2021 is the year that I finally admit to myself that I am a bread baker. I’ve been sort of non-committal about which area of baking is my favorite, in the same way that people don’t say they have a favorite child, but they do. I’m finally admitting to the world that bread is my favorite. It was clear when I wrote out my baking bucket list for the year that 2021 is going to be the year of bread. High on this list– babka!
Around 2016 babka was the thing to bake. It was everywhere on social media. I don’t know how I missed that train, but I’m here now, and I’m locked in. This babka is a culmination of a bunch of failed attempts at making pralines and an attempt to incorporate as many of my favorite flavors into one babka. The babka has brown butter; chocolate; coffee and pralines. A southern interpretation of babka if you will.
- Pralines. You can buy these at the store, or maybe you have an aunt who makes them and sends you home with a tin at Christmas. It doesn’t matter where you get them from, just as long as you have them. You can try to make them yourself, like I did by following this recipe.
- Brown Butter. This is always optional, but if you have to melt butter, it’s my opinion that you’re already halfway to browned butter. The brown butter lends a nuttiness that subtly complements the pralines.
- Bread Flour. Buy Bread Flour. You can technically get away with All Purpose Flour but the extra protein in the bread flour makes an irresistible loaf.
You don’t need a stand mixer to make this recipe. That’s right, you can make this with a firm silicon spatula and a large bowl. I don’t recommend using a stand mixer even if you have one. Enjoy the simplicity of less equipment.
No kneading. Instead of kneading the dough you perform a series of folds every 30 minutes for 2 hours. Starting at the top of the bowl, pull the dough to the center, rotate the bowl and fold the top until you’ve made it all the way around. Cover the bowl and repeat every 30 minutes. Simple.
BIG NOTE: The dough will be sticky. The recipe is an enriched dough — all of that goodness that makes bread feel rich — butter and eggs– also adds moisture to the dough. This is why we fold it, instead of kneading it. DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE ADD MORE FLOUR. DON’T DO IT. (I’m done yelling, but please don’t add any flour, just trust the process)
A southern inspired babka with a decadent chocolate chicory pecan praline filling.
For the brioche:
16 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 ¼ cups (17 ¾ ounces) bread flour
2 ¼ teaspoons instant yeast
1 ½ teaspoons salt
7 large eggs
½ cup water
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
⅓ cup + 1 tablespoon sugar
For the chocolate praline filling
¾ cup dark chocolate chips
½ cup unsalted butter, cubed
½ cup powdered sugar
⅓ black cocoa powder (or dutch process)
Handful of pecan pralines (5 or 6)
In a medium saucepan melt the butter over medium heat. Continue cooking for 7-9 minutes until the milk solids begin to brown. Pour the melted butter and browned bits into a glass measuring cup to stop the cooking process. Set aside to cool.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, yeast and salt. Set aside.
In a medium bowl combine 6 eggs, water, vanilla extract and sugar. Stir until smooth. Pour the browned butter into this mixture in a steady stream and whisk until smooth.
Pour the egg/butter mixture into the flour bowl and stir with a firm spatula until no dry flour remains. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let rest on the counter for 10 minutes.
Fold the dough. Start by grabbing the dough at the top of the bowl and folding it firmly into the center. Rotate the bowl and grab the next section and repeat that process until you’ve rotated and folded the dough on all sides. Cover and let rest for 30 minutes. Repeat this process three more times for a total of 4 folds.
Transfer the dough to a large tupperware container with a lid and let the bread rest in the refrigerator for 16-48 hours.
When you’re ready to make the bread, pull the dough out of the fridge to rest at room temperature while you make the filling.
Make the Chocolate Praline Filling.
Fill a small saucepan ⅓ of the way full with water and bring to a boil. Combine the chocolate chips and butter into a glass bowl that will sit on the top of the saucepan without the bottom touching. Melt the chocolate and butter together, removing from heat just before completely melted to prevent burning.
In a small food processor, chop the pralines until uniform in size about 10-15 dramatic pulses.
Whisk the cocoa powder and powdered sugar into the melted chocolate, stirring until smooth. Finally fold in the pralines, leaving about 2 tablespoons to top the loaf.
Set the filling aside.
Divide the dough into two sections. Roll one half of the dough on a heavily floured surface into roughly a 14×16 rectangle
Spread the filling evenly across the dough, leaving a ¼ inch border. Reserve about 2 tablespoons of filling. Wet a pastry brush with water and brush the edges of the dough.
Roll the dough into a tight cylinder at the long edge. Place the log onto a parchment lined cookie sheet and place the dough in the fridge for 10-15 minutes. Repeat the rolling/filling process with the second half of the dough.
Remove the dough from the fridge. Brush the reserved filling on the top of the half of the log. Fold the log together, using the filling as a paste. Press down to make sure it sticks and pinch the seam to seal. Roll the dough gently to make sure the dough is an even thickness across.
Using a bench scraper, cut the log in half exposing the filling. Gently lay one half of the dough on top of the other to start the twist of the bread. Twist about 4 times until you reach the end of the log. Brush a little water on the beginning and end of the log to create a seal. Place the finished dough into the prepared 9×5 loaf pan. Cover loosely with plastic wrap.
Let dough rise at room temperature until the dough almost doubles in size, 2 to 3 hours. You can speed up this step by turning your oven on for 2-3 minutes and then turning the oven off and allowing the bread to rise in the warm oven.
30 minutes before you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350ºF.
Whisk together 1 egg and 1 tablespoon of water. Brush the loaf with the egg wash right before putting the bread into the oven.
Bake until the internal temperature reaches 190ºF, 35 to 45 minutes.
Cool in pan for 10 minutes, before placing on a wire rack to cool completely.
Prep Time (for planning)
- Browning the butter = 10-15 minutes
- Mixing the dough = 5-10 minutes
- Folding 4 times every 30 minutes= 2 hours
- Overnight rise = 16-48 hours
- Rolling and filling the dough + chilling = 25 minutes
- Second Rise= 2-3 hours
- Bake Time = 35-45 minutes