Chocolate and Pistachio Babka

The most irresistible Chocolate and Pistachio Babka ever!!! Soft and fluffy brioche swirled with a luxurious chocolate and pistachio filling. Made even better using the Hokkaido milk bread baking technique that guarantees pillowy-soft bread that more importantly, stays soft for days. Way easier to make than you might think! 

Chocolate and Pistachio Babka Recipe

If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know that I’ve been on a bread making spree – burger buns, dinner rolls, croissants and whatnot. My latest conquest is the Chocolate Babka – swirled loaves packed full of chocolate and nuts, ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE!!! You already know I’m a huge fan of chocolate desserts and for this particular recipe, I was striving for a recipe that was almost half bread half filling and basically less bread-y than a typical bread. 

To ensure light-as-air fluffiness, I called upon a Hokkaido milk bread technique (the tangzhong method) to incorporate extra tenderness into the gloriously rich and butter brioche. Tangzhong is a water-roux paste that is often used in Asian baking to incorporate more moisture into bread dough (more information below). Not only does this method guarantee soft bread, it also extends the shelf life of a baked good. 

Super soft bread aside, I found myself loving the chocolate filling as much, or if not even more than the bread itself. You could 100% use store-bought spread (e.g. Nutella or Biscoff) but I wanted some control over how sweet it was going to be as I’m not a fan of overly-sweet treats. In the case of this GLORIOUS Chocolate and Pistachio Babka, I added cocoa powder into melted chocolate to amp up the chocolatey-ness while also introducing a much welcomed bitterness to balance it all out. Do note that the type of chocolate you use will greatly affect the sweetness of the filling so milk or dark chocolate, use a good quality one. 

Chocolate and Pistachio Babka Recipe

What is Babka? 

I know I keep calling Babka a bread but it is actually a yeasted cake made with rich brioche dough and a cinnamon or chocolate filling. I say yeasted cake because the choice of leavening used in this bad boy is yeast rather than the typically baking soda/powder. There’s so many variations of this cake/bread, be it tweaks in the base dough or filling. I’ve seen bakeries do them with croissant dough and if you’re anything like me… I’ll take 10 of them please. When the bread is filled with the spread of choose, it’s then rolled and braided so you get all those beautiful layers and twists.

All about Tangzhong 

Tangzhong is a Japanese technique that combines a small amount of flour and liquid (typically water/milk) over heat until it comes together into a paste – see photo below. When added to a bread mixture, it helps the flour absorb more liquids by pre-gelatinising the starches in the flour. It is also really good for holding onto liquids throughout the kneading, baking and cooling processes which in turn results in:

1) A dough that’s less sticky and easier to knead 

2) A higher rise in the dough (due to the water creating more internal steam) 

3) Bread that’ll stay more moist, soft and fresh for longer (from more water being retained during baking)

Chocolate and Pistachio Babka Recipe

Filling Options 

Anything that’ll spread will pretty much do the trick. Sweet options include Nutella, Lotus biscoff spread, peanut butter and pistachio paste. For a matcha spread, simply substitute the cocoa powder with matcha powder and the dark chocolate with white chocolate. I would hold back on the icing sugar until the other ingredients for the filling have been mixed and then adjust the sweetness level from there. Leave out the nuts if you’re not a fan! 

It’s not traditional but you could definitely make a savoury Babka by adding pesto (cheese optional but recommended) or garlic butter. 

Chocolate and Pistachio Babka Recipe

Tips for the BEST EVER BABKA 

  1. Refrigerate your dough for at least 8 hours to firm up otherwise it’ll be very difficult to work with.
  2. If making your own filling, choose the right type of chocolate that works for your sweetness tolerance (please do NOT reduce the quantity of chocolate). I used a mix of 54% and 70% dark chocolate but you could also use milk chocolate or even 90% dark chocolate for a heavier bitter profile. 
  3. If the chocolate filling becomes firm, warm it up slightly in the microwave or over low heat. Ensure that it’s not hot when you’re using it otherwise it can warm the dough and cause it to melt and be really difficult to work with. 
  4. Before slicing the Babka, you could pop it into the freezer for 10-15 minutes for a neater slice. This would increase the time for the second prove by approximately 30 minutes. 
  5. The sugar syrup not only makes the cake shiny and beautiful, but also keeps it fresh for longer. Use all of it! 
Chocolate and Pistachio Babka Recipe

What do I do with leftover Babka? 

The Babka will stay fresh for 3 days when kept in an air-tight container at room temperature. It’ll also keep well in the freezer for up to 2 months. Whether sliced or not, simply wrap it in two layers of clingfilm and a layer of foil before freezing. This way, the condensation that forms when defrosting the babka will not affect the quality of the loaf. To defrost, pop it in the fridge overnight or leave at room temperature for a couple of hours, still wrapped.

The Babka can be served either warm or at room temperature. I like to warm it in the microwave, pop a cup of water in as well for extra hydration. Alternatively, make it into french toast!!!

Chocolate and Pistachio Babka Recipe

Chocolate and Pistachio Babka

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Serves: 1 Loaf

The most irresistible Chocolate and Pistachio Babka ever!!! Soft and fluffy brioche swirled with a luxurious chocolate and pistachio filling. Made even better using the Hokkaido milk bread baking technique that guarantees pillowy-soft bread that more importantly, stays soft for days. Way easier to make than you might think!

