Bread has a very strong link to Christian religious ceremonies and a variety of Easter breads are made during Easter time. Many of these bread recipes originate in Europe and today we share a delicious recipe for a Chocolate Babka. Babka is a Ukrainian, Polish and Belarusian sweet bread popular at Easter. Usually baked in a bundt-type pan, the bread is tall and cylindrical and is used to celebrate the rising of Christ on Easter Sunday.
For the dough
½ cup full-cream milk
1 package active dry yeast
⅓ cup sugar, plus a pinch
4¼ cups all-purpose flour, more if needed
1½ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon zest
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
4 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
140 g unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing bowls and pans
1½ cup Nutella
For the chocolate streusel
½ cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1½ tablespoon cocoa powder
½ teaspoon salt
4½ tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
⅓ cup dark chocolate chips
For the syrup
⅔ cup sugar
Prepare the dough: In a small saucepan or a bowl in the microwave, warm the milk until lukewarm but not hot. Add yeast and a pinch of sugar and leave for 5 to 10 minutes, until slightly foamy.
With an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook, mix together the flour, ⅓ cup sugar, salt, vanilla, lemon zest and nutmeg.
Beat in the yeast mixture and eggs until the dough comes together in a soft mass (about 2 minutes). If the dough sticks to the side of the bowl and doesn’t come together, add a tablespoon more flour at a time until it does, beating very well between additions.
Add half the butter and beat until the dough is smooth and elastic (3 to 5 minutes), scraping down the side of the bowl with a spatula as needed. Beat in the rest of the butter and continue to beat until the dough is smooth and stretchy (another 5 to 7 minutes). Again, if the dough sticks to the side of the bowl, add additional flour, 1 tablespoon at a time.
Butter a clean bowl, form the dough into a ball and roll it around in the bowl, to butter all over. Cover the bowl with a clean towel and let dough rise in a warm, draft-free place (inside a turned-off oven with the oven light on is good) until it puffs and rises (about 1 to 2 hours). It may not double in size, but it should rise.
Press the dough down with your hands, re-cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight.
Prepare the streusel: In a bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder and salt. Stir in the melted butter until it is evenly distributed and forms large, moist crumbs. Stir in the chocolate chips. Streusel can be prepared up to 3 days ahead and stored, covered, in the fridge.
Prepare the syrup: In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and ⅔ cup water. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then simmer for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally until the sugar dissolves.
Butter two 23-cm loaf pans, then line with parchment paper, leaving 5 cm of the paper hanging over on the sides to use as handles later.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide in half. On a floured surface, roll one piece into a 23 cm x 43 cm rectangle. Spread with half the Nutella (there’s no need to leave a border). Starting with a long side, roll into a tight coil. Transfer the coil onto a dish towel or piece of plastic wrap and place into the freezer for 10 minutes. Repeat with the other piece of dough.
Slice one of the dough coils in half, lengthwise, to expose the filling. Twist the halves together as if you were braiding them, then fold the braid in half (about 23 cm long). Place into a prepared pan, letting it curl around itself if it’s a little too long for the pan. Cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place for 1 to 1½ hour, until puffy (it won’t double). Alternatively, you can cover the pans with plastic wrap and let them rise in the refrigerator overnight; bring them back to room temperature for an hour before baking.
When ready to bake, heat the oven to 180 ºC. Use your fingers to clump the streusel together and scatter all over the tops of the cakes. Transfer to oven and bake until a tester goes into the cakes without any rubbery resistance and comes out clean (40 to 50 minutes). The cakes will also sound hollow if you unmould them and tap the bottoms.
As soon as the cakes come out of the oven, use a skewer or paring knife to pierce them all over, going all the way to the bottoms of the cakes, then pour the syrup on top of the cakes, making sure to use half the syrup for each cake.
Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before serving with a glass of Leopard’s Leap Merlot, known to be an exceptional partner to chocolate desserts.
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