So, babkas! They’re kind of my favourite bread. Actually hold up, it might be a toss up between babkas and croissants really. But as the title suggests, this post is all about the former.
Before I talk about babkas though, oh man I need to have a croissant love note/rant. Since my three months in Paris, I've been getting massive cravings for those buttery-and-pillowy croissants made by the grumpy, no-nonsense Parisien boulangier just down the street from when I lived there. In Malaysia, you’d be hard-pressed to find even an average croissant (by French-standards), partly due to our hot and humid weather making laminated dough a bitch to work with, but also due to products like this mock-“kroi-sant” snack setting such a low bar. (It came along with this pretty cringy ad too.)
But anyway, babkas! A year ago I wouldn’t even have heard a whisper of this actually spectacular bread. But now, thanks to Breads Bakery NYC, babkas currently top my list of annoyingly-impossible-to-find-in-Malaysia food cravings. Not saying there isn’t any good food here; I’m more than sated by all the great curries and rotis and kuihs and dim sums all around KL, but when my babka cravings hit, I just die a little on the inside knowing that it’ll never be satisfied…
That is, until I stumbled upon Molly Yeh’s super-pleasing challah braid video on Instagram two Sundays ago, which led me to lose myself scrolling through her joyous funfetti and halva-laden desserts and farm life blogposts. Not ten minutes of envious scrolling later, I somehow ended up at… babkas. At this point, my babka craving just got so full-on triggered that I thought to myself “enough is enough, I've got to get my hands on some babka right now otherwise I might die”. And that is how I ended up making my own babkas. Yup, babkaS. I made two in the span of 5 days. I was that desperate.
My first try was with a simple challah dough, which by Jewish standards is probably all kinds of wrong, but hey I’m a Chinese-Malaysian whose knowledge of Jewish food starts and ends with chocolate babka, so please forgive the possible culinary crime I committed there, heh.
Though babkas may look daunting to make, I found it super fun and easy, especially the chocolate rolling part! My first babka-child proofed beautifully and behaved so so well in the oven, ending up with this shiny, glazed, borderline-burnt beauty. But then I learnt an important lesson - never judge a babka by its top crust, because this beauty of a babka turned out to be a dry, unfulfilling letdown. I suspect the challah dough recipe I used made it taste more like a run-of-the-mill bread than the rich, sensual babka it was meant to be. You live and you learn eh?
Knowing how good babkas can and should be though, I was not to be discouraged. So a few days later, with a light prep list at the place I currently work at, I made another babka. This time though, with a good measure of butter and eggs thrown in to make a brioche-y, enriched dough. And guess what, IT WAS PRETTY DARN GOOD. Maybe not Breads-Bakery-good, but still good enough that my babka craving was finally tamed... for the moment.
So ya, here's the recipe of that better babka. I'm penning it down here mainly as a reference point to improve on for my future babka-baking sessions, but for anyone who wants to give babkas a try, this is a great starting recipe. Be warned though, once you go babka you can never go back...
makes one babka // recipe adapted from NYT Cooking
220g all-purpose flour
4g active dry yeast
5g vanilla extract
2 eggs (~200g)
70g butter, diced into cubes, softened at room temperature
Chocolate filling: (alternatively, use Nutella :P)
90g dark chocolate, pick the type you’d like to eat best
90g whipping cream
juice of ½ an orange, optional
- Sift the flour, sugar and salt into a mixer with a dough hook. Warm the milk in a saucepan or in the microwave until it is lukewarm to touch (~45°C). Add yeast to the milk and let sit for about 5 minutes, until the mixture becomes bubbly. Pour the bubbly milk mixture into the mixer and start mixing on low. Add the eggs and vanilla extract and mix on medium until the dough is well combined. (This should take around 3-5 minutes on medium speed.)
- Then, add the butter one cube at a time, kneading on medium speed for 8-10 minutes until it turns smooth and elastic. At this point, if you’re dough is still looking sticky, add one or two tablespoons of flour and continue mixing the dough, which should help it release from the sides of the mixer.
- Shape the dough into a rough ball and place in a large, lightly buttered bowl. Cover it with a towel and let the dough proof for about 1 to 2 hours, until it roughly doubles in size.
- As the dough is proofing, make the chocolate filling. Place the dark chocolate, cream, sugar and butter on a double-boiler/bain-marie and let it all melt and come together, stirring often. When the mixture is homogeneous, leave it to cool until room temperature.
- You can also make the glazing syrup while waiting for the dough to finish proofing. To do this, heat up the sugar, water and orange juice in a saucepan and bring it up to a boil. Then leave it to cool down.
- At this point, if you still have time, neatly line a loaf tin with parchment paper, making sure you butter/spray grease the insides of the loaf tins to ensure the parchment sticks to the sides.
- When your babka dough has finished proofing, punch it down a bit and remove it from the bowl. Now, with a rolling pin, roll out your babka dough into a rough rectangle, with the shorter side of the rectangle approximately the same length as the longer side of your loaf tin. Make sure the surface you’re working on is well-floured to prevent the dough from sticking on the table too much.
- Now comes the fun part. Spread the chocolate filling onto this rectangular dough surface you’ve just rolled out, leaving about a 2cm un-chocolate-d border on the edges. Then, roll up the dough like a blanket/burrito so it forms a log the length of your loaf tin. Tightly wrap the log with plastic wrap and freeze for 15-20 minutes.
- When the chocolate filling sets slightly, remove from the freezer and slice the log lengthwise. Then, twist the two halves together to make a braided loaf. To get a more badass-looking babka, try to angle the twist so the filling is exposed on top. Then, place this babka-braid-log into your loaf tin, cover it loosely with a towel, and let it do its final proofing for about another hour.
- When you’re ready to bake, brush eggwash onto the babka and bake at 180°C for about 40 minutes, or until a cake skewer comes out clean when poked into the babka.
- When the babka finishes baking, brush the glazing syrup all over the babka, remove it from the loaf tin and leave it to cool.