Babka is an Eastern European yeasted cake with deep Jewish roots and also great American popularity. One of babka’s most notorious moments was in an episode of “Seinfeld”: Jerry and Elaine head to Royal Bakery to pick up babka for a dinner party, and when there is no more chocolate babka, they are somewhat devastated to be forced to bring cinnamon, “the lesser babka.”
I’ve experimented with lots of babka flavors: sweet, savory, Latin-inspired and just about everything in between. This s’mores babka, which is ideal for summertime or brunch or dessert or just because, is featured in my cookbook “Modern Jewish Baker” along with several other flavors. It’s not the chocolate babka; it might be a little better. I think even Jerry and Elaine would agree.
For the dough:
1 Tbsp. dry active yeast
1/3 cup plus 1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 cup lukewarm water
4 -1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup whole or 2% milk (or almond milk)
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter (or margarine), melted
2 large eggs
For the filling:
1/3 cup chocolate hazelnut spread
1/2 cup marshmallow fluff
1/4 cup crushed graham cracker crumbs
For the topping:
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 -1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. fine sea salt
Suggested equipment: stand mixer, 3 medium sized (8 -1/2 by 4 -1/2) loaf pans.
1. To make the dough: Place the yeast and 1/2 teaspoon sugar in a small bowl. Add the lukewarm water and stir gently to mix. Set aside until foamy, 5 to 10 minutes. In a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, mix together the flour, 1/3 cup sugar and 2 teaspoons vanilla.
2. In a medium saucepan, scald the milk (bring almost to a boil, until milk is just simmering). Allow to sit for 1 minute to cool just slightly.
3. With mixer on low, add the water-yeast mixture, milk and melted butter. Add eggs one at a time.
4. When the dough begins to come together after 2 to 3 minutes, turn off the mixer and scrape down the sides. Raise the speed to high and mix for another 5 to 10 minutes until the dough is shiny, elastic and smooth. It may seem like a long time to mix, but the result is worth the wait. (You can also knead vigorously by hand for 10 minutes if you don’t have a stand mixer.)
5. Place dough in a greased bowl with a damp towel on top. Allow to rise 1 to 2 hours.
6. Prepare the 3 greased loaf pans.
7. To make the crumb topping: Place all ingredients in a bowl. Using a wooden spoon, mix until crumbs form.
8. Cut the dough into 3 equal parts (use a food scale for precision). Roll out one part into a rectangle. Spread with one-third each of the chocolate hazelnut spread, then marshmallow fluff, and then sprinkle with graham cracker crumbs and roll up along the shorter side.
9. Once the dough is formed into a swirled log, cut it straight down the middle so the filling is exposed. Cut 1/2 inch off each end. Layer each cut piece on top of one another and twist. Place in a greased loaf pan.
10. Repeat with the other 2 pieces of babka dough. Lightly drape a kitchen towel over the top of pans.
11. Allow to rise another 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 F. while the dough rises. Top with crumb topping. Bake for 30 minutes.
12. Allow to cool for 5 to 10 minutes. Using a butter knife, loosen sides of the babka from the pan and place on a wire rack to cool. Makes 3 babkas.