So somehow we’ve developed a joke in our family that I’m Polish. Nothing against anybody who is actually Polish, but I am NOT POLISH — I’m half Irish and half Slovak, which is NOT THE SAME, k?
I’m sure you can already see how the joke developed. Marc pretending to not remember that I was Slovak and calling me Polish — the cultures and food are actually very similar so at first I thought he was actually confused. And again I have nothing against being Polish but I would always get mad and correct him because it’s just not right! I’m Slovak! Which… only encouraged him. And then his brother got in on the joke and now basically I’ll never hear the end of it because they know that it’s certain to get a rise out of me every time. ?
Now cut to a month or so ago when I discovered the phenomenon that is Babka, when I ran across these photos on Instagram. I was instantly enamored. So pretty! And sourdough! And full of chocolate?! I needed it in my life. And, since we were in peak pandemic lockdown mode, it sounded like the perfect weekend activity (my co-workers were starting to accuse me of doing nothing but bake pizza, so I needed something different). Plus, it was Easter weekend and this seemed appropriately celebratory.
Obviously, I made it and it lived up to all my babka-dreams, or we wouldn’t be here today. The dough is very similar to my cinnamon roll recipe, meaning it’s full of butter and a bit of sugar. Also similar to cinnamon rolls, you brush it with a (chocolate-y butter-y) filling and roll it up. But then, you cut the “log” in half lengthwise and twist it before putting it in a bread pan. Basically, very simple but looks like a ton of effort. And, obviously delicious — even though there’s all that chocolate and butter, the sourdough part balances it out nicely, so it’s not too sweet or rich at all.
So that next Monday, I was bragging to my co-workers about what I’d made the past weekend because, you know, I wanted them to know that I make things other than pizza (sometimes). And one of them was like, “Oh, Babka! That’s a Polish dish, right?”
Not believing that I had so inadvertently walked into that trap, I fact-checked on the internet and this is what Google gave me:
The “traditional enriched easter bread of Roman Catholic Poland.”
??♀️??♀️ WOW, ok thanks universe.
Anyway, the take aways from this story are 1. I’M NOT ACTUALLY POLISH OK and 2. No matter your ancestry, this babka is a delicious and worthy way to fill your weekend. ?
- 100 grams unsalted butter at room temperature
- 107 grams large eggs about 2; cold
- 107 grams whole milk cold
- 29 grams sugar
- 139 grams mature sourdough starter
- 310 grams all-purpose flour
- 8 grams salt
- 37 grams unsalted butter
- 38 grams coconut oil or more butter
- 70 grams semi-sweet chocolate chopped
- 1-2 tablespoons sugar (optional, add if you want the filling on the sweeter side)
- 10 grams unsweetened cocoa powder (optional, if you want the filling on the more chocolate-y side)
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoon water
Mix (30 mins) — 9:00 am
- Remove butter from fridge and cut into about ⅛"-¼" squares (this will make your life easier later). Place on a plate to warm up to room temperature while you prepare the rest of the dough.
- Whisk the eggs, milk, sugar, and sourdough starter in a large bowl, or in a stand mixer (stand mixer is easier, but it's doable if you don't have one). Add flour & salt and slowly mix (on low if you're using a stand mixer) until everything is incorporated. The dough will still look a little lumpy at this point.
- Let the dough rest for 10 minutes.
- After 10 minutes, give it a good brisk stir (or mix on medium speed for a few minutes). The dough should start to come together and look more smooth. (In a stand mixer, it'll start to come away from the sides but still stick to the bottom). If it still seems wet and doesn't want to come together, add a tiny bit of flour at a time until it does.
- At this point, the butter should be soft but still have some structure. If it's still very hard, microwave for 5 seconds at a time until it softens a bit. Likewise, if it's warm and close to melting, put it in the freezer for a few minutes until it cools off.
- Add the butter 1-3 squares at a time and mix until all squares are entirely incorporated before adding more (on medium if using stand mixer). If doing this without a stand mixer, it helps to have two people: one holding the bowl and the other stirring. (See a video of our technique.) If it's just you, I'd advise just using your hands to mix. Repeat until all butter squares have been mixed in.
