This is not only a love story with babka, also known as chocolate krantz cakes, but with a London-based chef whom I discovered through a precious gift from a friend. Yotam Ottolenghi is a chef with multiple restaurants & delis in the London area, as well as a food traveler and cookbook author. He reaches across many different cultures, and translates traditional recipes along with his own, all in a colorful and exciting format. I have a few of his books now, but I began with Jerusalem, which encompasses tons of traditional middle eastern recipes, and stories about the history and origin of these dishes and flavors. The philosophy of his team at Ottolenghi is to make people happy through food, using all of the senses to do so. Made fresh, without preservatives or artificial coloring, his food offers a healthy option for buyers that is also full of flavor and creativity. Check out his website to learn more about him, his team, and locations if you ever find yourself in London.
Now on to the better part: chocolate. Babka is a middle eastern/mediterranean chocolate yeast cake that will make your taste buds explode. The process of creating this lovely dish is long and requires concentration, but the result is worth every second. It may not be the most nutrient-dense, but it makes the perfect addition to a big meal, celebration or even just brunch with your friends. We all need to indulge every now and then, right? In my opinion, happiness and wholeness are found in chocolate. Okay, not really, but not far from it.
I recommend reading through the recipe multiple times before you begin, and prepared to work on this over the course of two days.
Babka (Chocolate Krantz Cakes)
For the bread:
4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
1/2 cup superfine sugar
2 tsp fast-rising active dry yeast
grated zest of 1 small lemon
3 extra-large eggs
1/2 cup water
rounded 1/4 tsp salt
2/3 cup unsalted butter, at room temp, cut into 3/4 inch cubes
sunflower oil, for greasing
For the chocolate filling:
scant 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/3 cup best-quality cocoa powder
4 1/2 oz dark chocolate, melted
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
2 tbsp superfine sugar
For the syrup:
2/3 cup water
1 1/4 cups superfine sugar
For the dough, place the flour, sugar, yeast and lemon zest in a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook (I didn’t have one, so I used the regular mixing attachment) and mix on low speed for 1 minute. Add the eggs and water and mix on low speed for a few seconds, then increase the speed to medium and mix for 3 minutes, until the dough comes together. Add the salt and then start adding the butter, a few cubes at a time, mixing until it is incorporated into the dough. Continue mixing for about 10 minutes on medium speed, until the dough is completely smooth, elastic and shiny. During the mixing, you will need to scrape down the sides of the bowl a few times and throw a small amount of flour onto the sides so that all of the dough leaves them.
Place the dough in a large bowl brushed with sunflower oil, cover with plastic wrap and leave in the fridge for at least half a day, preferably overnight.
Grease two 9×4 loaf pans with some sunflower oil and line the bottom of each pan with a piece of waxed paper. Divide the dough in half and keep one-half covered in the fridge.
Make the filling by mixing together the confectioners’ sugar, cocoa powder, chocolate, and butter. You will get a spreadable paste. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface into a rectangle measuring 15 x 11 in. Trim the sides to make them even, then position the dough so that a long side is closest to you. Use an offset spatula to spread half the chocolate mixture over the rectangle, leaving a 3/4 in border all around. Sprinkle half the pecans on top of the chocolate, then sprinkle over half the superfine sugar.
Brush a little bit of water along the long end furthest away from you. Use both hands to roll up the rectangle like a roulade, starting from the long side that is closest to you and ending at the other long end. Press to seal the dampened end onto the roulade and then use both hands to even out the roll into a perfect thick cigar. Rest the cigar on its seam.
Trim about 3/4 in off both ends of the roulade with a serrated knife. Now, use the knife to gently cut the roll into half lengthwise, starting at the top and finishing at the seam. You are essentially dividing the log into two long, even halves, with the layers of dough and filling visible along the length of both halves. With the cut sides facing up, gently press together one end of each half, and then lift the right half over the left half. Repeat this process, but this time lift the left half over the right, to create a simple, two-pronged plait (like a braid). Gently squeeze together the other ends so that you are left with the two halves, intertwined, showing the filling on top. Carefully lift the cake into a loaf pan. Cover with a wet tea towel and leave to rise in a warm place for 1-1 1/2 hours. The cake will rise by 10-20%. Repeat the whole process to make the second cake.
Preheat the oven to 375 F, making sure you allow plenty of time for it to heat fully before the cakes have finished rising. Remove the tea towels, place the cakes on the middle rack of the oven, and bake for about 30 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.
While the cakes are in the oven, make the syrup. Combine the water and sugar in a saucepan, place over medium heat, and bring to a boil. As soon as the sugar dissolves, remove from the heat and leave to cool down. As soon as the cakes come out of the oven, brush all of the syrup over them. When the cakes are only warm, remove from the pans and let cool completely before serving.
Recipe credit: Jerusalem, written by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamini