One of the many joys of attending a Shabbat morning service is the Oneg Shabbat that follows (literally “Sabbath delight”). This can be as small as a few cookies or slices of poppy seed cake or can encompass an entire luncheon. There are usually songs and blessings and sometimes a lecture or discussion as well. It’s a nice time to catch up with people and it’s especially nice if you attended an entire service, which in the Conservative and Orthodox traditions will have lasted for several hours. My personal favorite of all the possible Oneg offerings, though, is a really good chocolate babka or krantz cake. This is a yeast cake with swirls and swirls of chocolate running through it. There is nothing like eating it still warm from the oven when the chocolate is a bit oozy, but since observant Jews do not do any cooking on the Sabbath, it is usually eaten at room temperature.
This is a cake that takes some time to make and involves a number of steps. If I were living in Israel – or in a community with a really good Kosher bakery – I probably would simply go out and buy my babka. But since I live in downtown Chicago and my current synagogue doesn’t go in for this treat, I have to make it myself if I am going to indulge in all of its chocolaty, yeasty goodness. I originally made the version by Yotam Ottolenghi in his cookbook Jerusalem. I thought this time I might try a different recipe that I found online for a Nutella Babka. It killed me to do it, but the dough got thrown out. I just knew that it was simply NEVER going to rise. It was like lead. So I went back to Ottolenghi. I made just a couple of adjustments, including adding a chocolate hazelnut spread which caught my eye in the other recipe. If you don’t mind a bit of a project, this is really worth making. Otherwise, get yourself to synagogue and hope for a great Oneg!
Chocolate Hazelnut Babka
Yield: Two 9 x 5 inch loaves
4 1/4 cups (530 grams) all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
2 teaspoons active dried yeast
Grated zest of 1 small lemon
4 large eggs
1/2 cup tap water
Rounded 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
2/3 cup unsalted butter (150 grams or 5.3 ounces) at room temperature
Canola or other neutral oil, for greasing the pan
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
About 19 ounces of a good quality chocolate hazelnut spread like Nutella
2/3 cup water
1.25 cups granulated sugar
Make the dough: Combine the flour, sugar, yeast and zest in the bottom of the bowl of a stand mixer. Add eggs and 1/2 cup water, mixing with the dough hook on low speed until it comes together; this may take a couple of minutes. With the mixer on low, add the salt, then the butter, a bit at a time, mixing until it’s incorporated into the dough. Then, mix on medium speed for 10 minutes until dough is completely smooth; you might need to scrape the bowl down a few times. I added a Tablespoon or 2 of flour to the sides of the bowl to make sure that all of the dough came together and pulled away from the sides.
Coat a large bowl with oil and place dough inside, cover with plastic and refrigerate. Since it is the middle of winter and rather cold here, I simply left my dough on the windowsill next to the cold glass. Leave in fridge (or by the windowsill) for at least half a day, preferably overnight. [Dough will not fully double, so don’t fret if it doesn’t look like it grew by more than half. It should, however, be puffy.]
Assemble loaves: Coat two 9-by-5-inch loaf pans with oil or butter, and line the bottom of each with a rectangle of parchment paper, which is also then oiled. Take half of the dough, leaving the other half chilled. Roll out on a lightly floured counter to about a 10 by 15 inches. The long side should be facing you. Trim the dough to be an even rectangle.
Spread half of the hazelnut chocolate spread evenly over the dough, leaving about a 1/2-inch border all around. Scatter half of the chocolate chips over the spread. Brush the end farthest away from you with tap water. Roll the dough up tightly with the filling into a long, tight cigar. Trim the last 1/2-inch off each end of log so that they are even.
Using a serrated knife, gently cut the log in half lengthwise and lay the strips next to each other on the counter, cut sides up. Pinch the top ends gently together. Lift one side over the next, forming a twist and trying to keep the cut sides facing out (because they’re pretty). Don’t worry if this step makes a mess, just transfer the twist as best as you can into the prepared loaf pan folding extra underneath to fit. Repeat process with second loaf.
Cover with a damp tea towel and leave to rise another 1.5 hours at warm room temperature. Since I tend to keep my house on the cool side, I heated my oven to the lowest setting (in my case, 170 degrees F.) and when the oven came to temperature I turned it off, while I finished forming the second loaf. I then placed the loaves in the warm oven to rise for 1 hour. After an hour, I removed the loaves to the counter to preheat the oven for baking.
Bake and finish cakes: Heat oven to 375°F (190°C). Remove towels, place each loaf on the middle rack of your oven. Bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the dough comes out clean. Because of all of the chocolate, this is not a perfect process so also use your nose and eyes to tell if the babka is fully baked. If your babka needs more time, put it back, 5 minutes at a time then re-test. If it browns too quickly, you can cover it with foil.
Preparing the syrup: While babkas are baking, make the syrup. Bring sugar and water to a boil and mix until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool somewhat. As soon as the babkas leave the oven, brush ALL of the syrup over each loaf.
It will seem like too much, but it will all absorb into the warm loaf and will leave the babka glossy and moist. Let the loaves cool in their pans until just warm and then transfer the loaves to a cooling rack to cool the rest of the way before eating (this is a suggestion from Ottolenghi but I defy you to not eat it when it is still warm!) Cut with a serrated bread knife and prepare to be amazed.
Do ahead: Babkas keep for a few days at room temperature. They also freeze well.