Who can even say the word ‘babka’ and not think of Seinfeld? And the premise that a chocolate babka is superior to a cinnamon babka!?
Before that episode aired (yes, I saw it when it first aired- I was a mere child Hahaha!) I had never heard of babka. When I saw what it was, I understood what it was, but the name was new to me. I had eaten versions through the years, often from bakeries or from relatives. This wasn’t something that my mother baked. But she would have loved it. Like most German pastries, it isn’t overly sweet. It really is more of a bread, but think panetone, not rye bread! It is totally something we would offer as a little nibble with coffee mid afternoon.
Think of the best airy yeast bread, all swirled with chocolate (or cinnamon!) which makes for the most yummy breakfasts or snacks. The other name it goes by is Krantz. (A German Jewish name for this dessert bread) It is best served warm, with the chocolatey veins oozing slightly. Often the breads are covered with a streusel topping, which totally takes it from breakfast to dessert.
There are so many versions of this sweet bread. One of my favourite cookbooks, Jerusalem, by Yotam Ottolenghi, has one called Chocolate Krantz Cakes. It is very detailed, and a lot of time is needed to get through the recipe before you are snacking on a piece of finished bread. I have yet to make it. I know it is just all the steps and time that make me hesitate taking it on. But it is on my to-do list!
When I came across a muffin version on Joy the Baker’s website, I was intrigued. She definitely eliminated some of the time required to get to the finished product. Instead of overnight proofing, this would require only a matter of a an hour or so of initial proofing. And instead of baking it up in a loaf pan (or two) she proposed muffins. I love it. Self-contained little chocolatey yeasty goodness.
I tried it the first time, and was thrilled with the outcome. Bread part wise. The filling left me just a little flat. Even though she has the brilliant idea of using the chocolate part of oreo cookies as part of the filling!! I decided to try them again, adjusting the sweetness and the filling a bit. I added some more sugar (not too much in the grand scheme of things, as well as some cocoa nibs for texture. The second batch went over well. But I still wasn’t over the moon. I decided that the reason the chocolate wasn’t making me thrilled, was because it just wasn’t pronounced enough. So I did what any self respecting German would do, I added some rum!! And espresso. Both of these actually bring out the chocolate flavour perfectly. So I made a third batch. And now I am happy to share them with the world!
It all starts with a yeast challah type dough made with butter, which is proofed, and then rolled out into a large rectangle. The filling gets spread over the entire sheet of dough. But… instead of rolling it, like for cinnamon rolls, it gets folded like a letter, three times. So that it looks like a really flat cinnamon roll log. The entire log gets cut into short strips. Then two strips are squished and wrapped around each other and then squished into a prepared muffin tin. This gets repeated till the muffin tin is filled. Streusel topping is scattered over them all. A bit more proofing, and then they get baked off. And the aroma coming out of the oven is so dreamy!
From start to finish, including all the proofing time, we are only looking at a few hours. In fact, you could get them into the muffin tin, wrap them up and leave them in the fridge overnight. The next morning, while the oven is heating up, they can finish proofing on the counter. With a cup of coffee, and a slather of butter, these make a wondrous side to a brunch table, or even a great quick breakfast muffin.
The other great suggestion from Joy’s recipe, is making double the chocolate filling, as well as the streusel topping. Keep these both in the freezer, so that the next time you want to bake these up, two of the steps are already done. Love it!
And I will still get around to baking off that Ottolenghi Krantz cake. Because I do love a challenge! 🙂
Chocolate and Espresso Babka Muffins
All the goodness of the airy yeasty layers in a babka loaf, but in a muffin. Add some espresso and cocoa nibs to the filling, and this can be breakfast, or even dessert with a good cup of coffee!
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 4 tablespoons 2 ounces unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 2 1/4 teaspoons 1 envelope active dry yeast
- 2 tablespoons warm water warmer than body temperature
- pinch of sugar
- 3 to 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour divided
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 large eggs at room temperature
- 9 ounces milk chocolate coarsely chopped
- 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate coarsely chopped
- 1 1/2 sticks 3/4 cup unsalted butter
- pinch of salt
- 1 tbsp ground espresso or instant coffee granules
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 tbsp light brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 tbsp dark rum
- 1 1/2 cups finely ground chocolate wafer cookies I used Oreos without the cream, ground in a food processor
- 1/4 cup cocoa nibs
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter cut into cubes
In a small saucepan, melt together milk and butter until butter has just melted. Remove from the heat and add vanilla extract. Let mixture stand for about 5 minutes to cool, or until the mixture registers about 115 to 125 degrees F- warm to the touch.