Bulk Fermentation + Stretch & Fold (2+ hrs) — 9:30 – 11:30 am (or longer, as needed)
- Transfer the dough to a clean bowl, cover with a cloth, and let sit at room temperature (75-77°F is ideal) for 2 hours. Perform 2 sets of "stretch and folds" every 30 minutes. After the second set, let the dough rest, covered, until 2 hours are up.
- At the end of the 2 hours, check on the dough. It should have risen a little and look more puffy. If looks like nothing has happened, give it another 30 mins – 1 hr. (Note: if you're really struggling with seeing any activity, make sure your dough is a warm enough place. In the winter I'll put it in a water heater closet, or even turn the oven on and set the bowl on top of it.)
Chill Dough (3+ hrs) — 11:30 am – 2:30 pm
- Cover your bowl in plastic wrap and place in the fridge for at least 3 hours. You can even refrigerate it overnight here if you like.
Make Filling & Shape (30 mins) — 2:30 pm
- Make the chocolate filling: Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Remove from the heat and add the semi-sweet chocolate and sugar if desired, stirring until chocolate completely melts. Add cocoa powder if desired and stir to incorporate. Set aside to cool until ready to use.
- Roll the dough: Remove chilled dough from refrigerator and dump onto floured counter. Sprinkle flour on the top of the dough and on your rolling pin. Roll the dough into about a 10″ x 12″ rectangle, with a short side closest to your body. Using a spatula, spread the chocolate over the dough (microwave for 5 seconds if it has hardened), leaving 1" clean on the short side furthest from you.
- Starting at the bottom (short end nearest you), begin to roll up the dough. It's important to roll the dough very tightly, so work your way from left to right rolling one revolution at a time.
- Place your dough log on a plate or baking sheet and place in the freezer for 15 minutes. This will make it much easier to work with.
- Prepare your baking pan: Cut a piece of parchment paper so it fits in a bread pan (I used a standard 8.5" x 4.5" pan), with two "handles" sticking out on the long sides of the pan (see above photos for reference). Once you're sure it fits, take it out of the pan and set on the counter.
- Shape the dough: After 15 minutes, remove dough log from freezer and place log on a cutting board. Using a sharp knife, cut the log lengthwise down the middle. Turn both halves so the insides are facing up, and pinch one end together. Then, gently, twist the two halves together (again, see above photos for reference). When you've finished, pinch the bottom ends together as well. Don't worry if some of the filing spills out or it gets messy!
- Now, gently lift the babka up and place on the middle of the parchment paper. If it's too long for the paper (and your pan), just gently lift it up and sort of squish or pat it together until it fits. Again, don't worry too much if it doesn't look perfect. Once everything is situated, use the parchment "handles" to lift everything up and slide into the bread pan.
Proof (3+ hrs) — 3:00 – 6:00 pm (or until ready)
- Cover the dough and place somewhere warm to proof (counter, water heater closet, on top of a warm oven — 77-78°F is ideal here), for about three hours.
- At the end of 3 hours, check the dough to see if it's risen. You want it to be at least about ½" below the top of your pan. If it hasn't risen at all, give it more time (this dough can be slow to rise). And make sure it's in a warm enough place.
Refrigerate (overnight) — 6:00 pm
- After the dough has risen, cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight. (You can also skip this step if you are following different timing.)
Bake (40-50 mins) — 9:00 am next day
- Preheat oven to 350°F and remove the dough from the refrigerator. Mix the egg and water in a small bowl, and brush a thin layer on top of the dough.
- Place your bread pan on top of a baking sheet (to catch any drippings), and place everything in the oven. Bake for 40-50 minutes (start with 40), until the babka is cooked all the way through — if you have a thermometer, the inside should read 200°F. If it's looking like the top is browning too quickly, reduce the oven temp.
- When the babka is thoroughly baked, remove to a cooling rack. Use a spatula to free the short sides from the pan. Let cool for 10 minutes.
- After 10 minutes, use the parchment handles to gently pull the babka out of its pan. If you have enough self control, it's best to let it cool completely before cutting. But if not, just gently slice it. Enjoy!
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