Chocolate Babka

By Sarabeth Levine

Published January 31, 2011.
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Makes one large 9 by 5-inch loaf

This streusel-topped loaf of Danish dough, swirled with an almond cream, chocolate,raisins, and cinnamon, is a classic Eastern European holiday bread. But don’t just reserve it for special holidays, as it is a welcome addition to a brunch menu.If the trick of twisting the filled dough into its distinctive three-humped loaf shape seems unfamiliar, it will become clear after some practice.

Courtesy of Rizzoli

Soaked Raisins
½ cup seedless raisins
½ cup hot water
1 tablespoon dark rum

Streusel
⅔ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons superfine sugar
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, melted

Almond Cream
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons superfine sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon almond paste,finely chopped
⅓ cup (1¼ ounces) sliced almonds, toasted and finely chopped
½ teaspoon dark rum
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Softened unsalted butter, for the pan
1 tablespoon superfine sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Unbleached all-purpose flour,for rolling out the dough
½ recipe Danish Dough (Recipe here)
6 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate,finely chopped
1 large egg, well beaten with a hand blender
2 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, melted, for decorating
Confectioners’ sugar, for garnish

1) A t least 2 hours before baking the babka, prepare the soaked raisins. Combine the raisins, hot water,and rum in a small bowl. Let stand until the raisins are plump, about 1 hour. Drain well and pat dry with paper towels.

2) To make the streusel, combine the flour, sugars, and cinnamon in a bowl. Gradually stir in the butter and mix, squeeze, and break up the mixture with your hands until it resembles coarse crumbs.

3 T o make the almond cream, beat the butter and sugar together in a small bowl with a handheld electric mixer until the mixture is light in color and texture, about 2 minutes. Beat in the yolk. Add the almond paste and beat well until the mixture is smooth (the almond paste will take some time to break down), about 1 minute. Add the almonds, rum, and vanilla and mix until combined.

4) Generously butter a 9 by 5-inch metal loaf pan. Sprinkle about half of the streusel inside the pan and tilt to coat the pan. Tap the excess streusel back into the bowl of remaining streusel. Set the pan and the bowl of streusel aside.

5) Mix the sugar and cinnamon together; set aside. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the Danish dough into a 14 by 8-inch rectangle. Spread the dough with the almond cream, leaving a 1-inch border at the bottom. Sprinkle the cream with the drained raisins, then the chopped chocolate and cinnamon sugar. Starting at the top, roll down the dough. Brush the empty border of dough with the beaten egg, and pinch the long seam closed. Roll the dough underneath your hands to stretch to 18 inches. Fold the dough in half into a curve, with the front length 3 inches longer than the back length. Using the side of your hand, dent the dough at its bend (figure 1). Fold the longer length of dough over the back length twice to make two humps (figure 2). Twist the dough to create a third hump, and tuck the two open ends under the loaf (figure 3). You should have a loaf about 9 inches long with three humps.

6) Transfer to the prepared pan, being sure that the open ends are well secured under the loaf. Brush the top with the beaten egg and sprinkle with the reserved streusel. Don’t worry if some of the streusel falls into the corners of the pan. Place the babka, in the loaf pan, on a half-sheet pan.

7) Choose a warm place in the kitchen for proofing. Slip the babka on the pan into a tall “kitchensized” plastic bag. Place a tall glass of very hot water near the loaf pan. Wave the opening of the bag to trap air and inflate it like a balloon to create “head room,” being sure that the plastic does not touch the delicate dough. Twist the bag closed. Let stand until the dough has risen about 1 inch over the top of the pan, about 1½ hours.

8) Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 325°F.

9) Remove the glass from the bag, then the loaf pan on the half-sheet pan. Bake until the babka is deep golden brown, the dough in the crevices looks fully baked, and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the babka reads at least 195°F, 45 to 50 minutes. If the loaf threatens to burn, cover the top loosely with aluminum foil. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Carefully unmold the babka from the loaf pan onto the rack, and let cool completely. Drizzle the melted chocolate from a silicone spatula over the top of the babka, and let cool until set. Sift confectioners’ sugar over the top. When serving, slice the babka with a serrated knife.


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