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By the Book: Arthur Schwartz’s Chocolate Babka

September 17th 02:09pm, 2013


Arthur Schwartz’s Jewish Home Cooking: Yiddish Recipes Revisited should be subtitled A Crash Course in the History of Jewish-American Gastronomy. The lengthy introduction goes into great detail about the steady migration of Eastern European Jews to New York City, bringing with them the kosher dishes of their homelands. As Jews assimilated into American culture, those traditional dishes evolved. Most of the recipes in this book were collected from New York deli owners, restaurateurs and ordinary people who’ve put twists on their family’s longtime recipes. The history and evolution of each dishes proved as intriguing as the recipes themselves.

The chocolate babka is a prime example of how a simple coffee cake became a luxurious treat. According to Schwartz, the word “babka” comes from “baba,” the Polish word for old lady or grandma. The cake got its name because its original incarnation was “stout and round, just like grandmothers used to be before they went to aerobics class and practiced yoga.” These dry-ish cakes were traditionally plain and served with coffee or tea, but today, Schwartz says their purpose is largely to serve as a vessel for chocolate and sweet stuffings.




He had me at chocolate. This babka is simple to make, but it does require some time. The buttery yeast dough must rest refrigerated overnight, then rest another two hours after the rolls are assembled. Plan accordingly.




Since there’s a generous amount of sugar in the dough and filling, and I’m not one for overly sweet desserts, I used dark chocolate chips instead of the called-for semisweet.




In lieu of a second loaf pan, I tucked most of the slices into a 8-inch round, cinnamon-roll style. Two hours later, they had puffed up against each other in a lovely, chocolate-studded nest.




The end result was definitely still a coffee cake: dry with enough sweetness to warrant a bitter beverage. Though technically included in the dessert section of this book, the coffee pairing necessitates that – like doughnuts or sticky buns – you eat this for breakfast. After all, chocolate in the morning makes the day just a little easier.




Chocolate Babka
Makes 2 loaves

3 cups all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
A generous ¾ cup sugar, divided
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, cut into tablespoon-size pieces
½ cup whole milk
1 package (about 2 ¼ tsp. active dry yeast)
3 eggs, separated
1 tsp. ground cinnamon, plus more for sprinkling (optional)

2 cups (12 oz.) semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup walnuts (optional)

• To make the dough, in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, combine the flour, salt and 3 heaping tablespoons of the sugar. Pulse to blend.
• Add the butter to the flour mixture and pulse until crumbly.
• In a small saucepan, heat the milk over low heat until warm, not hot, to the touch (no more than 110 degrees). Stir in 1 level tablespoon of the sugar and the yeast. Allow to stand 7 minutes, until bubbly and risen.
• Add the egg yolks and yeast mixture to the flour mixture. Pulse several times, scraping down the bowl once or twice, until a ball is formed. Remove the dough and place it in a large bowl. Cover with a clean towel and refrigerate overnight.
• Grease 2 8½-by-4½-inch loaf pans. Flour a work surface and a rolling pin.
• To assemble the babkas, in a stand mixer fitted with the whisk, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form.
• One tablespoon at a time, add the remaining ½ cup sugar, then the cinnamon. Beat until the whites form firm peaks.
• Divide the dough in half. Keep one half refrigerated while working with the other. For each half, knead the dough a few times. Roll out on a floured surface to an approximately 22-by-18-inch rectangle. It will be thin.
• Spread the rectangle of dough with half the beaten egg whites to within 1 inch of the edges. Sprinkle evenly with half the chocolate, half the walnuts, and lightly with more cinnamon.
• Turn in about 1 inch of the short edges of the dough rectangle, then carefully roll up jelly roll-style. If the dough is sticking slightly, use a bench scraper (pastry scraper) to ease it off the work surface.
• Slice each roll into 8 even pieces. For each babka, place 8 slices sections in 1 loaf pan, cut sides up like a cinnamon roll, packing them so the edges touch. Cover each with a clean towel and let rise at room temperature for 2 hours. The dough should come up higher than the sides of the pans.
• Position an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the loaves for 35 to 40 minutes, until light brown. Cool the babkas in the pans for about 5 minutes, then invert them onto serving plates.
• Serve with a serrated blade, or break apart into natural segments.

Reprinted with permission from Ten Speed Press

What’s your favorite sweet breakfast treat to pair with your morning coffee and why? Tell us about it in the comments section below for a chance to win a copy of Jewish Home Cooking by Arthur Schwartz. We’ll announce the winner in next week’s By the Book column.

And now, we’d like to congratulate Joe, whose comment on last week’s By the Book has won a copy of The Mile End Cookbook by Noah and Rae Bernamoff. Rebecca, keep an eye out for an email from the Sauce crew.



