Peanut Butter and Dark Chocolate Babka
As my TV spirit character Elaine Benes says, “You can’t beat a babka.” This rich, yeasted bread is filled, in this case, with pretty much the best flavor combination of all time. No, I’m not talking about your morning coffee and whiskey. It’s chocolate and peanut butter, with a touch of sea salt for good measure. The name babka comes from the Yiddish for grandmother, Bubbe. And given that I owe my love affair with Jewish food to my Bubbe, this cake is extra special to me.
- 2¼ teaspoons (1 packet) active dry yeast
- ½ cup warm whole milk (110 degrees), plus 1–2 more tablespoons, if needed
- ½ cup granulated sugar, plus 2 teaspoons
- 4¼ cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
- ½ tablespoon grated orange zest (from about ½ orange)
- 3 eggs, at room temperature
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 stick or ½ cup unsalted butter, cut into chunks and softened
- Oil for greasing bowl (grapeseed, sunflower or vegetable oil)
- 1½ sticks or ¾ cup unsalted butter
- 1½ cups dark chocolate chips
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup peanut butter (crunchy or smooth; I used smooth)
- 2/3 cup water
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon flaked sea salt
- To make babka, combine yeast, milk and 2 teaspoons sugar in a large bowl of a stand mixer and stir to dissolve. Wait 10 minutes; the mixture should get foamy and puff up. If it doesn’t, the milk was probably too hot or too cold, or the yeast is dead. Try again!
- Then add the flour, remaining sugar and orange zest and stir to combine. Add eggs, one at a time, and mix with the dough hook attachment until dough comes together; this may take a couple of minutes.
- With the mixer on low, add salt, then butter, a little at a time, mixing until incorporated. Then, mix dough on medium speed for about 8 to 10 minutes until completely smooth, shiny and slightly sticky. Make sure to scrape down the sides as you mix so everything gets incorporated. Add more milk if it’s dry.
- Coat a large bowl with oil (you can just clean out your mixer bowl and use that) and place dough inside, cover with plastic, and refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours, or until almost doubled in size.
- When the dough is ready, make the chocolate filling. Melt butter and chocolate together in a medium saucepan over low heat while stirring until smooth. Stir in powdered sugar, cocoa powder and salt and let cool; mixture should form a spreadable paste.
- Divide the dough in 2 equal pieces and roll out one piece into a very thin 16-by-12-inch rectangle. You may have to let the dough come to room temperature a bit if it is hard to roll.
- Spread half of the chocolate filling over the dough, leaving a ½-inch border. Then top with half the peanut butter. Brush the farthest 12-inch end with water to help dough stick to itself. Then roll the dough up into a tight log using the shorter side so you have a 12-inch log. Place roll on a lightly floured baking sheet and refrigerate. Repeat with other dough and refrigerate both for 30 minutes.
- Grease two 9-by-5-inch loaf pans with oil, and line the bottoms with parchment paper. (To get a piece that fits perfectly, trace the bottom of the pan on the parchment paper and then cut out.)
- Cut each log in half lengthwise and lay them next to each other. Pinch the top ends together and twist, keeping the cut sides up so you can see all the chocolate–peanut butter goodness. Place babka in the prepared loaf pan. Repeat with other loaf. Cover both with damp paper towels and let rise in a warm place another 1 to 2 hours. Alternatively, let rise in a refrigerator for 12 hours or overnight and bring to room temperature for 2 to 3 hours before baking.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees with a rack placed in the middle. Make the syrup by bringing water and sugar to a simmer until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat, and let it cool a bit.
- Place a baking sheet on a rack below where cakes will bake to catch any drips. Bake loaves for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a thermometer poked in the center reads 190 degrees. Halfway through baking, brush syrup all over babkas and return to the oven. Once babkas are done, immediately brush them with remaining syrup. Sprinkle with sea salt. Let cool in pan for 15 minutes, then remove and finish cooling on a cooling rack.