In a small bowl, stir together yeast, warm water, and a pinch of sugar. It's ok if the mixture is lumpy, we're just trying to activate the yeast. Allow to sit for 5 minutes until it's lightly foamy and bubbly.
In a large mixing bowl (I used just the bowl of my stand mixer) whisk together 2 cups flour, sugar, and salt. Set aside.
Whisk together eggs and set aside.
Pour the milk mixture into the dry ingredients. Add the yeast mixture too and mix with a spatula. Add the eggs and place the bowl in your stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. As the mixture beats on low speed, add an additional cup of flour.
Beat the mixture until the eggs are incorporated into the batter. It will seem like the dough and the eggs are never going to come together. Keep mixing. The dough will stick to the sides of the bowl. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add up to 1/2 cup more flour and beat in. The dough will be lightly tacky and slightly sticky after 5 minutes of kneading in the mixer. That's right!
(Alternately you can make this dough without the use of a mixer, using a firm spatula or wooden spoon to bring the dough together. Add the remaining 1/2 cups flour as necessary to create a firm, tacky and lightly sticky dough. Knead on the counter top to really get it together.)
Place the dough is a large, greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and a clean kitchen towel. Place in a warm space and allow to rest until almost doubled in size, about 1 hour though the time will be longer if your kitchen is cool.
While the dough rests, make the chocolate filling. (this will be enough for two batches)
In a heatproof bowl over a double boiler, melt together the two chocolates and butter. Stir until smooth and glossy. Remove from the heat and stir in the salt, cinnamon, espresso, honey and rum.
Let the chocolate cool to room temperature. This step is important. We'll need the chocolate at room temperature before we add the cookie crumbs so the mixture finished is thick and spreadable. Give the chocolate about 30 minutes to come to room temperature.
Stir in the chocolate cookies which should make the chocolate mixture thick but still spreadable.
You can also make the cinnamon crumble topping now (this will also be enough for two batches of muffins)
In a medium bowl toss together flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Add the cold butter and use your fingers to work the butter into the dry ingredients, creating a crumbly mixture. Set aside.
To assemble the muffins, start by rolling out the proofed dough.
Once the dough has nearly doubled in size, knead it gently on a well floured work surface. Use a floured rolling pin to roll the dough into a roughly 18x12-inch rectangle, keeping the 18-inch side closest to you.
Spread generously with filling. You'll have enough filling for two babka recipes, so divide the filling in two and save the rest in a freezer safe bag for future use. Scatter the cocoa nibs evenly over the filling.
Now we'll roll up the dough. Starting from the 18-inch side, we're going to fold the upwards in fourth. Like you'd roll a cinnamon roll, but we're making three big, flat folds.
Fold the dough upwards in fourth. You'll end with a roughly 18-inch long flat log. You will have made 3 folds in total)
Use a bench knife or a large sharp knife to divide the dough in half vertically. And slice each half into 12 even pieces. You'll have 24 small vertical slices of dough.
Lightly grease and flour a standard muffin tin.
Take one slice of babka dough and pinch it around a second strip. Squish these together in fun layers, to expose some of the chocolate layers, and place into a muffin cup. Repeat until all the muffin cups are filled.
Sprinkle each muffin cup with half of the crumble topping. Save the remaining crumble topping in a freezer safe bag for your future self.
MAKE AHEAD! At this point, you can cover the pan in plastic wrap and place the pan in the refrigerator to bake tomorrow morning. When you're ready to bake, place the pan on the counter to come to room temperature while the oven preheats and proceed.
Place a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Allow the muffins to rest and rise just slightly while the oven preheats for 20 minutes.
Bake for 16 to 18 minutes until the muffins have risen, are golden and bubbling. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least 15 minutes before using a butter knife to coax them out of a pan for serving.
These are best enjoyed the day they're made though they're also delicious heated up the next day!
Original recipe and inspiration from Joy the Baker, found here!