Pretender to the Throne–The Babka Episode

How many of you like Seinfeld? Yes, the stand up comedian. I used to love his shows. What I liked was the fact that he could take something that was so mundane and give it a whole new twist. His shows were about nothing and everything. Well, you need to watch the show to really understand. If you have never seen the show you need to catch the re-runs.

I still remember this one episode, where Jerry Seinfeld and Elaine go into a bakery to pick up a  pastry to take to a friend’s party. They stand in the line and argue about this thing called a ‘Babka’. And I just fell in love with the sound of that word. Babka. . . Bab Kaa. . . Baab Ka. . . any which way you tried saying it, it had such a rounded sound to it. Just try it; try saying it loud and extent those vowels. Do you get what I mean? As the show progressed, I realised, they were talking about a bread/pastry. I had heard of Danishes and Donuts but never a Babka  My ears perked up again when I heard the word chocolate. That’s right, Chocolate. Elaine was insisting that the chocolate Babka was far superior to the cinnamon one. I had no clue what the Babka was but I had to agree with her.  Chocolate over cinnamon any day. Was that even up for debate? Without knowing what  Babka was,  or even tasting it , I had a good laugh., thinking to myself that someday I have to taste a Babka to understand why it was eliciting such strong opinions.

babka ost6

Many years later, I went on to discover what a Babka really was. And I was not disappointed. A rich yeasted dough was filled with delicious chocolate or cinnamon, as the case maybe, twisted and baked to perfection. I could now believe why Jerry and Elaine would wait in line to pick up one of these confections. Did I ever try to bake one–never. There were so many reasons for that. I was not comfortable working with yeast. What if it did not turn out right? There was so much of butter and chocolate and too many eggs. . . the reasons were endless.

Then, I actually started baking bread and yeast was no longer my enemy. It was time to put the Babka to test. Was it really worth devoting an entire episode to this pastry? It was time to find out. Every recipe I looked at asked for at least 4 eggs. The amount of butter was giving me a heart attack. Could I really avoid the eggs and somehow still hold on to the richness of this delicacy? I had to rework the dough. Considering that I had never tasted this ‘Babka’ before, I was totally at sea.

babka ost.All right, it was time to break it down. A rich dough–got it! So I would avoid the eggs and use milk for the dough. To add to the milky taste, I’d throw in a couple of spoons of milk powder. Next, the butter. I could not avoid that completely; but I could reduce the quantity. I also needed to keep the dough a little sweet. Some manipulations and adjustments later, I had a soft and supple dough that was neither dry and hard nor wet and tacky.

Now for the filling. I had to agree with Elaine. There was no question of a cinnamon Babka . After all , to me it sounded like a cinnamon roll, just shaped differently. I had made enough of them.  This had to be a gooey, chocolatey piece of heaven. The recipe called for a paste to be made of cocoa, butter and sugar and an extra addition of chocolate chips. There were others who called for   nice layer of Nutella.and then a sprinkling of chocolate. I had enough butter in the dough (even I had to put a stop to this butter over dose) and I did not have any Nutella on hand. So it was going to be chocolate and more chocolate. Some cutting and twisting,  shaping, and baking later, the Babka was there in all its golden glory.

babka ost 6.2

Now, the next step was to brush it with a sugar syrup. I had the syrup all ready but somehow could not bear to add anything more to this beauty. To me it looked good just the way it was. In my mind the syrup would just add to the sweetness (it was already sweet) and make the pastry a little more moist (I did not want to risk it becoming soggy) so I just set the syrup aside. Now, the big question. Was this really a Babka? Or something else pretending to be a Babka?. After all, the dough was different, the filling was sort of different and the finishing was different. I wonder what Elaine would have to say about it. Would she be willing to call this a Babka? Or was this the equivalent of a cinnamon Babka– another pastry in disguise?

babka ost2Really I did not care. To me, it was everything that I thought it would be. It was soft, buttery and every bite filled the mouth with warm, melted chocolate. Whether it was a pretender or not, I did not really care. The purists can scream hoarse, telling me this is no Babka. When something tastes this good, you could call it a Babka by any other name and it would taste just as sweet.


2 cups All Purpose Flour

3/4 cup Warm Milk (This is approximate. you could use more or less depending on the weather)

1/4 cup soft Butter

1 tsp Instant yeast

2 Tbs Sugar

1 tsp Salt

2 Tbs Milk Powder

11/2 to 2 cups chopped chocolate

Cream for brushing

babka 2 006METHOD

1. Mix flour, yeast, sugar, salt and milk powder.

2. Add milk to the flour and bring the dough together. You could use more or less depending on the quality of the flour and the climate.

3. Slowly knead in the soft butter. Knead till the dough is soft and supple.

4. Place in an oiled bowl and cover. Let the dough rise till it is almost double in quantity. Took me an hour.

5. Line your loaf pan with some foil or parchment paper, with the paper hanging  a little over the sides. This will help you lift the loaf off easily. Make sure you line the pan or you will spend your time trying to scrape chocolate and bread from the sides.

6. Gently deflate the dough and roll it out into a rectangle.

7. This is the time to spread the Nutella (if you are using) on the rectangular piece of dough. Make sure that you chocolate is chopped really fine or even grated.

8. Spread the chocolate evenly on the dough and roll up the dough like you would a swiss roll.

9. Take a sharp knife or a pizza cutter and cut through the length of the roll till you have two pieces with the layers exposed.

10. Twist the two pieces together making sure that the exposed layers face up.

11. Fold the ends down to fit the loaf pan.

12. Cover the loaf pan and set aside for the second rise until the loaf is almost double.

13. Pre-heat your oven to 180C.

14. When the dough is risen brush the top with cream and bake for about 30 minutes or until a thermometer inserted reads 190F

15. If the loaf to starts to brown earlier cover with a foil to prevent browning.

16. Remove from pan immediately and cool completely before slicing.

babka ost4

You can decide when you want to eat it. Whether it is for breakfast, tea, as a dessert or simply when ever it takes your fancy. You can call it a Babka or any name that you choose. Either way, you will finally know what Elaine was talking about.


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