cut into 1-inch pieces, room temperature, plus more for bowl and loaf pans
- 1 kg semisweet chocolate, very finely chopped (you can get Morde dark chocolate from Arif in Bandra or Crawford market)
- 2½ tablespoons cinnamon powder
- 1 tablespoon heavy cream
- 1⅔ cups confectioners’ sugar
- 1⅓ cups all-purpose flour
- 12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
- Pour warm milk into a small bowl. Sprinkle yeast and pinch of sugar over milk; let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.
- In a bowl, whisk together ¾ cup sugar, 2 eggs, and egg yolks. Add egg mixture to yeast mixture, and whisk to combine.
- Combine flour and salt. Add egg mixture, and whisk until almost all the flour is well incorporated. Add 2 sticks butter, and beat/knead until the flour mixture and butter are completely incorporated, and a smooth, soft dough that’s slightly sticky when squeezed is formed, about 15 minutes.
- Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead a few turns until smooth. Butter a large bowl. Place dough in bowl, and turn to coat. Cover tightly with plastic wrap. Set aside in a warm place to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
- Place chocolate, remaining cup sugar, and cinnamon in a large bowl, and stir to combine. Using two knives or a pastry cutter, cut in remaining 1½ sticks butter until well combined; set filling aside.
- Generously butter three 9-by-5-by-2¾-inch loaf pans; line them with parchment paper. (I also braided them and baked t on the tray but the pans do help the dough retain better shape). Beat remaining egg with 1 tablespoon cream; set egg wash aside. Punch back the dough, and transfer to a clean surface. Let rest 5 minutes. Cut into 3 equal pieces. Keep 2 pieces covered with plastic wrap while working with the remaining piece. On a generously floured surface, Roll dough out into a 16-inch square; it should be ⅛ inch thick.
- Brush edges with reserved egg wash. Crumble ⅓ of the reserved chocolate filling evenly over dough, leaving a ¼-inch border. Refresh egg wash if needed. Roll dough up tightly like a jelly roll. Pinch ends together to seal. Twist 5 or 6 turns. Brush top of roll with egg wash. Carefully crumble 2 tablespoons filling over the left half of the roll, being careful not to let mixture slide off. Fold right half of the roll over onto the coated left half. Fold ends under, and pinch to seal. Twist roll 2 turns, and fit into prepared pan. Repeat with the remaining 2 pieces of dough and remaining filling.
- Heat oven to 350 degrees. Brush the top of each loaf with egg wash. Crumble ⅓ of streusel topping over each loaf. Loosely cover each pan with plastic wrap, and let stand in a warm place 20 to 30 minutes.
- Bake loaves, rotating halfway through, until golden, about 55 minutes. Lower oven temperature to 325 degrees and bake until babkas are deep golden, 15 to 20 minutes more. Remove from oven, and transfer to wire racks until cool. Remove from pans; serve. Babkas freeze well for up to 1 month.
- To make the streusel Topping, in a large bowl, combine 1⅔ cup sugar, 1⅓ cup flour, and the 12 tablespoons butter. Using a fork, stir until fully combined with clumps ranging in size from crumbs to 1 inch.