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Chocolate Babka

This chocolate babka is dairy free, but so good you’ll never miss the milk!  It’s cakey and filled with rich chocolate swirls and chopped walnut pieces.  Serve it with a cup of coffee or tea and you are sure to get raving reviews.

Bridseye view of chocolate babka sprinkled with sesame seeds

Babka was brought to the States and Israel from Eastern European Jews.  There are a number of different types of babkas in Eastern Europe, but this is the one you find in New York and Israeli bakeries.

Unlike the others, rather than having fruit filling, this type traditionally has chocolate or cinnamon swirls running throughout it.

Whenever I go to the bakery, the first three favorite things I immediately go for are rugelach, chocolate-filled croissants, and babka.  

Like rugelach I can never decide between chocolate and cinnamon, so I always get both!

In Israel, unlike the States, it is common to find chopped walnuts embedded in the chocolate.  This takes the chocolate babka from good to addictive!

Another thing that is common here as opposed to the States is sesame seeds sprinkled on top.  Israelis love sesame seeds and it makes the chocolate babka look even more beautiful!

Don’t be intimidated by the long list of ingredients.  This recipe is extremely easy!

Another dessert recipe you may love is chocolate rugelach cake.

Some of the links below are affiliate links, which means that if you choose to make a purchase, I will earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. 10% of all profits are donated to charity.

WHAT YOU NEED

Dry measuring cups and spoons
Liquid measuring cup
Mixer with dough hook
Damp towel
Rolling pin
Pastry brush
Baking spatula
Cooling rack

BREAD FLOUR VS ALL PURPOSE FLOUR

Bread flour has a higher protein content than all-purpose, which helps with gluten development.

Some recipes call for it if an especially chewy texture is desired.  It will also produce a heavier and denser loaf.

All-purpose flour has a lower protein content, but can generally be substituted for bread flour.

I almost never use anything other than all-purpose flour, including in bread recipes. I like it because it’s inexpensive and extremely versatile.

HOW TO MEASURE FLOUR AND OTHER DRY INGREDIENTS

Using a dry measuring cup, scoop ingredients from the bag or spoon them into the cup. 

Next, level off the ingredient by removing the excess with an upside-down butter knife.

The one exception to this is brown sugar.  Brown sugar should be packed down and then any excess should be scraped off as well.

DRY VS LIQUID MEASURING CUP

Ever wonder why measuring spoons often come with a set of measuring cups?  I used to.  I didn’t see why we needed a set when we could have one large measuring cup. 

After a quick search, I had my answer.  I discovered that the large measuring cup is used for liquids, whereas the set is used for dry ingredients.

As it turns out, if you try to measure dry ingredients with a liquid cup, the measurements get messed up. 

First, you pour the flour or cocoa in, next you shake it around to get it level, and then you add more. 

By shaking it, you are causing the powder to settle, and when you add more, you end up using more than called for.

WHY SIFT FLOUR and Other Powder Ingredients

There are a number of benefits to sifting flour and other ingredients like cocoa ingredients: 

It removes any unwanted debris and you can get a more accurate measurement than when packed tightly in a bag. 

It also removes any lumps that can get into the batter and be hard to break up later, or be missed altogether before baking.

If you sift the powdered ingredients together, it helps combine them and mix more evenly with other dry ingredients like sugar.

BAKING WITH OIL

In general, oil in baked goods makes for a superior texture than those made with butter.  

Oil cakes tend to bake up taller with a better crumb. They also stay moist and tender far longer than recipes made with butter.

Furthermore, since oil is lighter than butter, the texture of oil cakes is lighter too.

Also, given that oil is 100% fat while most American butter is 15% water, it creates a more tender crumb.

This is due to the fact that the extra water strengthens the gluten, resulting in a crumb that’s more dense.

Which Type Of Oil to Use

I use neutral oils like canola oil, safflower oil, and vegetable oil.  However, it’s not unheard of for oils with stronger flavors like olive oil or coconut oil to be used.

If using olive oil, I recommend using pure olive oil for its milder flavor and higher smoking point.

Baking with Oil Conversion Chart

If you want to convert your butter recipes to oil recipes, check out my baking with oil butter to oil conversion chart.

Types of YEAST

There are seven different types of yeast used for baking.  However, only five are relevant to home bakers:

WILD YEAST

Wild yeast is found naturally in the air.  This type of yeast is used for sourdough breads, and in order to use it, you need to make a sourdough starter.

