Easter and baking go hand in hand, but if dried fruit isn’t your thing or perhaps you’ve already had your fill of hot cross buns, I suggest giving babka a try. Babka is a cake made from sweet yeast dough in Eastern European countries, traditionally on Easter Sunday. But to confuse matters, babka, also known as krantz cake, is a Jewish treat of sweet dough filled and twisted to create a spectacular sweet bread/cake. Perhaps a little strange to be baking a Jewish cake for Easter, but the truth is the Jewish version looks a lot more spectacular and it is really about the baking than the tradition or symbolism!
This recipe is based on the chocolate krantz cakes in Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. Once you have mastered the rolling, cutting and twisting, you can experiment with fillings, the options of which are endless: from Nutella to a crème patisserie, a cinnamon and ground nut combo to jam. I’m even thinking of taking this technique of rolling, filling, cutting and twisting to create a savoury loaf.
Makes 2 loaves
4¼ cups flour
½ cup sugar
2 tsp instant yeast
grated zest of half an orange
½ cup water
150g soft butter
150g dark chocolate (I used Whittakers 50% dark chocolate)
½ cup icing sugar
⅓ cup cocoa powder
½ cup ground pistachios (optional)
⅓ cup water
⅓ cup icing sugar
Place all the dough ingredients into a bread maker and set it to the dough cycle. If you don’t have a bread maker you can use a stand mixer with a dough hook, and mix on medium for 10 minutes, scraping down the sides 2–3 times.
Once the dough has mixed (in bread maker or mixer) cover it with cling film and allow it to rest in the fridge overnight.
Make the filling by melting the butter and chocolate together, then add the cocoa and icing sugar.
Cut the dough into two, rolling one half out on a floured bench top to approximately a 25cm x 30cm rectangle.
Spread half the chocolate mixture evenly over the dough, leaving a 1cm border at the end farthest away from you, then scatter over half the ground pistachios. Roll the dough up with the filling into a long, tight cigar. Place this filled roll on a tray and in the fridge for 30 minutes to help set the filling, making the next steps a lot easier.
Carefully cut the log in half lengthwise and lay each half next to each other, cut sides up. Pinch the top ends gently together. Lift one side over the next, forming a twist and trying to keep the cut sides facing out. Now the tricky bit of transferring your twist into a greased and lined loaf tin, don’t worry too much with this as you can adjust it once it is in the loaf tin.
Cover with a damp tea towel or cling film and leave to rise another 1 to 1½ hours at room temperature.
Bake in a pre-heated 180°C oven for 30 minutes. While your babka is baking, make the syrup. I simply dissolved the icing sugar in boiling water.
Pour half the syrup over the baked loaf and allow to cool.
This recipe makes two loaves. If you don’t want to make two at the same time, the second half of the dough as well as the chocolate mixture will keep in the fridge for a few days or can also be frozen.
The syrup seems unnecessary and feel free to leave this step out.