Seinfeld is a favourite show in the Mélanger household.  So when Mr Mélanger and I were in NYC most recently (and in honour of the Dinner Party episode), a sampling of babka was in order.

One sunny summer day, we took a little trip uptown to Zabars.  After dropping quite a few green bills at the register for all the food we purchased, we left loaded up with bags in hand.  We wandered to Central Park, found a little shady spot – which we ultimately shared with a group of curious (and hungry!) squirrels – and enjoyed our pickings.

We polished off an entire loaf of chocolate babka.  (I eased the guilt knowing we had taken our running shoes on our trip.)  Mr Mélanger had never seen nor eaten babka before, and was only familiar with it from the Seinfeld episode.  I had eaten (probably too many) chocolate and cinnamon babkas while living in Boston.

Elaine suggested in the Dinner Party episode that the cinnamon babka was the lesser babka.  I think not.  But my babka is definitely the lazy babka.  I was feeling a little too serene in my bread making on the day and really did not give this little loaf the necessary number of rolls and twists to create the endless wave of layering all the best babkas boast.  But despite my shortcuts, the sweet chocolately goodness of this bread still did not disappoint.

In my curiosity of babka, I was interested to find out that the commonly known Jewish version of babka (as eaten at Zabars), is a more modern cousin to an Eastern European version.  The traditional babka is apparently baked in a round, fluted babka mould (similar to a turban shaped kugelhopf mould), the shape resembling a grandmothers skirt.  Not surprisingly, babka means grandmother in Polish, the country of origin of this buttery, rich bread.  The original babka is often filled with raisins and dried fruits and traditionally eaten at Easter.  The Jewish babka version, filled with chocolate or cinnamon, is twisted and baked in a loaf pan – and is certainly not an Easter bread!

Baking this bread brought back many happy memories of my years in Boston, as well as my first overseas holiday with Mr Mélanger.  So combined with one of my ultimate childhood puddings, this dish is comfort food supreme for me!

{ Chocolate babka bread pudding }

Slices of lightly toasted chocolate babka are soaked overnight in a simple custard then baked until golden.  The resulting pudding is soft, creamy and chocolately!  Very comforting, indeed.

* Ingredients *
250g, about 6 slices of chocolate babka (recipe following), crusts removed
1 ¾ cups of milk
3 eggs
2/3 cups of sugar

* Directions *
Grease two 20x10cm (8x4inch) loaf pans. Set aside.  Lightly toast the bread, then cut into about 2cm/1 inch cubes.  Place into mixing bowl.  Warm the milk to almost boiling point.  Whisk the eggs and sugar together and lightly pour the warmed milk. Strain the mixture over the bread.  Mix well and pour into prepared tins.  Bake at 180C/350F for 20-30 minutes, or until set and lightly browned.
Makes 2 bread puddings

{ Basic sweet dough recipe } Original recipe by Julia @ Mélanger

For the loaf I made for this recipe, I simply twisted and shaped the rolled dough into a simple figure 8 before popping into the loaf pan.  Alternatively, twist the rolled up dough between 6 to 8 times.  When then forming into a figure 8 shape, twist the loaf once more before resting into your prepared tin.  I did not include the streusel topping which is sometimes common on these more modern babkas, as I knew I would be using it in a pudding.  I simply used my basic sweet dough recipe to start, and then piled on lashings of butter, chocolate and sugar for the filling.

This recipe takes around four hours from beginning to end.  You will need to plan accordingly but the taste will be worth the effort.

* Ingredients *
1 cup milk
¼ cup water (110F/45C)
3.5g / ½ package dried yeast
½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten
4½ to 5 cups of plain, all purpose flour
¼ cup / ½ stick of butter, melted
Glaze:
1 egg, lightly beaten

* Directions *
Warm the milk in a saucepan until bubbles appear around the edge.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool to 110F/45C.  In the meantime, dissolve the yeast in the warm water.  Allow to sit for 5 minutes.  Stir in the milk, sugar, salt, beaten eggs, and 1 cup of the flour.  Beat the mixture until smooth.  Add 2 more cups of flour and continue to beat.  Continue until the dough is glossy.  Add the melted butter and stir well.  Add a further 1 ½ cups of flour and continue to beat well.  Stir in the remaining ½ cup of flour bit by bit until the dough is stiff – you may not need to add it all.  Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, cover and let rest for 15 minutes.  Then knead the dough lightly until it is smooth and glossy.  Transfer the dough to a greased bowl, lightly spraying the top of the dough with oil to prevent drying.  Allow to double in size, about 1½ to 2 hours.  Punch down, and let rise again until almost doubled, about 1 hour.  Turn out onto a floured surface.  You should have roughly have between 2.4-2.6lb / 1.1-1.2kg of dough in total.  The quantity of dough should be sufficient for three small loaves.  Once you have shaped your final dough, let rise for 20-30 minutes.  In the meantime, preheat the oven to 350F/180C.  Brush lightly with egg and then bake for 20-30 minutes, depending on size.

{ Chocolate Babka variation }
1.    Prepare the filling ingredients. Soften 125g (1 stick) of butter, coarsely chop 200g (7oz) dark chocolate and measure 1/3 cup sugar.  Set aside.
2.    Grease two 20x10cm (8x4inch) loaf pans.
3.    After the third rise, roll out the dough to a 30x30cm (12×12 inch) square.
4.    Spread the butter across the dough.  Sprinkle across the chocolate and sugar evenly.
5.    Roll up length ways, like a jelly roll.  Twist the rolled up dough between 6 to 8 times, then join the ends and form into a figure 8 shape.  Twist the loaf once more before placing into your prepared tin.
6.    Allow to proof for 1-2 hours or until the dough doubles in size.
7.    Bake in a preheated 180C  (350F) oven for 30-40 minutes or until golden brown.

Makes 2 babkas

:: Yeastspotting ::
I am submitting this Chocolate Babka Bread Pudding to Yeastspotting.