FRESH YEAST

Fresh yeast (a.k.a. cake yeast), block yeast, wet yeast, or compressed yeast is found in small, foil-wrapped cubes.  

It is far less popular with home bakers because it’s highly perishable. However, it is still widely available for commercial use and is still used by home bakers in some countries.

The benefits of using it is that it’s easier to measure and has the most leavening power.

If you want to use fresh yeast in this recipe, for every 1 teaspoon instant dry yeast you’d need 17 grams (or .6 ounces) of fresh yeast.

Make sure to bloom it before using it in this recipe.

ACTIVE DRY YEAST

Active dry yeast looks like large grained powder mainly used by home bakers in the States.

It has a much longer lifespan than compressed yeast, lasting up to a year at room temperature and more than a decade if frozen.

Unlike other types of yeast, it needs to proof first. This means it is rehydrated in warm liquid such as water or milk to activate it.

The main downside of using this is that a lot of the yeast is already dead, so you need more of it than other yeasts.  This can cause an undesired yeast flavor.

If you want to use active dry yeast in this recipe, for 1 teaspoon of instant dry yeast you need 1 1/4 teaspoons of active dry yeast.

Make sure to bloom it first before using it in this recipe.

INSTANT YEAST

Instant yeast looks the same as active dry yeast. However, it does not need to be proofed before using.

Instead of having to be activated in warm liquid first, it can be added as is when making the dough.

It is more perishable than active dry yeast, lasting only 2 to 4 months at room temperature and for years in the freezer.

This is my favorite type of yeast to use because it lasts longer than fresh yeast and you need less of it than active dry yeast.

RAPID-RISE YEAST

Rapid-rise yeast is often specifically marketed toward users of bread machines.  It’s essentially instant yeast with a smaller grain. The smaller granules allow it to dissolve faster in the dough and therefore rise faster.  

While most baking experts believe that the bread flavors aren’t as developed by using this yeast, others feel it makes little difference.

WHY BlOOM INSTANT YEAST?

As mentioned above, active dry yeast needs to be bloomed (aka proofed) before use to activate it, but I also proof instant yeast. The reason for this is because it helps troubleshoot if any problems come up.  

By blooming the yeast first, you know it is active. So, if the dough has trouble rising, you know it’s not the yeast.

This is particularly useful when you don’t have a “warm” place to let it rise.

How to Bloom Yeast

To bloom, place the yeast, warm water, and sugar together in the bowl. Stir and wait for it to activate.

You know the yeast is activated when foam appears on the surface. This can take up to 10 minutes.

Please note that hot water will kill the yeast and cool water won’t activate it. Lukewarm water is ideal.

If you are using fresh yeast, make sure to break it up with a fork once it is in the water.

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE DOUGH TO RISE?

How quickly dough rises depends on how warm the place it is rising in is.

If you put it in the fridge for instance it could take 8 hours or so. In the summer in Israel, it rises very quickly.

If you leave it on the counter in a comfortably warm room, its usually 45 minutes.

HOW TO RISE BREAD FASTER

I often find myself running late and need to rise dough faster, or sometimes, in the winter, I don’t have a warm place and the dough take forever to rise.  So, I let my dough rise in a warm oven.

What I do is preheat the oven to its lowest temperature and turn it off.  Then, I cover the dough with a damp towel and place the oven.

This trick works for me every time.  On occasion, I may need to remove the dough and preheat the oven another time or two, but usually just once does the trick.

The down side of this process is that some bakers feel it doesn’t allow for flavors to really develop.  Personally, I never noticed much of a difference.

PUNCHING DOUGH DOWN

Punching is a bit of a strong word.  Yeast is a delicate living thing so you actually need to treat it with care.  

What you’re really doing is lightly pressing down the dough through the center with first.  This removes gasses that have formed during the first rise allowing for a better crumb.

 By doing this you are also bring the yeast, sugar, and moisture back together which is important for the second rise as the yeast feeds on the sugar.

After you “punch” the dough you should pull edges of the dough to the center. Once you’re done, take dough out of bowl and place on lightly floured board, turn over, and shape your dough into a ball.

If desired, you can kneading the dough two or three times to release additional air bubbles.

LET THE DOUGH REST

While you don’t need to let the dough rest after punching it down, it is preferable to.  

