Milk bread style chocolate babka made with the japanese tangzhong method to yield the softest, most tender bread swirled with a deep dark chocolate filling.
Milk bread style chocolate babka made with the japanese tangzhong method to yield the softest, most tender bread swirled with a deep dark chocolate filling.
There are two ways to babka: the more commonly associated brioche dough (most recipes you find use this, similar to Bread’s Bakery babka) versus challah, a softer bread that uses oil, not butter, as a fat. The latter is probably how babka originated, with home bakers spreading jam or cinnamon over leftover challah (apparently the bread met chocolate in new york, source). My husband and I are, perhaps unpopularly, decidedly on the latter team. I think most people are team brioche because that is the form in which babka has been popularized, but today I hope to convince you over to our side.
I am not jewish or Eastern European, and I did not grow up eating babka (although, I very much wish I had!). Like most people, I learned of it from the internets. This popsugar version, is the first babka I made about 5-6 years ago. They had called it chocolate challah although the link has now disappeared (I now think it’s Alexandra Cooks’ recipe because the picture is the same). I had made it once and instantly fell in love. This biased me early on to what babka should feel and taste like. I don’t think a full two months has gone by since summer 2015, when I haven’t made ‘chocolate challah’ and every single time it has been more than well-received by my peoples (and my belly, lol).
We made a trip to NYC a few years later and tried the famous Bread’s Bakery babka (this was during peak babka trend of 2017 ), and, well, sad to say, it was very different than I imagined and I didn’t fall in love (although have you tried their cheesecake? To die for!). It was dense, almost croissant like in texture, which I get is kind of the point. But we preferred the soft and tender challah base that I made at home. If you are familiar with any of my bread recipes, you know they are usually variants of a challah/enriched dough. I have been mostly satisfied with my recipe, until now.
Hokkaido Japanese milk bread is made with a tangzhong: a water (or water & milk) roux, ie. a thick paste made from heated flour and the liquid. The roux method is unique to this dough and yields a very tender result, this is because the starches are gelatinized without forming gluten. On this topic, Dini, via The Flavor Bender writes: “The starch molecules in tangzhong absorb far more liquid than it would at room temperature. When this is added to the bread dough, the tangzhong adds MORE water to the dough, and a stable, soft matrix that creates a cushion-like, spongy texture in the final baked product.”
If you’ve seen pictures of japanese milk bread rolls, you know that the roux method results in a super fluffy and tender interior. Some adjectives used to describe this bread I found from various sources: “lofty, feathery white bread”, “soft, springy texture”, “wonderfully tender” and, “Soft, fluffy, airy, tender, springy, pillowy….” I think you get the picture.
One of the criticisms challah gets, especially as a base for babka, is it’s dryness. This is partially because it doesn’t have butter added to it, and there’s a likely risk of adding too much flour; something I have overcompensated for in the past by giving you weight measurements rather than cup, to make sure your dough is very soft and sticky (to many of my reader’s distress, sorry guys!). My own struggle at home has not been with the dough itself but that the bread is great the first day but less so afterwards and I’ve always wanted it to last longer. I’ve also been lusting after IG photos of milk bread for years and decided I’d try it in my challah.
I’m not going to pretend I fully understand the process of starch formation and gelatinization of dough, but I am going to tell you that this is THE way to make bread. I had seen that nyt’s highly rated milk bread recipe (via julia moskin) had ingredients and quantities similar enough to the challah I usually make, and from that that I worked it into a milk-bread style challah. I don’t use as much yeast, and of course, I swap the butter for oil, to stay true to the jewish challah origins. I guess you could say this is a fusion bread of japanese/eastern european/newyork food culture.
The very tiny trick of making a roux first to addd to the dough made a huge difference. My challah’s have always been soft, but not THIS soft. They’ve been tender but not this tender. This is pillowy, lofty, feathery… all the things they said it would be. It was softer for days too! And then I added chocolate, and swoooooon. This is going to be the only way I babka from now on, and after you try it, I bet it will be yours too.
It sounds harder than it is, but it’s dead simple: in a small saucepan set over medium heat you’ll combine equal parts water and milk, with some bread flour. You’ll simply whisk it until it thickens into a paste and then remove it from the heat. I pour it into the bottom of my stand mixer bowl and let it cool while I prep the rest of my ingredients. Then, I dump everything into the bowl and attach the dough hook and turn the mixer on. It needs 5 minutes only to come together. How easy was that? (cue Ina’s twinkle)
If you get your dough right, it’s very hard to go wrong in taste with a bread and chocolate combination. But over the past few months I’ve seen readers struggle with making my brownie babka ‘pretty’. So here’s some tips (and a fabulous way to have some muffin style mini-babkas!):
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I don’t know if I’ve missed it what do I do with the roux? I’m excited to make this recipe!!
the roux goes into the dough! I hope you love it 😀
I made this babka recently for a coworker’s birthday, and they absolutely loved it! Easy to follow recipe, and so so delicious and soft with the milk bread base
This is the first time I’ve attempted to make babka. My family loved it! If I want to make the babka on the same day, do I need to knead the dough longer to develop more gluten in the dough? How much longer do you recommend to knead it with a stand mixer? I’m going to try your other babka recipes next. Thank you for sharing your recipe.
