Lazy baker that I am, when I want something sweet I usually reach for a recipe that can be thrown together in minutes and doesn’t require particular skill. But every once in a while, especially in the winter when there’s not much going on outside to distract me, I’ll try something a little more challenging.
Babka is a loaf-shaped coffee cake consisting of a sweet yeast dough alternating with luscious chocolate filling. It requires both patience (at least four hours of rising time) and technique (the dough has to be rolled out, rolled up, doubled and twisted before being placed in a baking pan). The payoff for all of this trouble is an Old World treat that is sweet enough to qualify as dessert, but can be justified as a breakfast item because of its shape.
My biggest complaint about traditional babka is how difficult it is to carve into presentable slices. With layers of soft, brioche-like dough separated by ribbons of chocolate and topped with crumbs, it is a mess waiting to happen.
The solution: Instead of twisting the filled and rolled dough into a loaf shape, slice the roll and arrange the spirals in a shallow baking pan. You’ll get the same buttery, chocolaty, crumbly goodness, in relatively neat, individual portions.
Babka buns are best served the day they are baked. If you are going to serve them for dessert, begin at lunch time. If you’d like to have it for breakfast, make and shape the buns, then refrigerate them overnight, so they’ll be ready to eat a couple hours after you wake up.
PULL-APART BABKA BUNS
For the dough:
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
6 tablespoons buttermilk
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon instant yeast
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
For the filling:
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1⁄4 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 1⁄2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1⁄3 cup milk chocolate and/or white chocolate chips
For the streusel topping:
6 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
1⁄3 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1. Make the dough: In a large bowl, whisk together the egg, egg yolk, sugar, buttermilk, salt and yeast until combined. Add the flour and stir with a rubber spatula until moistened. Knead in mixer on low with a dough hook until smooth and supple, about 8 minutes, or by hand on a lightly floured countertop, 10 to 12 minutes.
2. Spray another large bowl with nonstick cooking spray. Transfer the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, 2 to 3 hours.
3. Make the filling: Combine the chopped chocolate and butter in a microwave-safe bowl. Cover and microwave on high until the chocolate is half-melted. Whisk until smooth. Whisk in the confectioners’ sugar and cocoa powder until smooth. Set aside to cool. You want it to be very thick but still spreadable.
4. Spray a 7-by-11-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Gently shape dough into a rough rectangle with long side nearest you. Lightly flour dough and roll into an 8-by-6-inch rectangle. Use a thin metal spatula to brush the filling evenly over the dough, leaving a 3⁄4 -inch border along the top edge. Sprinkle with chocolate chips. Beginning with the long edge nearest you, roll dough into a tight cylinder. Firmly pinch seam to seal and place the cylinder seam-side down. Gently stretch the cylinder to an even diameter and 18-inch length; push ends in to create even thickness. Using a serrated knife, slice the cylinder in half, then slice each half into thirds, yielding 6 buns.
5. Arrange buns, spiral cut side down, in prepared baking dish; cover tightly with plastic wrap and set in warm spot until puffy and pressed against one another, about 1 1⁄2 hours. (Alternatively, refrigerate the covered buns overnight before setting in a warm spot to rise, 2 to 2 1⁄2 hours.)
6. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
7. Make the streusel: In a medium bowl, combine sugar, flour and butter. Using a fork, stir until fully combined with clumps ranging in size from crumbs to 1 inch. Uncover buns. . Sprinkle with crumbs.
8. Bake buns until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool on wire rack 10 minutes. Use a metal spatula to carefully lift buns out of pan and onto a wire rack. Cool another 10 minutes, pull apart and serve warm. Or let cool completely before pulling apart and serving.
Makes 6 large buns.