I was inspired to bake babka because of the Seinfeld episode, The Dinner Party. In the episode, the gang is going to a dinner party, and Jerry and Elaine are attempting to purchase a chocolate babka to bring. When the bakery runs out of chocolate, they are forced to purchase cinnamon, which, according to Elaine, is the lesser babka. Jerry disagrees, stating that “cinnamon takes a backseat to no babka.”
So, being tempted by this debate, I had to have a taste-off. But first, I had to find out what the heck babka is.
Babka is, in fact, a sweet bread of sorts with Eastern European origins. The Jewish version is a sweet yeast cake with a chocolate or cinnamon swirl. The cake part reminds me a bit of King’s Hawaiian sweet bread but moister and a bit more tender. So, delicious. Adding that swirl just sends it over the top! The best part is, it’s a legit dessert that is also convincingly appropriate for breakfast.
When I figured out was babka was, I set out to learn how to make it. After much research, I decided to use this recipe for the dough and the chocolate filling. I used this recipe for the cinnamon filling. Both cakes came out beautifully, and I served them up to my family to see if chocolate really was the better babka. Turns out, more people thought it was the lesser babka because cinnamon actually won 3 to 2. It was not easy to make that call, though. Both flavors are worth trying.
Since our taste-off, I have made babka a few more times. I usually feel like I have to have a specific reason to make it because it is quite a process. Thankfully, I found an excuse when the idea for using a matcha filling popped into my head.
Matcha, otherwise known as powdered green tea, is made of ground green tea leaves. Preparing, serving, and drinking matcha is the focus of the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. Over time, its use has been extended to flavoring and coloring many foods, and I grew up surrounded by green tea mochi and green tea ice cream. Vividly green, earthy matcha, I thought, would be a great match for the soft, sweet dough of a babka.
Not wanting to waste ingredients, I did a bit of research to make sure my idea wasn’t completely off target. Luckily, Serious Eats backed up my thoughts by confirming that matcha is great with buttery desserts and dark chocolate. Apparently, it is similar to cinnamon in its versatility. Based on this, I decided I would make a chocolate matcha babka.
I’ve used this chocolate babka recipe from Pretty.Simple.Sweet. for the dough of all of my babkas so far. The recipe calls for instant yeast, which I don’t keep on hand, so I modified the process in order to use active dry yeast. Even if you prefer to use instant yeast, I suggest reading through my directions because I detail a lot of what to expect when making this fussy dough.
For the chocolate matcha babka, my plan was to use this dough and modify the regular filling recipe. I didn’t want to just blend matcha into the original chocolate filling because I didn’t want to lose the vivid green color, so I decided I would make one chocolate side and one matcha side then twist it together. I used half a recipe of the regular filling for the dark chocolate side. For the matcha side, I halved the recipe again, but I also replaced the cocoa powder with matcha, and I used white chocolate rather than dark chocolate to preserve the color.
I have to admit I was afraid that the matcha flavor was going to be disgusting. It is a unique taste that can be bitter if you use too much. I obsessively tasted the filling as I continuously added in small amounts of matcha. When it tasted really nice and balanced, I stopped.
The results were fabulous! John and I both agree that we actually liked the matcha part better than the chocolate, so next time, it will be all matcha!
A note before you begin:
I’m not going to lie and tell you that making babka is easy. It is not. You are working with yeast (which is not actually that scary, but some people shy away from it). You also have to plan ahead of time because the dough has to rise overnight.
On top of that, making the dough gets a little dicey. You need a standing mixer for sure. The mixer will have to run the whole time it takes for you to make your dough, a good ten minutes. And as you follow the directions and add in each ingredient, the dough looks miserable. I always have to stop every minute or so and flatten the dough back down because it creeps up the dough hook and tries to escape the bowl. It’s going to look wrong for so long that you will think you’ve messed up terribly. Then, all of sudden, it just looks so right!
Once you finally get the dough worked out, you have to shape it. This isn’t hard, but it is a process that you won’t want to undertake if you are looking for a quick sugar fix. Here are pictures and directions for how to shape the babka dough.
If you are ready to take on the babka challenge, try my recipe for chocolate matcha babka!
|CHOCOLATE MATCHA BABKA
A.K.A. Cake for Breakfast
(Makes 2 standard loaves or 5 mini loaves)
Special Equipment Required
Simple Syrup (for glazing)
Babka is best eaten fresh and warm, but it will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for 1-2 days, tops. If you know you aren’t going to eat it that fast, wrap it up in plastic, then foil, then in a zip bag and freeze for up to 2 months. Thaw overnight in the fridge or for 2-3 hours on the counter. It can also stand baking again at 350 degrees F for 15-20 minutes to heat through if you want it warm.