I spend most Sunday afternoons in the kitchen doing a combination of cooking for the week, baking, cleaning, and half-mindedly watching TV or listening to podcasts (if you’re into true crime and dark humour, this is the greatest thing ever). Recently I’ve been rewatching Seinfeld out of the corner of my eye as I cook and tidy, and since I’m already in the kitchen, the volume of food references in the show really pounces to the forefront. Food is a huge vehicle for comedy in the show (George and the mango, Kramer and the Mackinaw Peach, the Chinese Restaurant… &c), but the one that I think I internalized the most after watching the show as a kid was the babka. If you haven’t watched that episode lately, I highly recommend you do. It holds up.
The main conflict of the show comes down to a babka-versus-babka flavour showdown, chocolate or cinnamon. Which is better? Which makes for the greater hostess gift? In homage to this query, I structured this recipe to make enough dough for two loaves of babka, and made one of each: a subtly sweet cinnamon babka, and a deeply rich dark chocolate babka. If you only want to make one, pick a filling and halve the dough recipe, or double the filling for two loaves of the same type.
Fair warning, this dough is not identical to the brioche-like bread in a classic babka recipe. I tweaked my favourite sweet dough recipe to include spelt flour for a decidedly wholesome take that makes eating half a loaf of babka in one sitting slightly less guilt-inducing. Brushing the finished loaves with maple syrup instead of simple syrup saves a bit of time, adds extra flavour, and accomplishes the same beautiful shine.
If this is your first time shaping a babka, I’d recommend looking at this post from Pretty Simple Sweet, where she has incredibly helpful photos for each step of the process. I ended up rolling out one of my doughs a bit too long for the pan, giving it a bit of a bulge on one end (but oh boy, was that bulge ever tasty. No regrets).
- 4 tbsp ground flax + 6 tbsp warm water
- 1/2 c unsweetened almond milk
- 1/4 c + 1 tsp cane sugar
- 1/4 c grapeseed oil, or melted coconut oil
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 cup warm water
- 2 1/4 tsp yeast
- 3-3 1/2 cups spelt flour
- 1 cup brown sugar or coconut sugar
- 1 tbsp cinnamon
- 1/4 cup spelt flour
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 3 tbsp grapeseed oil
- 1/2 cup chopped dark chocolate, melted
- 1 tbsp cocoa powder
- 1 tbsp organic cane sugar
- pinch salt
- 2 tbsp grapeseed oil
- 1/2 cup chopped dark chocolate, not melted
- maple syrup, for brushing
- In a small bowl or mug, mix ground flax and warm water and let sit until it has thickened.
- Place warm water in a large bowl, sprinkle in 1 tsp of sugar and yeast and let sit until frothy, about 10 minutes.
- In another bowl, whisk almond milk, remaining sugar, and oil. Add to the yeast mixture along with the flax.
- Stir in the first three cups of flour, one cup at a time. You may not need the extra 1/2 cup, but add flour as needed while kneading the dough for about 7 minutes, until smooth and barely sticky.
- Oil a bowl and place the dough ball in it, rolling to coat. Cover with a tea towel and let rise for an hour or until doubled. If you have time, place the dough in the fridge after the first rise for at least an hour; this will make it easier to roll out the dough.
- Grease two loaf pans and set aside.
- Divide the dough in half. On a liberally floured surface, roll out half the dough into a rectangle about 16" by 11", with the long side facing you. The dough will be very thin.
- Brush the filling (see instructions for fillings below) onto the dough all the way to the edges then begin tightly rolling up the dough away from you, so you have an 16" long tube.
- With a sharp knife, cut along the top edge of the tube to expose the layers. Take the two half-cylinders and twist one side over the other three or four times to form a two-stranded braid. Carefully lift the braid into the loaf pan, tucking the ends underneath the body of the braid to fit it into the pan. Repeat this process with the second half of dough, then cover the pans with a tea towel and set aside to rise for another hour or until doubled again.
- Bake in a 375F oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until the bread sounds hollow when you tap the bottom.
- Brush still warm (but not hot) loaves with maple syrup. Let cool before slicing.
- Combine all ingredients except for the unmelted chocolate and stir to combine into a paste. Spread on the rolled out dough, then sprinkle with chopped chocolate.
- Combine dry ingredients, then stir in oil until the mixture takes on the texture of damp sand. Sprinkle onto rolled out dough, then spread to distribute evenly.
- This recipe is for two loaves of babka, one cinnamon and one chocolate. If you only want to make one kind, either double the filing to have enough for both loaves, or halve the dough recipe.