This past summer I was lucky enough to go on an amazing trip to Israel with Vibe Israel.
I was introduced to Vibe Israel through my friend Sarah from Broma Bakery, who also had the chance to go to Israel with this amazing non-profit once before. Vibe Israel’s entire mission surrounds increasing Israel’s positive standing in the world by bringing influencers on tours around Israel in their respective industry; so for me, I was there on a pastry tour (which was as amazing as it sounds.)
During my time in Israel, I’m almost positive I had some sort of babka every. single. day. For breakfast, for lunch, for a before-dinner snack, for an after-dinner dessert… I think you get the idea. I ate so much babka while I was there, that I knew I needed to develop another babka recipe reminiscent of my stay in Israel.
When I started the process of developing this recipe, I realized that just good babka wasn’t enough. It had to be great babka, foolproof and irresistible with the perfect texture and spot-on flavor. High standards? Maybe. But babka is labor-intensive… so if you’re gonna go through the trouble to make babka, it’d better be amazing. After lots of trial and error– baking is a bit of a science, after all– I incorporated the textures and flavors I loved most from my visit to Israel. The result is the recipe you see here: Dark Chocolate Tahini Babka.
What is babka and where did it come from?
Although it’s unclear where exactly babka originated from (it appears to have originated from Eastern European Jewish communities), today’s most prominent babka maker is Uri Scheft, owner of Lehamim Bakery in Tel Aviv, Israel; Uri is credited for popularizing babka in New York City in 2013.
When I was in Israel back in June, we were lucky enough to not only meet Uri but also take a bread-making workshop with him. He was also kind enough to send us off with a copy of his book which is ALL about bread.
How to Make Babka
The Babka Dough
Babka uses an enriched dough, which means there’s eggs, butter, and sugar in it. To make the babka dough, you’ll first need to combine some of the flour, yeast, sugar, and warm milk in the bowl of a standing mixer. Mix until combined and let sit til the yeast is activated (this will take a few minutes). Then, add in the butter, egg, salt, and rest of the flour. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes until it’s completely smooth and begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl.
The babka dough will need to rest in your fridge for at least 6 hours, but overnight is best. Unlike most bread doughs, babka will not double in size, so don’t panic if your dough doesn’t rise a bunch in the fridge! Remember: you’re making a dense, cake-like loaf of bread here.
The Dark Chocolate Tahini Filling
This is the easiest bit—yay! To make the gooey dark chocolate tahini filling, you simply have to melt chocolate, butter, and sugar together, and then stir in a little cocoa powder and the tahini. This should form a thick-ish paste that you’ll need to spread over the babka dough once it’s been chilled overnight and rolled out.
Assembling the Loaf
This is the part of making homemade babka that intimidates people the most. Stick with me, you’ll be totally fine! To create that iconic babka swirl pattern, you’ll need to first roll the dough out into a rectangle. Spread the dark chocolate tahini filling over the dough, leaving a border around the edge (this will prevent the filling from seeping out). Roll the dough into a long, tight log (similar to the process of making cinnamon rolls) and then seal the babka edges. Afterward, cut it lengthwise—you’ll be left with two long, skinny logs. Lay the skinny logs next to each other with the cut side facing up. You can then twist the logs together to form the babka braid. Once you’ve braided the babka, let it rest in the loaf pan and leave it to rise for another hour or so. Then, just pop it into the oven and bake!
The Simple Syrup
While the babka bakes, you’ll need to make a simple syrup to brush over top of it. To add some flavor to the syrup, I add a tablespoon of honey and a pinch of cardamom before bringing it to a boil. As soon as the babka is taken out of the oven, brush it with the syrup. It adds that glossy sheen on top plus, it adds a little moisture to the dense loaf.
As always… read through the recipe before beginning and keep an eye out for a photo journal blog post of everything else I did on my trip to Israel!
Vibe Israel organized and invited me on an all-expenses-paid trip; I was not compensated in any way for this post. All opinions are 100% my own. Thank you for supporting the companies and brands that make Mike Bakes NYC possible!
Dark Chocolate Tahini Babka
For the Dough:
- 2¼ tsp active dry yeast
- ½ cup warm milk (105°F)
- 1 tsp granulated sugar
- 6 tbsp unsalted butter room temperature
- 1 large egg
- ¼ tsp coarse sea salt
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
For the Filling:
- ½ cup unsalted butter
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- 3 oz dark chocolate (70% cacao), chopped
- ½ cup tahini
- 1 tbsp black cocoa powder
For the Syrup:
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- ½ cup water
- 1 tbsp honey
- pinch of ground cardamom
- Make the dough: In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix the yeast with milk and sugar and 1/3 cup of the flour. Cover loosely and let rest until small bubbles appear and break the surface, about 10 to 15 minutes.
- Mix in the butter, egg, and salt. Gradually add the flour until it’s incorporated. If using a stand mixer with the dough hook attachment, knead for approximately 5-7 minutes on medium speed until the dough is perfectly smooth and no longer sticky – alternatively, turn out the dough on a lightly floured surface and knead by hand until it is perfectly smooth and no longer sticky, this should take around 15 minutes. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 6 hours.
- Prepare the filling: Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Add the sugar and stir until dissolved or almost completely dissolved. (It’s okay if there are grains of sugar visible – they’ll melt later.) Remove from heat and add the chopped dark chocolate. Let stand 1 minute, then stir until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Stir in the tahini, then the black cocoa powder. Set aside to cool.
- Butter a 9-inch loaf pan and line with parchment paper leaving an overhang on the two long sides (which will help you remove the baked babka later).
- Assemble the babka: Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and roll out to a 12×16 inch rectangle. If the dough resists and contracts when rolling, let it rest for 5-10 minutes and then continue rolling. Spread the filling in an even layer leaving about a 1-inch border. (Don’t worry if the edges are a bit uneven – no one will be able to tell once the babka is baked!).
- Starting at one of the long sides, roll up dough so that the seam is facing downwards. With a sharp knife, cut the roll in two halves along the long side. Turn the dough slightly to ensure the cut sides are facing upwards on both pieces. Pinch the ends together on one side then gently twist the two pieces of dough, pinching the other ends together as well. Carefully push on both ends to compress the twisted strands of dough until they are about the length of your loaf pan. Using both hands, carefully place the babka into the prepared loaf pan. Cover and let proof somewhere warm for about 60 – 90 minutes, or until risen and puffy. Preheat oven to 375°F.
- Make the simple syrup: While the dough is rising, bring the water, sugar, honey, and cardamom to a boil in a small saucepan. Let boil for 4 minutes, skimming off any foam that rises to the surface with a spoon. Remove from heat and set aside.
- Bake the babka on the middle rack of the oven for 30 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the center (in a part where there is less chocolate filling), comes out clean of dough. There may be some chocolate clinging to it, which is normal.
- Immediately spoon the room temperature syrup over the babka (you may not need all the syrup) and let cool completely before lifting the babka out.