Celebrating Our ECI Coffee & Cream Bar with Chocolate Babka

17 March 2014 Cassandra Lea

Our newest bar is the product of our latest collaboration with Eastern Congo Initiative and our friends at Caffe Vita Coffee Roasting Co. The cocoa, coffee and vanilla in our Coffee & Cream bar are all from Eastern Congo, and a portion of the sale will benefit ECI. To say that we’re pretty excited about this bar is a serious understatement. It’s already become a favorite of Theo employees and devotees. In fact, all this talk of coffee and chocolate has us dreaming up even more ways to enjoy this addictive combination.

Today we're bringing you a delightful treat to pair with your morning cup of joe: chocolate babka. This old-world celebratory bread of Eastern European descent takes its name from the Polish word for “grandma.” Perhaps because its traditional tapered shape resembled a grandmother's large pleated skirt, or maybe just because this was a specialty of grandma caliber. Either way, it's completely irresistible, and not something you often see on the west coast (although those of you who grew up on the east coast may have fond memories of enjoying babka from a neighborhood bakery).

The version we've chosen to share is a slightly sweet, yeast-risen bread swirled with a chocolate-almond filling. It takes a bit of time to make, but we've devised a way to prepare it up to the baking stage the day before. Then, you simply store the shaped dough in the fridge overnight and pop it into the oven the next morning. Your kitchen will be filled with a scent so heavenly you’ll think you've been transported to your favorite bakery. 45 minutes later, voila! fresh babka filled with warm cinnamon-scented chocolate to nibble alongside, or perhaps dunk into, your morning coffee fix. We think you'll agree this is the recipe for a perfect morning.

CHOCOLATE BABKA

Adapted from A Baker's Odyssey (Wiley, 2007)

To make the dough, you first make what is called a “sponge,” which is a thick batter of flour, milk, and yeast that helps to develop flavor.

SPONGE

  • 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

  • 3/4 cup whole milk

  • 1 package (2 1/4 tsp) active dry yeast

INSTRUCTIONS

  • Heat the milk in a saucepan until bubbles gather at the edges and steam is rising from the surface. Add the flour and whisk until smooth. Measure the temperature; it should read between 120º and 130ºF. If it is too hot, allow it to cool slightly before proceeding.
  • Sprinkle the yeast over the flour-milk mixture and whisk well. Cover the bowl with a damp towel or plastic wrap and let the sponge rise in a draft-free place until at least doubled in volume, about 2 hours.

FINAL DOUGH

  • 4 large egg yolks

  • 6 tbsp granulated sugar

  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

  • 1/2 tsp salt

  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling

  • 6 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, at room temperature

  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

 INSTRUCTIONS

  • You can mix the dough by hand or with a stand mixer, but be aware that mixing by hand will take a bit more time and a lot more elbow grease.
  • Whisk the egg yolks until thickened and pale, which should take several minutes. Then add the sugar and continue to whisk until the yolks are very light in color and fall in thick ribbons when the whisk is raised. Whisk in the salt and vanilla. 
  • Add the sponge mixture to the yolks and stir to combine. Gradually mix in 1 cup of the flour and beat for several minutes to make a sticky dough. Add the 6 tbsp butter pieces one at a time, beating until each is completely incorporated before adding the next.
  • If you are using a stand mixer, at this point you’ll want to switch to the dough hook. Add the remaining 1/2 cup of flour and beat until a smooth, shiny, and elastic dough forms.
  • Scrape the dough into a lightly buttered bowl and cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap. Let the dough rise at room temperature until it has tripled in size, about 2 hours.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling:

  • 4 oz. Theo 70% Dark Chocolate, broken into pieces

  • 2 oz. almond paste

  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

  • In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, process the chocolate until very finely chopped. Add the almond paste and cinnamon and process until the almond paste is chopped into very small pieces roughly the size of the chocolate pieces. Transfer the filling to a small bowl and set aside.

To finish the babka:

  • Lightly flour a surface for rolling the dough. Using a flexible bowl scraper, transfer the dough from the bowl to the floured surface. Pat it out into a 12x6 inch rectangle. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out to a rectangle measuring about 17x10 inches, dusting with flour as needed to prevent sticking. 

  • If necessary, turn the dough so that a 17 inch side is facing you. Sprinkle the filling over the surface of the dough, leaving a roughly 1/2 inch border on the side farthest from you. Gently press the filling into the dough with the palms of your hands (not all of it will stick, and that's ok). Starting with the end nearest you, roll up the dough into a 17 inch log. Pinch the edges of the dough to seal, then roll with the palms of your hands to elongate the log by a couple more inches. Then, gently fold the log in half and twist twice to create a loaf with 3 or 4 humps.
  • Generously butter a 9x5 inch loaf pan and place the dough in the pan, taking care to tuck the ends underneath.
  • Brush the top of the loaf with the 1 tbsp melted butter. Loosely cover the loaf with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight.
  • In the morning, remove the loaf from the fridge and allow it to come to room temperature (You can speed this process by placing the loaf in a slightly warmed oven).
  • Preheat the oven to 350ºF (If you have warmed the loaf in the oven, be sure to remove it before preheating).
  • Remove the plastic wrap from the loaf and bake for 45-50 minutes, until well browned and a tester comes out clean. If the top of the loaf is getting too dark before the loaf is finished baking, tent it with foil to prevent further browning.
  • Cool on a rack for at least 10 minutes before turning it out. Slice into thick pieces with a serrated knife.

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