Chocolate Babka aka Zebra Bread

Chocolate Babka is made from sweet dough, a versatile dough that can be used to make a variety of sweet treats like Here are a few:  Bee-sting Pastries, Home-made Doughnuts, Hungarian Bubble Loaf, Panettone, German Stollen, Yugoslavian Nut Roll, Chocolate Babka, etc. 

Sweet dough is an enriched dough which means it has ingredients like eggs, butter and sugar. Babka originated in the early 1800’s, when housewives would spread extra challah dough with jam or cinnamon sugar, roll it up, and bake it alongside challah bread. Challah is a plain, braided loaf. Chocolate was only added in the mid-twentieth century. Below are step-by-step instructions with photo’s on how to make the babka.

Sweet Dough
4 cups (4 x 250 ml) cake flour
8 g sachet instant yeast
1 tsp (5 ml) salt
½ cup (125 ml) sugar
2 cups (500 ml) mildly lukewarm milk
½ cup (125 ml) butter, room temperature
2 eggs
2 tsp (10 ml) vanilla essence
± 2 cups (500 ml) extra flour

Chocolate filling (300 ml)
125 g dark chocolate
125 g butter
125 ml icing sugar
80 ml cocoa powder

60 ml water
60 ml sugar

  1. To make the dough, combine the first measure of flour, the yeast, salt and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer.
  2. Mix on a medium speed until combined.
  3. Add the lukewarm milk and eggs and mix until combined.
  4. Add the butter and mix until combined.
  5. Add sufficient of the remaining flour gradually to form a dough which is quite soft but no longer sticky.
  6. Knead the dough 3 – 4 minutes in the bowl of an electric mixer with the dough hook or turn out onto a floured surface and knead 5 – 6 minutes with floured hands until smooth and elastic.
  7. Transfer the dough to a floured bowl, cover and allow to rise about an hour or until completely doubled in size. 
  8. While the dough is rising, make the filling.
  9. Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler.
  10. Add the icing sugar and cocoa powder and mix well. Allow to cool to room temperature before using.
  11. Grease 3 x medium foil containers with non-stick cooking spray and set it aside.
  12. When ready to fill and shape the dough, transfer the dough to a non-stick mat sprinkled with cake flour and divide the dough in three equal portions. 
  13. Return two portions of the dough to the bowl and cover with cling wrap.
  14. Use a rolling pin and roll out the dough to a rectangle of about 30 cm x 25 cm.
  15. Position the dough with the longer side of the rectangle closest to you.
  16. Use a spatula and spread one third (100 ml) of the chocolate mixture over the rectangle, leaving a 2 cm border all around. 
  17. Use both hands to roll up the rectangle like a roulade, starting from the long side closest to you and ending at the other long end. Use both hands to even out the roll into a perfect thick cigar.
  18. Rest the dough on its seam. Place the dough roll on a baking tray lined with cling wrap and set it aside. Do the same with the other two portions of dough.
  19. Chill the rolls in the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes to make cutting easier.
  20. When ready to cut and braid the dough, work with one roll of dough at a time and cut it in half lengthwise, starting at the top and finishing at the seam, essentially dividing the log into two long even halves, with the layers of dough and filling visible along the length of both halves.  
  21. With the cut sides facing up, place the one half across the other half so that it looks like an X. 
  22. Plait the dough lightly from the middle of the X until you reach the end.  Do the same with the other side to create a simple two-pronged plait. 
  23. Gently squeeze together the ends so that you have a neat plait.
  24. Carefully lift the dough plait into a loaf pan. Don’t worry if there are gaps in the pan – it will fill up as the bread bakes. 
  25. Do the same with the rest of the dough portions.
  26. Cover the pans loosely with a kitchen towel and leave to rise in a warm place for 30 minutes to 1 hour. 
  27. Bake the breads in an oven pre-heated the oven to 180 º C for 45 minutes until golden brown.
  28. To make the syrup, combine the water and sugar in a small saucepan and bring it to a boil over  a medium heat.
  29. Remove the saucepan from the stove when she sugar has dissolved. 
  30. Set the syrup aside to cool. 
  31. Transfer the baked breads to a cooling rack and brush with the syrup. 
  32. Set the breads aside to cool for 5 minutes, then transfer the breads to a cooling rack and let it cool completely.
  33. When cool, slice the breads into neat slices and serve.

30 servings.

– Substitute the chocolate filling with 300 ml Nutella or chocolate Spread.
– Sprinkle 100 g nuts such as almonds or pecans on top of the chocolate filling before rolling up the dough.

The dough can also be divided into two equal portions and baked in medium loaf pans.

Recipe for Sweet Dough by Carolié de Koster from the Art Of Cooking recipe book page 851.

Combine the dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer and mix until combined.
Add the lukewarm milk and eggs and mix.
Add the butter and mix.
Add the additional flour until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl. Cover with a lid and set aside to rise.
After about 45 minuts the dough has doubled in size.
Divide the dough into 3 equal pieces – I use a scale to do this.
Work with one piece of dough at a time. Return the rest of the dough to the bowl and cover.
Roll the dough out into a rectangle that is about 30 cm wide …
And 25 cm high.
Spread the filling onto the dough leaving a 2 cm border all around.
Roll the dough up.
Transfer the dough roll to a baking tray lined with clingwrap and do the same with the rest of the dough.
Place the baking tray with the dough rolls in the freezer for 10 minutes – it wil make cutting it a breeze!
Work with one roll of dough at a time and cut it in halve lengthwise.
Place the pieces of dough with the cut side facing up.
Start from the middle and braid the dough.
Continue braiding until you reach the end.
Do the same with the other side.
The braided dough looks like this.
Gently squeeze together the ends to make a neat plait.
Transfer the plait to a baking pan (I am using foil containers).
Do the same with the rest of the dough.
Bake the breads in an oven preheated to 180 degrees for 35 to 45 minutes.
Remove the breads from the foil containers and set it aside to cool on a cooling rack.
When cool, cut the bread into slices with a serrated knife. It is easier to turn the bread on its head and cut it from the bottom.
Transfer the bread to a serving platter and serve!