Traditional Chocolate Babka is one of the things I really can’t resist. My grandma (Bubbie in Yiddish) used to bake babkas on Fridays and special occasions. She always served the cake with a warm cup of black tea sweetened with a lot of sugar; what a treat!
My first attempt at homemade babka was when I bought my first Kitchenaid mixer 15 years ago. It turned out better than I expected, and my family loved it. Since then, I have baked hundreds of babka loaves; it is one of those things I never get tired of. This Traditional Chocolate Babka Recipe may look complicated, but it’s easy to get the hang of it!
Making babka is easy, and takes less than an hour of actual work! The rest of the time is the proofing and baking. That can range between 4-12 hours! I highly recommend reading all of my tips and tricks for the best results!
Please note that although it’s possible to leave the dough at room temperature for the first rise, it’s highly recommended to place it in the fridge for at least 6-8 hours so it sets properly and is easy to work with.
What is Babka?
Babka is a traditional Eastern European Jewish sweet loaf. It is a yeasted cake-bread that is typically filled with chocolate or cinnamon (but the possibilities are endless). The ingredients are straightforward: flour, yeast, sugar, eggs, milk, butter, and salt. After it’s baked, it’s brushed with a sugar syrup that gives it that glossy sheen.
*The full recipe is in the recipe card below!
Flour: I use all-purpose flour, but you could use bread flour or a combination of bread and all-purpose. Remember that bread flour has a higher protein content; you might need to add more liquid to form the dough. I strongly recommend sifting the flour; it will result in a more delicate dough with a more significant volume.
Yeast (active dry yeast): Active dry yeast needs to be bloomed in liquid before being used to make dough. However, it is not necessary to bloom newly purchased yeast. Instead, it can be added directly to the dry ingredients.
Sugar: For the sweetness of course. But sugar also feeds the yeast, increases its activity, and tenderizes the dough.
Eggs: Large eggs at room temperature.
Milk: The high-fat content of whole milk will make your cake more soft and tender. No skim milk in this recipe, please.
Butter: Unsalted and cut into small pieces.
Salt: To balance the flavors; don’t skip!
How to Make Traditional Chocolate Babka?
- Make the dough: This dough is soft, a little sticky, puffy, and very buttery yeast dough– read my pro-tips below.
- Let the dough rise: Allow the dough to rise in a relatively warm environment for 90 minutes to two hours or until it doubles in size. This dough is rich in fat, so it takes longer than other doughs to rise.
- Divide dough into 2 pieces.
- Roll them out. Spread with chocolate spread.
- Shape the babka, then let it rise again.
Plan ahead: The dough requires time to rise, so plan your baking process accordingly.
IMPORTANT! Although it’s possible to leave the dough at room temperature for the first rise, it’s highly recommended to place it in the fridge for 6-8 hours, so it sets properly and is easy to work with. Place the dough into a greased bowl and grease the top. Cover with plastic wrap, and poke a few holes in it with a sharp knife or a toothpick so the yeast can “breathe.”
If you take the fridge route, the dough may not look like it has risen much, and that’s OK! Also, if the dough is hard to handle, leave it at room temperature to soften for 30-60 minutes before rolling and shaping.
Dough Consistency: Pay attention to the consistency of your dough. The dough should be completely smooth, elastic, shiny, and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. It may look soft and might be sticky – that’s ok.
Add a few drops of milk or water if the dough is very dry. Occasionally scrap the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula to ensure all ingredients are incorporated.
How Do I Know When Babka is Done?
When it’s ready, the babka will be a deep golden brown on top. A toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center of the loaf should come out without any wet dough sticking to it (melted chocolate is okay). If you have an instant-read thermometer, it should read between 190°F to 200°F in the center of the loaf. Let the babka cool to room temperature before slicing.
Store the cooled babka wrapped in plastic wrap or in an airtight container on the counter for up to two days. This cake will start drying out after 24 hours, but the good news is that it freezes well.
Once the babka is completely cooled, wrap it in a few layers of plastic wrap, then in foil. Store it in the freezer for up to a month. Thaw the wrapped babka at room temperature. Before serving, warm the babka in a 325°F oven for 10 to 15 minutes or until warmed through.