Hi Sam! Can I make all babka muffins out of the entire dough instead of just using the ends and his do you recommend doing that?
Yes! Totally doable
Thanks for the recipe!
Would you please tell me what’s the pan measurements?
Great recipe. Easy to follow and the babka was excellent. I also like the idea to use the scraps for muffins. I used 63% cocoa and my taste testers said it was the right sweetness. Can’t wait to make again as I want to practice getting a better twist!
Thanks For Sharing this amazing recipe. My family loved it. I will be sharing this recipe with my friends. Hope the will like it.
This was my first attempt at babka and it paid off beautifully- twice! I decided I wanted to bake myself something special for my birthday but I’m not really into cake. So I made a birthday babka for my breakfast and it was every bit as indulgent and celebratory as I had hoped! It was soooo good toasted with butter. So good in fact that my daughter immediately put in a request for her birthday breakfast the following month. The steps are well explained and laid out. Thank you for an approachable recipe with a spectacular result.
So excited to make this — I had the exact same reaction to Bread’s Bakery babka in NYC — so much hype, but I found it dense and dry. So I feel extra confident I’m going to love yours!
Hey lovely Sam, in the middle of making this recipe and I noticed your grams for the butter in the filling might be 1/2ed. 1/3 cup butter = around 75 g … or am I crazy. Or did you mean 38g butter (1/6 th)? I’m going with the 1/3 because it seems to fit the rest of the ingredients. Super excited for the final product!
Katrina, sorry that was a typo! Yes it is 1/3 cup and 76g. Glad you went with that, hope it turned out well!
This was my first time making babka and I was blown away by how soft and tender the bread was. I made one with Nutella and one with the chocolate filling, which was the perfect amount of sweetness. Thank you so much for this incredible recipe!
Sophie, I’m so glad to hear it! Absolutely honored my recipe was the first you tried <3
Amazing recipe! Admittedly my first time making babka, but it came out incredibly soft and fluffy. And the recipe was much easier to make than I anticipated. I did both rises out of the fridge, so I made it all in one afternoon and enjoyed it for dessert after supper and breakfast the next morning. Looking forward to trying the brownie babka next!
amazing recipe – soooo soft and fluffy!
note that i think there’s an error in the conversion for the 1/3 cup butter in the filling. You have it as 38g when I believe it should be double that or 76g
Drooling at the pictures and this recipe! Can I use coconut oil for the oil?
So good! Did first proof out of the fridge and then put covered in pan overnight to proof- had to take out for a bit in the morning to finish the proof but worked super well as a Christmas morning treat!!
Yay! Merry Christmas Hannah!
Can I give this more than 5 stars? It needs more than 5. While it takes multiple steps to create the babka, they are not complicated and the recipe is so easy to follow. My babkas turned out beautifully! Sam- could you make this with a cinnamon/sugar filling? Would you use butter like a cinnamon roll method, then sprinkle the cinnamon and sugar, roll, split and twist? Also, this milk bread dough is so lovely!
<3 <3 Thank you Goldie!!! Yes you could! Check my 'brown butter buttermilk cinnamon rolls' recipe and you can use that filling instead. It'll be lovely!
I really love babka. Especially because the local Jewish bakery sells pareve babka that I can eat, as someone with an anaphylactic milk allergy. I see you recommend a higher-fat milk and mention skim or nondairy might not have enough. I’ve got a few high-ish fat non-dairy milk options around my house, a hemp with 6g, a hazelnut with 11g, a walnut with 9g (all per 8oz). Which flavor do you think might complement the recipe best?
Hmm, I bet the hazelnut milk would be lovely here – not only for the higher fat but I also see the flavor working well with the chocolate. For the ganache I’d use coconut milk btw, if you have it!
This looks amazing and I’ve been studying the steps to make them! But I was wondering , would avocado oil work?
Yes!! It would be lovely here.
I just pulled this babka out of the oven and it looks and smells incredible! I’m excited to try it once it’s cool enough to cut!
I just have one question: how do you store it? Should I wrap it in foil, put it in a container, or something different entirely? Also, does it need to be refrigerated?