By Catherine Klene

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24 Responses to “By the Book: Arthur Schwartz’s Chocolate Babka”

  1. Arthur Schwartz Says:
    September 18th, 2013 at 9:04 am

    Thank you so much for presenting my recipe is such an easily followed photo recipe. Very grateful for the attention — and the babka looks excellent. Arthur Schwartz

  2. Susan LaRosa Says:
    September 18th, 2013 at 9:43 am

    Very nice! I do have a question: The instructions call for two loaf pans, but the picture shows a round cake pan. So would one 9-inch cake pan be large enough for all the dough? Thanks.

  3. admin Says:
    September 18th, 2013 at 10:21 am

    Great question, Susan. Most of the slices will fit in a 9-inch cake pan, but any extras can be tucked into another cake pan or loaf pan and baked.

  4. Katie Says:
    September 18th, 2013 at 11:03 am

    I would be more than content to have a cinnamon roll with my coffee every morning!

  5. Earen Hummel Says:
    September 20th, 2013 at 4:14 pm

    I love a berry coffee cake using whatever berries are currently in season.

  6. Hao Says:
    September 23rd, 2013 at 10:13 am

    if i could have egg tarts every day with my coffee, i’d be super chipper every morning!

  7. Lisa Says:
    September 23rd, 2013 at 10:14 am

    Scones. Any kind will do, but apple cinnamon is my favorite.

  8. Alison Says:
    September 23rd, 2013 at 10:41 am

    The babka looks delish! I’ve made some very yummy chocoalte chip challah that is similar, but I will definitely be trying this soon!

  9. Jane G Says:
    September 23rd, 2013 at 10:41 am

    White chocolate cranberry scones and a cup of tea…that’s heaven!

  10. Blake Kaplan Says:
    September 23rd, 2013 at 10:42 am

    My favorite sweet breakfast treat is cinnamon rolls. Just love how they taste with my coffee.

  11. Warren Rabinowitz Says:
    September 23rd, 2013 at 10:42 am

    My Baba’s Kamish Broit cookies – cinnamon, sugar, & pecan cookies that look like Biscotti but ten times better!!

  12. Jane Grossman Says:
    September 23rd, 2013 at 11:21 am

    Lemon poppyseed muffin. Yummy.

  13. Lisa O Says:
    September 23rd, 2013 at 11:50 am

    Hard to choose just one – a buttery scone, raspberry sour cream muffin, egg sandwich, brown sugar cinnamon pop tartlet from Whisk, oatmeal with brown sugar, cinnamon and apples… I am gonna go with the scone as my favorite. Warm, buttery, melt-in-your-mouth scone! Mmmmm….

  14. Jim Rubenstein Says:
    September 23rd, 2013 at 11:55 am

    Any flakey pastry will do, but my favorite are croissants. A warm ham and cheese croissant improves any morning. I like them from La Bonne Bochee.

  15. Deborah Duchon Says:
    September 23rd, 2013 at 11:56 am

    Mandelbroit cookies one of my favorites!!

  16. Nathan Neal Says:
    September 23rd, 2013 at 11:57 am

    An apple fritter or bear claw. I love baking and babka has recently become one a my favorites, I would love to have this book so that I can try more of the recipes in it.

  17. Lisa W. Says:
    September 23rd, 2013 at 1:30 pm

    My new favorite sweet breakfast treat is the Salted Caramel Croissant from Pint Size Bakery in South City. It’s so good, but they only make a limited amount so get there at the right time or they’ll be gone!

  18. Steve Says:
    September 23rd, 2013 at 2:01 pm

    Ezekiel bread toast dipped in Greek Gods fig yogurt. Yum!

  19. Lindsey S Says:
    September 23rd, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    Coffee and chocolate chip banana bread! Delicious!

  20. Michele D Says:
    September 23rd, 2013 at 3:02 pm

    Chocolate chip kamish bread or a nutella and strawberry crepe!

  21. Amelia G Says:
    September 23rd, 2013 at 6:34 pm

    I love sour cream coffee cake! Perfect for a lazy day at home.

  22. Hadas B Says:
    September 23rd, 2013 at 7:27 pm

    My favorite treat with coffee is rugelach. They are like miniature strudel for me. Looks like a great book.

  23. Karen Diederichsen Says:
    September 25th, 2013 at 7:59 am

    My favorite sweet treat with a cup of coffee is a Pączki. I think this is because I only get them once a year right before Mardi Gras. They are wonderful Polish doughnuts.

  24. Elizabeth giffee Says:
    September 26th, 2013 at 10:00 am

    Old Kitchen Klatter recipe for banana cookies with brown sugar glaze.

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