Yes. The syrup is optional. Brushing a sugar syrup on the surface of the cake helps to add moisture and can prevent the cake from becoming dry.
Yes. Make sure to measure your ingredients correctly.
You can use other pans for this recipe- fluted tube pan, angel cake pan, small loaf pans (9 x 5-Inch), and even just a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. You will need to shape the dough to fit the pan/s and monitor the baking time.
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Traditional Chocolate Babka
- Chef knife or a dough scraper
For the dough:
- 1 stick (110g) unsalted butter cut into small pieces
- 3/4 cup (180ml) whole (full-fat) milk
- 3 and 1/2 cups (500g) sifted all-purpose flour plus extra for dusting and kneading
- 1/3 cup (70g) granulated sugar
- 1 Tablespoon (10g) active dry yeast
- 2 large eggs at room temperature
- 1/2 Teaspoon salt
- butter or natural oil for greasing the dough and pan
For the chocolate filling:
**Second option is to use a store-bought chocolate spread like Nutella**
- 1 stick (110g) unsalted butter that is very soft but not completely melted
- 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
- 4 Tablespoons (40g) cocoa powder
- 1/2 Teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 any size egg
- 2 Tablespoons (30ml) milk or water
For the sugar syrup:
- 1/4 cup (60ml) water
- 1/4 cup (50g) granulated sugar
Make the dough:
- Melt the butter in a microwave-safe bowl. Add the milk and stir well.
- Place flour, yeast, and sugar in a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook and mix on low speed for about 1-2 minutes.
- Add the eggs and milk mixture, and mix on medium speed until the dough comes together (2-3 minutes). Add salt. If the dough hasn’t come together, add a few drops of water or milk. Occasionally scrap the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula to ensure all ingredients are incorporated. Continue mixing for about 10 minutes on medium speed until the dough is completely smooth, elastic, and shiny, and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
The first rise:
- Transfer the dough to a large bowl with floured hands and spray the top with oil. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap. Place it in a warm environment to rise until doubled, about 90 minutes to 2 hours.
- Alternatively, leave it in the fridge for at least half a day or overnight to rise. *If placed a long time in the fridge, the dough can become hard – that’s normal; leave it at room temperature to soften for 30-60 minutes or until it’s easy to work with.
Make the filling:
- In a bowl, whisk together butter, sugar, cocoa powder, and cinnamon until well combined. It should be a thick, spreadable consistency.
- Prep the pans: Grease two loaf pans with oil and line with parchment paper, leaving a couple of inches of overhang on the long sides.
- Remove the dough from the bowl and put it on a lightly floured surface. Using a sharp knife or dough scraper, cut the dough in half. Work with only half of the dough at a time. Place a clean towel over the dough you aren’t working with so it won’t dry out.
- Roll one piece of dough into a rectangle as wide as the length of your loaf pan and about 3/4 inch thick. Spread the chocolate filling on the dough in an even layer all the way to the edges. Tightly roll up the dough like a jelly roll and place it on its seam. Repeat with the 2nd half of the dough.
- *Optional* I've found that freezing the logs for 20-30 minutes makes the slicing much easier.
- Use a sharp knife or a dough scraper to slice the log in half lengthwise so you have two long pieces, and set them with the chocolate layer exposed. Twist the logs together, keeping the cut sides facing up. Transfer the twisted dough to the prepared loaf pan and cover it with a clean towel. Repeat with the 2nd half of the dough.
- Allow both shaped (and covered) loaves to rest for 1-2 hours (depending on how warm your room is) until almost doubled in size.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C.
- Whisk 2 tablespoons of milk with the egg and brush the babka loaves. Bake for 25-40 minutes or until babka is golden brown on top. Remove from the oven and generously brush with syrup. Let it cool completely before slicing.
While the babka bakes, you’ll need to make the sugar syrup:
- While the babka bakes, you’ll need to make syrup to brush it over with. Bring sugar and water to a simmer until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. As soon as the babka leaves the oven, brush the syrup all over it. It will seem like too much, but will taste just right — glossy and moist. Let cool about halfway in the pan, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool the rest of the way before slicing.