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.
Brioche Babka versus Challah Babka
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.
What is “milk bread” and how is it made?
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.
A hybrid way to babka
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.
How to make the tangzhong (roux) for milk bread chocolate babka
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)
How to make milk bread chocolate babka in five simple steps:
- Make roux and with it make the challah dough
- Roll it out into large rectangle and spread chocolate sauce over it
- Roll it up into a log and slice in half lengthwise
- Twist two halves around each other
- Brush with egg yolk and bake.
How to make milk bread chocolate babka pretty
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!):
- After you roll up the dough into a log, set it in the fridge. This will firm up the filling and the dough for clean cuts when you slice it in half. Use a really sharp knife to slice the dough.
- Because of the 1 inch border of no chocolate (and the odd way dough often rolls up), leaving the ends of the logs can make the loaf unpretty. I slice them off (about 1 inch off each end) and pile them into a lined muffin pan (so the muffin cup is about 1/2 to 2/3 full) and then bake them at 350 for 20 mins. Congratulations, now you babka is pretty AND you have these adorable muffin-like baby babkas that bake up beautifully too!
- Also note: My babkas pictured here are “rustic” because I want you to see how lovely it is without perfect cuts.
Ingredients for milk bread chocolate babka
- Bread flour: my favorite brand is King Arthur Flour. If you don’t have bread flour you can use AP but I do urge you to use bread if you have access to it.
- Milk: Whole or 2% is fine. Skim or 1% could work but they might be lacking a bit of fat, same with non-dairy milks. Don’t use buttermilk here as it could curdle in the tangzong step.
- Eggs: large and at room temperature. Extra large eggs will lend too much eggyness, and regular size not enough. If you need your eggs to come to room quick, set them in a bowl of hot water for a couple of minutes.
- Oil: I use canola but vegetable, grapeseed or even olive oil (if you like the taste) would be fine here.
- Powdered sugar: organic or non organic is fine.
- Yeast: one packet of instant yeast (7grams). If you need to sub with active dry add 1/2 tsp (25%) more and add it with the flour, skipping the proving step.
- Chocolate: The creaminess of your chocolate will affect the ganache filling. If it’s very dark you’ll have to add a bit of heavy cream. If it’s less than 60% cocoa you might not. I use lindt 70%.
- Cocoa: dutch process! It’s darker and more chocolatey. I use Rodelle or Guittard’s Rouge for dutch or Saco’s blend of natural and dutch.
- Butter: Any should be fine.
- Turbinado sugar: This is a minimally processed sugar and you don’t have to use it, but I like the way the big dark granules look on my bread, I buy mine at Trader Joe’s. If you don’t have it, use regular granulated.
Milk Bread Chocolate Babka
- stand mixer
- small pot
- loaf pans x 2
- 1/2 cup water 110g
- 1/2 cup whole milk 116g
- 1/3 cup bread flour 40g
- 1 packet instant yeast, 7grams
- 1/2 cup whole milk, room temperature 116g
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar 96g
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1/4 cup canola oil 55g
- 1 tsp fine sea salt
- 1 TB pure vanilla extract
- 4 cups bread flour, about 500g
- 1/3 cup butter 76g
- 1/2 cup chopped dark chocolate 100g
- 1/3 cup dutch process cocoa
- 1/3 cup powdered sugar
- 1 TB heavy cream, if needed
- Make the roux: In a pot, whisk together the flour, water and milk. Continue whisking as it heats up and thickens. Once you have the consistency of a soft paste, remove from heat and allow to cool.
- Make the dough: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, combine the yeast and milk. Sprinkle a bit of the sugar on top and whisk gently to combine. Give it a few minutes to proof.
- Once the yeast mixture is foamy, add the rest of the ingredients as well as the roux. Turn the dough hook on and let it knead the dough until it comes together in a sticky mass, about 5 minutes.
- Set the dough in a well-oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Leave in the fridge overnight.
- The next morning, remove the dough from the fridge. If it has not doubled in size, let it stand at room temperature to get there. This is to complete the first rise.
- Make the filling: in a pot, melt the butter and chocolate together. Sift in the powdered sugar and cocoa. Whisk to combine. If the mixture is too thick, add a tablespoon of heavy cream.
- Once the dough has doubled, punch it down and divide into two halves.
- Roll one of the halves into a 13 x 9 rectangle and spread half the filling over the dough, leaving a 1” border.
- Roll the dough up into a log from the short side and slice the log lengthwise with a sharp knife.
- Twist the two halves around each other, filling side up. Place the twist in an oiled loaf pan prepped with a parchment paper sling. Set in a warm place for a second rise, for about 45-60 minutes.
- Repeat steps with second loaf.
- Preheat oven to 375. Brush the loaves with egg wash and sprinkle over the sugar.
- Tent the pans loosely with aluminum foil, leaving room for the bread to rise without touching the foil.
- Bake for 30-40 minutes, until an instant read thermometer inserted into the center registers 190 F.