Babka is a sweet cake or bread that originated in European and Jewish communities. Babkas recipes can vary widely between different bakeries and depending on preferences. They can be cakey or breadlike, dry or rich, with all sorts of different fillings and combinations. This version is rich with a classic chocolate filling, but you can also adapt the recipe to make cinnamon-streusel, hazelnut, or dried fruit babka.
Gather these ingredients before you start baking:
In a large bowl stir together 2 cups of the flour and the yeast; set aside. In a small saucepan heat and stir the milk, 1/2 cup butter, 1/4 cup sugar, and salt until warm (120°F to 130°F) and butter almost melts. Add to flour mixture along with 1 egg. Stir with a sturdy spoon until combined. Stir in as much of the remaining flour as you can.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead in remaining flour to make a soft dough that is smooth and elastic (about 3 minutes). Shape dough into a ball. Place in a lightly greased bowl; turn once to grease surface of dough. Cover; let rise in a warm place until nearly double in size (1-1/2 to 2 hours).
Punch dough down. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Cover and let rest 10 minutes. Grease an 8x4-inch loaf pan. In a small bowl combine 1/3 cup sugar and the cocoa powder. Roll dough into a 16x12-inch rectangle. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with cocoa mixture and chocolate pieces. Roll up rectangle, starting from a long side.
Cut the dough roll in half crosswise to make two shorter rolls.
Place one roll on top of the other to make an X. Twist ends together.
Place dough twist in a greased 8x4-inch loaf pan. Cover and let rise in a warm place until nearly double (45 to 60 minutes).
Preheat oven to 325°F. Whisk together 1 egg and the cream. Brush over loaf. Bake 70 to 75 minutes or until golden and bread sounds hollow when gently tapped (internal temperature of bread should be 180°F to 190°F), covering with foil the last 20 to 25 minutes to prevent overbrowning. Loosen loaf from pan and remove. Cool completely on a wire rack.
Prep your babka now and bake it later! To get a head start on making this recipe for later, cover and chill the dough twist in the pan for up to 24 hours. Then let stand at room temperature 2 hours or until nearly double in size. Brush and bake as directed.
Change things up from cocoa powder and chocolate, and experiment with this streusel-topped loaf instead. Just follow the directions below to make this sweet variation:
Prepare as directed, except omit the cocoa powder and chocolate pieces. Stir 1 Tbsp. ground cinnamon and 1 tsp. ground cardamom into the 1/3 cup sugar. Sprinkle over dough after brushing with butter. Fill and shape dough as directed. For streusel, in a small bowl stir together 1 Tbsp. packed brown sugar, 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon, and 1/8 tsp. salt. Stir in 1 Tbsp. melted butter. Add 3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour and toss until small clumps form. Sprinkle over shaped loaf after brushing with egg mixture. Bake as directed.
Each slice of this babka oozes with our favorite chocolate-hazelnut spread. You can also add a little crunch by sprinkling toasted hazelnuts into the filling. Follow these steps to make this luscious, gooey loaf:
Prepare as directed, except omit the 1/3 cup sugar, the cocoa powder, the melted butter, and chocolate pieces. Spread dough with 2/3 cup purchased cookie butter or chocolate-hazelnut spread. If desired, sprinkle filling with 1 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts. Shape and bake as directed.
To make your babka taste almost like a rich slice of fruitcake, skip the chocolate filling and sub in your favorite dried fruits (we recommend dried apricots, tart cherries, cranberries, and raisins). Follow these instructions for a fruit-filled treat:
Prepare as directed, except omit the 1/3 cup sugar, the cocoa powder, the melted butter, and chocolate pieces. Stir together 1/3 cup apricot preserves, 1 tsp. ground cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. ground ginger, and 1/8 tsp. ground cloves. Spread over dough. Sprinkle with 1 cup dried mixed fruit (chopped apricots, chopped tart red cherries, cranberries, raisins, and/or golden raisins). Shape and bake as directed.