Ingredients

  • Neutral oil (for greasing the bowl)

  • Tangzhong
  • 16g bread flour
  • 80g water

  • Bread Dough
  • 250g bread flour
  • 50g sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 5g yeast
  • 80g whole milk, room temperature
  • 1 egg
  • 75g butter, softened

  • Chocolate and Pistachio Filling
  • 65g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
  • 60g unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 20g icing sugar
  • 15g unsweetened cocoa powder
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 50g pistachios, toasted and coarsely chopped (see Note 1)

  • Sugar Syrup
  • 40g water
  • 30g sugar

Instructions

1

MAKING THE TANGZHONG (THE NIGHT BEFORE): Add the bread flour into a small pot and gradually whisk in the water. Place the pot over medium heat and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture becomes a thick paste. Set it aside to cool completely. If you’re in a rush, pop it in the freezer for 10 minutes.

2

MAKING THE DOUGH (THE NIGHT BEFORE): In the bowl of your stand mixer with the dough hook attached, mix together the bread dough, sugar, salt and yeast. Add in the milk, egg and tangzhong (from step 1) and mix on medium-speed until the dough comes together, this should take 2 to 3 minutes. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes. Add the butter, a little at a time, and mix until incorporated before adding more. Continue mixing the dough for 15 minutes or until the dough is smooth, elastic and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. You’ll need to scrap down the sides of the mixing bowl intermittently while mixing.

3

Grease a large bowl or container with oil (ensure that there is enough room in the bowl/container for the dough to rise) and gently place the the dough in. Now flip the dough around so both sides are oiled. If using a rectangular container, press the dough into the corners of the container so that it becomes a rectangle as well - this makes it easier when you roll the dough out later on. Refrigerate the dough overnight so that it’ll 1) firm up and 2) give the flavour time to develop. The dough should be fine in the fridge for up to 24 hours.

4

MAKING THE FILLING: Add the chocolate and butter into a heatproof bowl and microwave in 20 second intervals until melted. If you don’t have a microwave, place the bowl on top of a pot of simmering water (ensure that the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water) until the chocolate and butter has fully melted. Sift in the icing sugar, cocoa powder and salt to ensure that there are no lumps and whisk them together until you have a spreadable paste. Set it aside while you work on the dough.

5

SHAPING THE DOUGH: Remove the dough from the fridge and on a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough into a rectangle that’s roughly 30x40 cm (11x15 inches). Spread the chocolate mixture, as evenly as you can, all over the dough and leaving a small border (about 2cm) all around. Sprinkle the pistachios on top of the chocolate.

6

Starting with the 30cm (11 inch) side, roll the up into a tight log. You could also roll it starting from the longer side - the shorter end will form more layers while the longer end gives more twists. Using a sharp knife, cut the dough lengthwise into two long pieces. If you can, cut the dough in one long stroke rather than ’sawing’ it back and forth - this ensures that the layers stay neat. With the cut sides facing up, pinch the halves together at one end then lift the right half of the dough over the left half, forming an X. Then, lift the new right half over the new left half and continue until you’ve intertwined/braided both pieces of dough. Pinch the ends together.

7

Carefully transfer the dough into a 9x4 inch loaf tin that has been lightly greased and lined with a strip of parchment paper. If the dough is too long to fit the tin, just squeeze and twist it a little. Don’t worry if there are gaps in the pan since the babka will rise and fill out those gaps eventually. Cover the tin loosely with clingfilm or a damp tea towel and leave to rise in a warm place until the dough is puffy, 1 to 1½ hours. Bear in mind that for the bread itself, the longer you proof it the more “bready” it’ll be - I usually go for an hour.

8

In the meantime, preheat the oven to 180°C (190°C for conventional ovens). When the babka has finished rising, remove the clingfilm or tea towel and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean with no dough attached. If you have a baking thermometer, the internal temp should reach 88°C.

9

MAKING THE SUGAR SYRUP: Whilst the babka is in the oven, combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Once the sugar has fully dissolved, remove it from heat and set aside until needed.

10

As soon as the babka comes out of the oven, brush it liberally with the syrup. Use all of the syrup, even if it looks a lot. Let the babka cool until it’s warm then remove from the tin and let cool completely before slicing into them, otherwise the bread will end up doughy and dense. The babka will stay fresh for 3 to 4 days in an airtight container at room temperature, don’t place it in the fridge. To freeze, see Note 2.

Notes

1. Pistachios are my favourite but you could use any other types of nuts as well, hazelnuts would be really nice. To toast the nuts, pop them into a preheated oven at 175°C and bake for 6 to 8 minutes. They will become very fragrant when they are done. Remove from the oven and let them cool completely before using.

2. To freeze: Once cooled, tightly wrap the babka in two layers of clingfilm and a layer of foil before freezing. You could freeze them after slicing if you prefer. To defrost, leave it at room temperature, still wrapped, for a few hours. This ensures that as the babka defrosts, the condensation that forms ends up on the outside of the loaf and doesn't affect the quality. The babka will keep well in the freezer for up to 2 months.

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