Hi Keegan! For overnight storage I’d put it in an airtight container at room temperature. The fridge will dry it out. If you want to keep slices for later use you could freeze them (also in an airtight container).
Thanks! (As it turns out, there isn’t even much left to store at this point; between our family and the neighbors the loaf’s almost gone already!)
It tastes absolutely delicious 🙂
How long do you leave it in the fridge before cutting ? Before it over proofs
Hi Karen, not too long like 10-20 minutes. You could also put it in the freezer for 5-10. The point is to just get it to firm up.
Thank you ! ??
This looks so good! If I want to try this with butter in the dough, how do I do it? Im guessing it would replace the oil, but how would I add it in?
Hi Chelsea! I would just melt the butter and add it in like you would oil (measure it after you melt it).
Hi, …. Firstly I want to thank for the recipe.
I don’t why i was so in love to see the beautiful appearence of babka for the first time on instagram that made really want to learn to make this bread.
And i really excited to try this recipe.
But there’s a question before i making it, i hope u like to answer it..??
Do i have to use the tent of alumunium foil? And what happened if i dont’t use it?
Hi Emira! Depending on what type of pan you use and how big it is, it can take longer to cook the babka in the center – the tent of foil is to keep the babka from over-browning as the center cooks.
Hi do you have any substitute for eggs?
Hi Nidhi! On my brownie babka post I have an eggless dough. You’d need to work that into a milk bread style recipe by cooking some of the flour with some water or milk.
Hi! A few questions!
I’m wanting to bake this in one day, so instead of putting it in the fridge can I do the first rise in a warm area?
If I just want one loaf I saw another comment say to use 1 and 1/4 tsp yeast, but would I go ahead and halve all the other ingredients?
Also for convenience would nutella work as the filling?
Thanks for your recipe, I love using tangzhong!
Hi Helen! Yes, you can do the first rise at room temp; 2 hours should have it doubled in size. And yeah halve everything else for only one loaf. Nutella definitely works for a filling! Beware that between the room temp dough and the nutella it will be softer to roll out and a bit messier to cut. I’d set it in the fridge for a bit after you roll it up into a log to help it firm up a bit. Good luck!
Do I halve the yeast if I only want to make one loaf instead of two?
Hi Jen, for one loaf: 1 1/4 teaspoon should be good.
I would love to make this, but I do not own a stand mixer. Would this still be doable? If so what are some tips?
Ps: this bread looks way too good to just be saved in my folder ?
Hi Michelle! You could.. it will be an arm workout! The dough is rather wet so I’d knead it in a big bowl with a flexible spatula.
The first time I ever made babka and it was a big success! Super soft, intense chocolate flavor but not too sweet, I ate one slice after the other while still warm from the oven smeared with some butter – yum!
The dough was a bit finicky to work with (a price I’m willing to pay for super soft babka ?) and since my timing didn’t allow to put the rolled babka back into the fridge, there might have been some strong words shaping it… Thanks again for the great recipe!
P.S.: I found your blog through Jessica from How Sweet Eats and I’m really glad I did! I’m not only enjoying your recipes but also your writing which to me is almost as important as a great recipe. If I don’t feel like I connect to the blogger on some level, I usually lose interest quickly. I got back to baking a few months ago and really enjoy your creative and yummy recipes, I get a lot of inspiration from them.
Just made babka for the first time using this recipe – WOW! The chocolate filling has the perfect level of sweetness. I am all for babka without the sugar syrup so that was another plus for this recipe. I need to work on my twisting technique but other than that the recipe worked like a champ!
Totally agree with you about the syrup! And I’m so glad you loved it, thanks so much for making it!
Just realized that my swirl issue may have been that I hadn’t previously read your comment about cutting the roll and then refrigerating to firm up…that would likley solve my issue. Shared the two loaves with three neighbors…comments included “better chocolate to bread ratio than my favorite croissant” and “that chocolate filling tastes like a special occasion chocolate”. FYI I used Trader Joe’s 70% pound plus bar for the chopped chocolate and King Arthur’s Double Dutch Dark Cocoa. Amazing results. Setting up for the next batch now.
Hi Malisa! Yes, the fridge really helps firm everything up for much better cuts. I am SO with your neighbor on that ratio comment – croissants never have enough! I should tackle them next, lol. Also those TJ pound plus bars are my absolute favorite these days. I’m so glad you enjoyed the recipe!
Hi, this looks amazing! Can’t wait to try it.
If I make the dough and put it in the fridge overnight can I continue with the rest of the recipe in the afternoon rather than in the morning?
You can! More important than than timing are the cues you get from the dough itself. Before it goes into the oven it should be quite poofy (for lack of a better word). If it looks dense and cold, it’s not ready to go in yet.
Great, thank you! 🙂