This is a deliciously indulgent, enriched brioche type bread. It takes about 12 hours elapsed time to make and is well worth the wait. It originates from the Jewish communities in Eastern Europe. The modern day popularity of the bread has resulted in many variations both sweet and savoury. I’ve gone for the classic combination of chocolate and orange here.
Chocolate & orange babka
- Loaf tin 25 x 13 x 7cm
- FOR THE DOUGH
- 375 g strong white flour
- 20 g caster sugar
- 7 g salt
- 7 g fast action yeast
- 225 g egg, beaten
- 60 g milk, scalded
- 240 g butter, softened
- 1 orange, zest zest
- FOR THE FILLING
- 90 g dark chocolate, minimum 70% cocoa solids
- 75 g butter
- 60 g soft brown sugar
- 30 g cocoa powder
- 1.5 tbsp Grand Marnier or orange juice
- 1 orange, zest
- FOR THE SYRUP
- 75 g water
- 75 g soft light brown sugar
- 4 tbsps orange juice
Make the dough
- Scald the milk, heating it to 83C and then allow to cool until it is tepid, covered so it doesn’t form a skin and evaporate.
- Place the flour, caster sugar, salt and yeast into a stand mixer bowl fitted with a dough hook attachment and manually mix so the ingredients are evenly combined.
- Add the eggs followed by the tepid milk and mix on a medium speed for about 3 minutes to combine the ingredients and develop some gluten.
- Then start adding the softened butter gradually in small chunks. Knead on a low speed until the butter is incorporated before adding the next inclusion. Avoid mixing on a high speed otherwise the dough can become greasy as it generates too much heat for the butter. Scrape down the bowl frequently.
- Once all the butter is added and fully incorporated, it’s worth checking with your hands lifting and stretching the dough to check that there are no lumps of butter remaining.
- Add the zest and knead on the machine slowly for 1-2 minutes until it is evenly combined.
- Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled glass bowl (glass is best because you see the activity in the dough from the sides). Cover with lightly oiled cling film and leave in a warm place to rise for about 2-3 hours until it is doubled in size. How long it take is dependent on the ambient temperature; ideal is 21-24C.
- Once it has doubled in size, put the dough in the fridge for at least 6 hours until it has firmed up or overnight.
Make the filling and prepare for shaping the dough
- Put all the filling ingredients except the orange zest, into a heat proof bowl and place onto a pan of simmering water.
- Leave for a couple of minutes to allow the mixture to start to melt, then stir gently every now and again to combine the mixture until it is all melted and any lumps of the soft brown sugar are fully broken down.
- Remove from the heat and leave to cool, stirring frequently, until it has the consistency of a spreadable paste. This could take up to 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, grease the loaf tin very well and then line with parchment so that it is proud of the edge of the tin; this is to form ‘handles’ so that the bread can be lifted out of the tin easily once baked. Set aside.
Shape the dough
- Turn out the chilled dough on a lightly floured worktop and roll it out into a 40 x 40 cm square, ensuring an even thickness of the dough.
- Using a small stepped palette knife, spread the chocolate filling over the dough, but a 1cm border along the edge furthest away from you. Sprinkle over the orange zest.
- Gently roll up the dough starting with the edge closest to you, until you have a long sausage-shaped dough. Pinch the seam together.
- Turn the dough over with the seam down on the worktop and using a sharp serrated bread knife, cut the dough in half longitudinally.
- Twist the dough together in a braid securing the ends by pressing them together and tucking them under the dough.
- Quickly transfer the dough into the prepared loaf tin – you may need to squash the ends in a little but this doesn’t matter as it will settle while proofing.
- Place on a baking tray and cover loosely with lightly oiled cling film and put in a warm place, ideally 21-24C. Leave to proof, until it has doubled in size. This could take anything from 1.5-3.5 hours or more depending on the ambient temperature.
Make the syrup
- While the babka is proving, make the syrup by combining the water, orange juice and sugar in a small saucepan and place on a medium heat.
- Boil for about 3 minutes until slightly reduced and syrupy.
- Remove from the heat and decant into a small container. Cover and leave to cool.
Bake and finish
- Preheat the oven to 180C 15 minutes before the dough is proved.
- Once the dough has doubled in size, bake for approximately 25 minutes, then cover with foil to prevent the chocolate and bread from colouring too much or even burning. Continue to bake for another 35 mins (1 hour cooking time in total) or until the internal temperature is approximately 90C.
- Once the babka is baked, turn it out onto a cooling rack and immediately glaze generously with the syrup.
- Allow to cool for approximately 30 minutes before serving.