Chocolate babka is a sweet, braided bread filled with swirls of semi-sweet chocolate. The dough is rich and buttery, like brioche, a tender French bread enriched with eggs, sugar, and butter.
The dough is rolled into a rectangle and spread with a homemade chocolate filling before being rolled up and twisted into a braid. The babka bakes into a sweet, fluffy, chocolatey loaf that makes for a decadent breakfast or dessert.
Babka looks impressive, and it certainly is. Luckily, your stand mixer does most of the hard work, but you get to take all the credit. While it is an admittedly long process, a lot of the time is spent simply waiting for the dough to rise. You can even choose whether to let the dough rise overnight in the fridge, or bake to it the same day, depending on your schedule.
Rolling and shaping the dough will likely be a sticky, chocolatey mess, but that’s part of the fun of a baking project. After baking, it looks stunning, no matter how messy the shaping was.
It’s worth the effort and patience, especially when you make two loaves, like in this recipe. You can save the second loaf in the freezer or give it away to show off your hard work.
Babka originates from Jewish communities in Eastern Europe, especially in Ukraine and Poland. It's long been a staple of Jewish delis and bakeries in the U.S., notably in New York City. Recently, it has exploded in popularity, and you can find it in many bakeries and grocery stores across the country.
The word “babka” is of Slavic origin and means grandmother. The bread is thought to have garnered this name either from when it used to be baked in a traditional fluted mold, resembling the skirts worn by grandmothers, or because grandmothers were often the ones lovingly baking the braided loaves.
Babka was originally a way to use up extra dough from making challah, a braided, enriched bread of Jewish origin that’s not quite as rich as brioche. The dough was filled with cinnamon, jam, sweet cheese, or mohn, a sweet paste made from poppy seeds. Modern babkas, like the one here, are usually richer than challah and made with brioche dough.
What is the Difference Between Babka and Povitica?
Babka may be the most well-known, but it is not the only twisted or braided bread from Eastern Europe. Povitica, an Easter bread from Slovenia and Croatia, is a similar enriched bread rolled with a walnut filling. Compared to babka, potivica is rolled much thinner and has an elaborate pattern of tight spirals.
What is the Best Chocolate to Use?
This babka is made with a very rich dough and doused in sweet syrup. To balance the sweetness, I prefer slightly bitter chocolate, like semi-sweet (around 60% cacao). You can use bittersweet or dark chocolate if you prefer, but I think milk chocolate would be too cloying.
Use this guide to help identify the chocolate that is perfect for you.
Babka Filling Variations
Babka isn’t just limited to chocolate. Here are a few ideas for different fillings, but the possibilities are endless.
- Use Nutella in place of the chocolate filling. Not only is the chocolate hazelnut spread a delicious alternative, but it will also save you some time and a few steps. Replace the chocolate filling with 3/4 cup (222g) Nutella per loaf.
- Add some toasted chopped nuts to the filling. After spreading the chocolate filling over the dough, sprinkle on 1/2 cup (60g) chopped toasted nuts per loaf. Try it with pecans, walnuts, pistachios, or hazelnuts.
- Use your favorite fruit jam or preserves for the filling instead of the chocolate. Replace the chocolate filling with 1/2 cup (170g) jam per loaf. If the exposed jam on the tops of the loaves starts to get too dark while it bakes, tent the babkas with foil.
How to Serve Chocolate Babka
Babka is already rich and doesn’t need much embellishing. A slice of dense, chocolatey babka pairs excellently with a cup of coffee or tea for a decadent breakfast or as an afternoon pick-me-up.
While it can last for up to a few days, don’t fret when it goes stale. Imagine the French toast this would make! Or try it in a bread pudding or French toast casserole.
How to Store and Freeze Babka
Store the cooled babka wrapped in plastic wrap or in an airtight container on the counter for up to three days. You can reheat slices in the microwave for a few seconds or pop the whole loaf in the oven for a few minutes.
Babka also freezes well. Since this recipe makes two loaves, you can keep one fresh and freeze the other. Once cooled, wrap the loaf in a couple of layers of plastic wrap, then in foil.
Babka can be stored in the freezer for up to one month. Defrost at room temperature, still wrapped. Before serving, you can heat it in a 325°F oven for about 10 minutes, until it’s warm and the chocolate is melty.
More Decadent Chocolate Desserts
If you prefer to make just one loaf, you may halve the recipe. If your mixer bowl is larger than 5 quarts, I don’t recommend it, as the mass of dough will be too small for the mixer.
For the dough
4 3/4 cups (570g) bread flour
1/3 cup (70g) sugar
3 teaspoons instant yeast
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2/3 cup (160ml) whole milk, lukewarm (100°F)
3 large eggs, room temperature
10 tablespoons (150g) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for greasing loaf pans
For the filling
6 ounces (170g) semi-sweet chocolate
1/2 cup (113g) unsalted butter
1/2 cup (100g) sugar
1/2 cup (42g) unsweetened cocoa powder
For the syrup
1/2 cup (120 milliliters) water
2/3 cup (133g) sugar
- Stand mixer
Mix the dry ingredients:
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook attachment, whisk together the flour, sugar, yeast, and salt.
