Chocolate Babka

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

"Savory food is satisfying in a soulful way, but dessert gives us a glimpse into the divine." - Solomonov

My mother always dreamed of traveling to Israel. She would speak of it often, a faint smile crossing her face, eyes wistful as she imaged herself walking along the Sea of Galilee or wandering through Jerusalem or Nazareth. My father, though, worried she couldn't tolerate the flight since she had chronic heart problems and flying seemed to exasperate her condition. So she continued to dream, and my father continued to say no and then, in her later years when she realized she would never visit the Holy Land herself, she encouraged others to go and happily listened to the stories of their travels.

I whispered to her, in her last days, that I would travel to all those places she longed to see in her lifetime. And I would do it in her honor.

Reading Michael Solomonov's book and cooking through Zahav has reminded me of my mother's wish.  And I have fallen in love with the recipes inspired by his homeland and the stories of Israeli culture interspersed with memories of his family. I especially appreciate the thread of hospitality which weaves through the entire book and is, as Solomonov says, "ritualized in the simplest daily routines."  He goes on to say that "in Israel, things get done over coffee and pastries", whether in the marketplace or at home, and that "it is virtually impossible to separate hospitality from sweets."

"In Israel, things get done over coffee and pastries." - Michael Solomonov

One of the recipes I fell in love with is for Chocolate Babka. I've always been fascinated with this chocolate-laced bread but haven't had the courage to try baking it.  I am happy to have discovered, it's remarkably easy to make, although it does require patience because of freezing the dough for three hours in between the two rises.  The end result is worth it and I will be making this recipe a lot.

Now I'm slicing a piece, pouring a cup, and sitting down to get things done, Israeli fashion.

"True hospitality is measured by how we treat people from whom we have no expectation of reciprocity." - Solomonov

Chocolate Babka 

(Recipe and instructions by Michael Solomonov)

2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
pinch of salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
1/3 cup chopped dark chocolate (at least 60% cacao)

2 tablespoons active dry yeast (from three 1/4-ounce packets)
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more if needed (I used about 3/4 cup more)
6 tablespoons sugar
pinch of salt
6 tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
2 large eggs, plus 1 large egg yolk
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

For the filling:
Combine the sugar, flour, cocoa powder and salt in a food processor. Pulse until evenly mixed. Add the butter and chocolate and pulse until a crumbly, coarse mixture forms. (It should be chunky, not powdery.) Set aside.

For the dough:
Combine the yeast with 6 tablespoons warm water in a small bowl and let stand until frothy, about five minutes.

Combine the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook and mix to combine. Add the yeast mixture, milk, vanilla, and lemon zest. Mix on low speed until combined. Add one of the eggs, the yolk and the butter. Mix until the dough comes together in a smooth, pliable ball, about 8 minutes. (If the dough seems too wet or resists forming a ball, add a little extra flour, 1 tablespoon at a time.) Turn the dough out into a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until it doubles in size, about one hour.

On a well-floured surface, roll the dough into a rectangle as wide as your loaf pain is long and about 3/4 inch thick. Set aside 1/4 cup of the filling. Sprinkle the remaining filling onto the dough and roll up like a jelly roll. Freeze until firm and sliceable, about 3 hours.

Line a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan with enough oiled parchment so that the parchment extends over the edges of the pan. Cut the frozen babka into 1-inch think slices and reassemble the loaf in the prepared loaf pan. Cover it loosely with plastic wrap. Let rise again until doubled in size, about 90 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Lightly beat the remaining egg. Remove the plastic wrap and brush the babka with the eggs and sprinkle the reserved filling on top. Bake until loaf is golden brown and springs back when you press on it, about 60 - 70 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack before serving.

Note:  I made a double batch and baked some of the dough in a muffin tin.

"Business and personal matters are difficult to keep separate, just as it is virtually impossible to separate hospitality from sweets." - Solomonov

"The Israelites were promised a land flowing with milk and honey. I'm just trying to do my part." - Solomonov

"My mom moved to Israel when she was 29. If I didn't know better, I might think she did it for the sweets." - Solomonov 

"Focus on the technique, not the ingredients, and adapt it to your kitchen. Just close your eyes and think like an Israeli." - Solomonov

"My cooking comes from a deep well of Israeli hospitality, from the intimacy of sharing food." - Solomonov 

"We mark time sitting at the table. Year after year, on holidays and birthdays and even at funerals, we sit and eat and take note of what is the same and what has changed." - Solomonov 

"I've dedicated my career to bringing people together at table - it's my strongest sense of home." - Solomonov 

"I want you to experience Mesibah, party time: how a tableful of friends and family enhances the lives of cooks and eaters, too." - Solmonov 


  1. My goodness this looks delicious! I love that you added many quotes from the book. You didn't just do the recipes, you actually read the book!


  2. CHOCOLATE BABKA is my favorite dish to cook and eat. Baking this is so easy and satisfying. I have given it a try just a few days ago and it was so tasty. Now it's time to avail water bottle for more information.