Growing up, Friday nights were solely reserved for coming together as a family and celebrating the Sabbath. Rushed last-minute trips to markets and the kosher butcher were thrilling as my mom and I prepared the traditional evening meal together. My mom would prepare and cook everything and anything from the root vegetables to the chicken schnitzel while I began proofing yeast and measuring out flour for fresh challah.
Making challah has been a part of my life since I can remember. From Jewish preschool and day school activities involving baking challahs on Friday nights to testing new challah and bread recipes in a test kitchen, it is as if baking challah is intrinsically linked to who I am. Nothing brings me pure nostalgia more than getting into the kitchen, braiding three-stranded loaves and getting to share my creations with other people. While baking challah is so second-nature to me at this point, I sought to challenge myself to develop a new challah recipe that incorporated fall flavors while enhancing my own bread-making skills. This is where I have conceptualized the pumpkin chocolate challah-babka, also known as the pumpkin chocolate babkallah.
My recipe is inspired by Claire Saffitz’s babkallah from her cookbook, Dessert Person: Recipes and Guidance for Baking with Confidence: A Baking Book. Babka is a bread of Ashkenazi Jewish origin and is similar to challah in taste and structure. Combining the challah and babka recipes together results in an incredibly textured yeast bread similar to brioche. With varying seasonal adjustments through the incorporation of pumpkin puree and warm spices as well as chocolate spread stuffed in the dough, this pumpkin chocolate babkallah will be the best dessert you’ll eat during this autumnal equinox.
For the dough:
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1 envelope or 2 1/4 teaspoons of active dry yeast
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 4 egg yolks
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour plus more for kneading
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 stick unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and at room temperature
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
For the filling and assembly:
- 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, in addition to melted butter for assembling logs
- 1 large egg, beaten
- Cane sugar, for sprinkling on top
- Proof the yeast.
- Gently warm the milk. Add the portioned milk into a Pyrex container and heat it in the microwave for 25 to 30 seconds, although the recommended way is to use a small saucepan and warming the milk over low heat until it is lukewarm. Pour the milk into a large bowl, and whisk in the yeast until dissolved. Let the yeast mixture sit until foamy, approximately 5 to 10 minutes.
- Make the dough. To the yeast mixture, whisk granulated sugar, egg yolks, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and pumpkin puree until combined. Add the butter, flour and salt, mixing with a wooden spoon until a rough dough forms. Place the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead, adding flour as necessary to prevent sticking. The dough is ready for proofing once it is smooth, supple and no longer shiny (this should take about 8 to 10 minutes of kneading).
- Butter the inside of a large, clean bowl, then place the dough ball into the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm place until it has doubled in size. This should take about 1.5 to 2.5 hours depending on the ambient temperature and location.
- Make the filling. In a small saucepan, melt the butter. Add the granulated sugar to the melted butter, stirring until mostly dissolved. Add the chocolate, whisking until melted. The mixture should be thick but spreadable, with a grainy texture from the sugar.
- Fill the dough. Turn the risen dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide the dough into three equal portions. Shape and work each portion into ropes that are about 1-foot long, then flatten each rope with the heel of your hand. Use a rolling pin or your hands to roll out each rope into a 12-by-6-inch rectangle-like shape. Spread melted butter on the surface of each rectangle, then spread the chocolate filling along the surface. Leave a 1/2-inch border along the edges of the dough. Roll up each rectangular-filled dough to form three spiraled logs, pinching along the length of the seams to seal.
- Assemble the braid. Place the logs seam-side down and side-by-side on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Pinch the logs together at one end, then braid a three-stranded braid. Once braided, pinch the opposite ends together and tuck both ends underneath the braid. Cover the babkallah loosely with plastic wrap and set it aside in a warm spot for 1 to 2 hours, until it has grown almost twice its original size.
- Bake the babkallah. Brush the babkallah with the beaten egg, then sprinkle it generously with cane sugar. Bake until the surface of the dough is deeply browned, around 35 to 45 minutes. Let it cool completely on a wire rack.
The babkallah can be served hot or cold, eaten rain or shine. Use leftovers to make French toast, that is if you even have leftovers.
A version of this article was published on p. 12 of the October 27, 2022 version of the Daily Nexus.