In Canada, Easter is associated with bunnies, egg hunts and chocolate candies, not to mention a resplendent Easter brunch and church services.
But in other parts of the world it is observed in different ways, with different festivities, customs, and traditional dishes. Baked Easter goods are popular all over the globe. In the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, hot cross buns filled with dried fruits and spices with a cross on top symbolizing the crucifixion, are eaten on Good Friday.
Today’s recipe comes from Polish traditions. The babka is laden with chocolate, butter and old-world charm, and is luscious served for dessert, with coffee, or for breakfast. While baking, the rich dough becomes incredibly tender, so it pulls apart in buttery pieces that melt in your mouth. Enjoy.
3/4 cup warm milk (105–115°F)
1/2 cup plus 2 teaspoons sugar
3 teaspoons active dry yeast (from two 1/4-oz packages)
3-1/4 cups all-purpose flour plus additional for dusting
2 whole large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon salt
1-1/4 sticks (10 Tbsp.) unsalted butter, cut into pieces and softened
For egg wash:
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon heavy cream or whole milk
For chocolate filling:
5 Tbsp. unsalted butter, well-softened
2 (3 1/2- to 4-oz) bars fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (no more than 60% cacao if marked), finely chopped
1/4 cup sugar
Special equipment: a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment; 2 (8 3/4- by 4 1/2- by 2 3/4-inch) loaf pans; parchment paper
Stir together warm milk and 2 teaspoons sugar in bowl of mixer. Sprinkle yeast over mixture and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. (If yeast doesn’t foam, discard and start over with new yeast.)
Add 1/2 cup flour to yeast mixture and beat at medium speed until combined. Add whole eggs, yolk, vanilla, salt, and remaining 1/2 cup sugar and beat until combined. Reduce speed to low, then mix in remaining 2-3/4 cups flour, about 1/2 cup at a time. Increase speed to medium, then beat in butter, a few pieces at a time, and continue to beat until dough is shiny and forms strands from paddle to bowl, about 4 minutes. (Dough will be very soft and sticky.)
Scrape dough into a lightly oiled bowl and cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled in bulk, 1-1/2 to 2 hours.
Assemble babkas with filling: Line each loaf pan with 2 pieces of parchment paper (1 lengthwise and 1 crosswise). Punch down dough with a lightly oiled rubber spatula, then halve dough. Roll out 1 piece of dough on a well-floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into an 18- by 10-inch rectangle and arrange with a long side nearest you.
Beat together yolk and cream. Spread 2-1/2 tablespoons softened butter on dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border all around. Brush some of egg wash on long border nearest you. Sprinkle half of chocolate evenly over buttered dough, then sprinkle with half of sugar (2 tablespoons).
Starting with long side farthest from you, roll dough into a snug log, pinching firmly along egg-washed seam to seal. Bring ends of log together to form a ring, pinching to seal. Twist entire ring twice to form a double figure 8 and fit into one of lined loaf pans.
Make another babka with remaining dough, some of egg wash, and remaining butter, chocolate and sugar in same manner. Chill remaining egg wash, covered, to use later.
Loosely cover pans with buttered plastic wrap (buttered side down) and let babkas rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until dough reaches top of pans, 1 to 2 hours. (Alternatively, let dough rise in pans in refrigerator 8 to 12 hours; bring to room temperature, 3 to 4 hours, before baking.)
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F.
Brush tops of dough with remaining egg wash. Bake until tops are deep golden brown and bottoms sound hollow when tapped (when loaves are removed from pans), about 40 minutes. Transfer loaves to a rack and cool to room temperature.
Note: Babkas keep, wrapped in plastic wrap and then foil, frozen 3 weeks.
Cathi Litzenberger is The Morning Star’s longtime food columnist, appearing every Wednesday and one Sunday per month.