Greetings and a Happy Easter to all the loyal DP folk! I apologize for my absence as of late, but the garden beds have been calling me.
For our Easter celebration this year, I decided to share some of my Polish culinary traditions with my husband and friends. One staple which you’ll see throughout Central and Eastern Europe is the making of the annual Easter babka. The word babka means “grandmother” in Polish– although this sweet brioche-like bread can be baked into any shape, it tends to be put into a bundt pan and resembles the long skirt a grandmother would wear.
I decided to put my own spin into things, and took some inspiration from Epicurious and Baking for the Cure. Through a serious of deliberate and accidental incidents, I’ve ended up with my own recipe!
A note before you start baking– This was an all-afternoon project. It’s not of those “just mix and go” recipes, but the wait and the effort are well worth it!
Chocolate Almond Easter Babka– makes 2 loaves
For the dough:
3/4 c warm milk (at about 115 degrees)
1/2 c sugar (plus 2 tsp additional for yeast prep)
3 tsp active dry yeast (almost two whole packets)
3 1/4 c all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 whole large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
3/4 tsp salt
5 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into pieces and softened*
For egg wash:
1 large egg yolk (reserve white)
1 tbsp half and half or heavy cream
3 tbsp unsalted butter, well softened
6 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
6 oz ( approx half can) of almond paste/filling
1 egg white (reserved from egg wash)
Stir together warm milk and 2 tsp sugar in bowl of stand mixer. Sprinkle yeast lightly over mixture and allow to stand about 5 minutes. You should see bubbles/foam– if not, restart with fresh yeast and take note of milk temp.
Add 1/2 c flour to yeast mixture and mix until combined. Add eggs and yolk, sugar, vanilla, and salt and mix. Measure out 2 3/4 c flour, and slowly add it to mixture in 1/2 c intervals while beating mixture on low. Increase speed to medium, and beat in 5 tbsp butter. The dough will appear really wet and shiny after about 4-5 minutes– this is a good thing!
Scrape dough into a lightly oiled bowl. Take note that the dough will almost double in size, so make sure the bowl is large enough. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot to allow dough to rise, about 1 1/2-2 hours. (I recommend setting the oven to warm; turn oven off and put dough in to rise.)
Combine chopped chocolate, butter, egg white, and almond paste in a small bowl and set aside.
Line two loaf pans with parchment paper. With a lightly floured or oiled hand, punch down dough gently, then halve dough with oiled/floured spatula. Roll out one piece onto lightly floured surface into 8 in by 12 in rectangle, with the long side closest to you.
Spread half of chocolate/almond filling on dough, allowing a border of about 1 in on each side; lightly brush border with egg wash. Starting with one side, begin tightly rolling dough into log, pinching in sides as you go along. Bring ends of log together, forming a ring. Take dough ring and twist several times, forming a figure eight. Place in lined loaf pan.
Repeat process with second half of dough and reserved filling. Put remaining egg wash in fridge to use later.
Either butter or apply cooking spray to one side of a piece of plastic wrap and cover loaf pan (butter/spray side down). I’d suggest the cooking spray– husbands are great for assistance at this point for wrangling the plastic wrap! Repeat with second loaf pan. Return both loaf pans to warm spot/oven to rise a second time. Dough will almost double in size over 1-2 hours. As an alternative, you can put pans in fridge and allow them to rise overnight, approx 8-12 hours. If you do this, make sure you bring loaves to room temp before baking.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Once the dough reaches the top of the loaf pans, you’re set to bake. Brush tops of loaves with reserved egg wash; bake loaves for about 30-40 minutes. The tops should be dark golden brown in color, and the bread should come out of the pans easily (courtesy of parchment). Allow to cool to room temperature before serving.
This is an incredibly sweet dessert bread, but it pairs perfectly with Sunday morning coffee!
*NB- I made the mistake of adding 1/2 the butter recommended , but it still turned out great. The recipes called for close to 10 tbsp, but I added only 5. You can make your own call.