Make the dough:
Pour in the warm milk and the eggs, and mix on low speed until everything is incorporated and the dough comes together into a rough ball, about 5 minutes.
Increase the speed to medium and continue kneading until the dough is elastic and no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl. This should take about 5 minutes, but keep kneading until the dough gathers around the dough hook.
Let the dough rest, uncovered, for 10 minutes. This gives the gluten a chance to relax, making it easier to incorporate the butter.
Add the butter:
Return the mixer to medium speed and add the softened butter 1 tablespoon at a time, waiting until it’s fully incorporated before adding the next tablespoon. Take your time and allow the dough to absorb the butter. It should take 5 to 8 minutes to add all the butter
Knead the dough:
Continue kneading the dough on medium speed until the dough is smooth and no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl, about 10 minutes. The sides of the bowl should be clean, and the dough may make a slapping sound against the bowl as it mixes; these are good signs that the dough is ready for the first rise.
Let the dough rise at room temperature then transfer to the refrigerator:
Scrape the dough out onto a clean surface and shape it into a ball. Lightly grease the bowl with butter. Transfer the dough back into the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise at room temperature for 1 1/2 hours.
Once the dough has risen at room temperature, the dough should be puffy and have risen noticeably, but it won’t have doubled. Transfer the covered bowl to the refrigerator, where the dough will continue to rise a bit and develop flavor. Chill overnight or up to 2 days.
Same-day option: While an overnight rise is preferable for developing the best flavor, you can finish the babka the same day as long as you chill the dough in the refrigerator for a minimum of 1 hour. The dough will need this time to continue rising, and to chill. Cold dough is easier to roll out and shape.
Make the chocolate filling:
When you’re ready to bake the babka, make the chocolate filling. In a small saucepan set over low heat, add the chocolate, butter, sugar, and cocoa powder. Stir constantly with a spatula until melted.
Use the lowest heat setting possible to prevent the chocolate from burning. It’s okay if the sugar looks grainy; it will dissolve while baking. Set the filling aside for 20 minutes to cool and thicken slightly.
Divide the dough in half:
Lightly flour a clean work surface and scrape the chilled dough onto it. Use a sharp knife or a dough scraper to divide the dough in half. Work with one piece of dough at a time, reserving the other, covered, in the refrigerator.
Roll out the dough:
Lightly dust the top of the dough with flour. Use a rolling pin to roll out the dough to a rectangle, about 10 inches by 15 inches with the short edge nearest you.
If the dough is cold, it shouldn’t stick much. While rolling pause to move the dough regularly, lifting it off the work surface and adding a little extra flour if it starts to stick.
Spread the chocolate filling:
Pour half of the chocolate filling onto the dough and use an offset spatula or the back of a spoon to spread it evenly over the entire surface of the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch margin at the top of the rectangle furthest from you.
Roll the dough:
Roll the dough into a snug spiral, starting with the short end closest to you. Wrap the rolled dough with plastic wrap and stick it in the freezer for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, roll and fill the second dough following the same method. Transfer the second dough to the freezer while you prepare the pans.
Prepare the pans:
Grease two loaf pans generously with butter. Line the pans with a piece of parchment paper, leaving a couple of inches of overhang on the long sides.
Don’t worry about the short sides, the parchment helps you easily lift out the loaves later. You can use either 9x5-inch or 8x4-inch loaf pans.
Twist the babkas:
Remove one dough log from the freezer and slice it in half lengthwise with a sharp knife or dough scraper.
Pinch the ends together and twist the halves over each other a few times, twisting them together into a helix. The cut-side of the dough with the chocolate layers will be exposed.
Gently transfer the babka into one of the prepared pans and cover with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel.
Repeat with the second piece of dough.
Proof at room temperature:
Let the dough rise at room temperature until almost doubled in size, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. The dough should be puffy and will have risen to roughly 1/2-inch below the rim of the pan.
Preheat the oven:
When the loaves are almost ready to bake, arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat it to 350°F.
Bake the babkas:
Remove the plastic wrap and bake the loaves for 35 minutes, or until golden brown on top. A toothpick inserted into the loaf should come out without any doughy bits sticking to it. Or you can check with an instant thermometer, which should read 190°F.
Make the syrup:
While the babkas are baking, prepare the syrup. In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the sugar and water to a simmer. Cook until the sugar has completely dissolved. Turn off the heat and set it aside.
Brush the babkas with syrup:
As soon as the babkas are done baking, use a sharp knife or a skewer to pierce the tops of the babkas in several places.
Use a pastry brush to brush them generously with the syrup. It may seem like a lot, but use all of the syrup, dividing it equally between the two loaves. It keeps the bread moist and adds an attractive shine to the top.
Let the babkas rest in their pans for 10 minutes to cool slightly and absorb the syrup. Don’t leave them in the pans for longer than 10 minutes, or they may stick.
Use the parchment paper to lift out the loaves and set them on a wire rack to finish cooling. Allow the babkas to cool completely before slicing and serving. It’s difficult to wait, but the structure of the bread won’t set until it’s close to room temperature.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 16 to 20|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 15g||19%|
|Saturated Fat 9g||43%|
|Total Carbohydrate 43g||16%|
|Dietary Fiber 2g||6%|
|Total Sugars 20g|
|Vitamin C 0mg||0%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|