If you have the time, allow the dough to rest between 10 to 40 minutes. Ideally no less than 15 minutes.  

This will allow the gluten to relax making the dough easier to roll out and shape.

I often allow the dough to rest for 20 minutes in the fridge with a damp towel. Chilled dough can be easier to work with.

THE SECOND RISE

The second rise allows the yeast to feed longer on the sugar.  This allows the bread to become larger, have a better crumb, and develop a better flavor.  

Also, if you were to let it rise only once, punch it down, shape it, and stick it in the oven, your bread would rise somewhat, but not enough for it to become fluffy.  

Baking with Humidity

Humidity can have a big impact on how your baked goods come out.

This is because when humidity is extremely high (think 70 percent or more), baking ingredients like flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda soak up moisture from the air.

This can negatively impact the outcome of your cakes, cookies, yeast breads, and quick breads.

There are some things you can do to try to save your baking.

Try to counterbalance the additional moisture

To help counterbalance the additional moisture your dry ingredients soak up from the air, try reducing the amount of liquid in the recipe by about one-quarter.

If the batter or dough looks too dry once all the ingredients are mixed together, add additional liquid tablespoon at a time until you have the desired consistency.

This is not usually possible to do for cookies, but it does work for cakes and breads.

Store Ingredients in the Fridge

If flour and sugar are stored in the refrigerator or freezer rather than in a cupboard or pantry, they are better protected from humidity.

As an added benefit, keeping these ingredients cool also helps keep them fresher longer, in addition to helping them stay bug-free.

For best results, let them warm to room temperature before using.

Bake for Longer

If you bake your goodies for a few extra minutes, it can help the liquid to cook off.

To avoid overbaking, continue testing for doneness every couple of minutes for breads, quick breads, cakes, cupcakes, and muffins.  Cookies, on the other hand, need to be checked every minute.

Use Air Conditioning

To help lower humidity levels on humid summer days, air condition the room for at least an hour before you start baking.

Cooler air isn’t able to hold as much moisture as warm air.

Store your baked goods in an airtight container

Humidity can also ruin your fresh-baked goods because when they are left out they can absorb moisture.

To avoid this, store them in an air tight container or resealable bag.

DO EGGS NEED TO BE AT ROOM TEMPERATURE?

The short answer is “no”.  While a side-by-side comparison shows that baking with eggs at room temperature makes a better crumb, it’s not otherwise noticeable.

What are Eggs used for?

Eggs do three things in most recipes: they help bind the ingredients together, act as a mild leavening agent, and they add moisture.

EGG FREE OPTION

Eggs can be substituted with 1/4 cup of unsweetened apple sauce per egg.  This means for recipes calling for 2 eggs, you’d need 1/2 cup of unsweetened apple sauce.

The reason applesauce makes a good binder is that it’s high in pectin. Pectin is a naturally occurring starch in fruits and berries that acts as a thickening agent and stabilizer in food.

This happens when combined with sugar and acid (if the fruit or berry isn’t naturally acidic).

Just keep in mind that it may change the flavor slightly.

ARE EGGS DAIRY?

No, eggs are not dairy.  Dairy is milk and any food products made from milk, including cheese, cream, butter, and yogurt. 

So, while eggs are an animal product, they are not dairy. In fact, eggs fall under the protein food group.

WHICH TYPE OF COCOA TO USE

When a recipe calls for cocoa, always use unsweetened cocoa powder, unless specified otherwise. 

This allows you to have better control of the sweetness of what you’re making. 

There are three basic forms of unsweetened cocoa powder. 

NATURAL COCOA POWDER

Natural cocoa powder comes from cocoa beans that are fermented, roasted, processed at a higher heat, and milled into a powder.

It’s bitter, with a very strong and concentrated chocolate flavor.  

This cocoa powder is acidic and is often used in recipes calling for baking soda, because the two react with each other to allow your baked good to rise.

This is most commonly used, and should be used, in recipes that simply say “cocoa powder.”

DUTCH-PROCESS COCOA POWDER

Dutch-process cocoa powder starts with cocoa beans that have been washed in potassium carbonate which neutralizes their acidity.  

Since Dutch-process cocoa powder is neutral, it does not react with baking soda.

When baking, Dutch-process cocoa is often paired with baking powder. 

Dutch-process cocoa powder can also be used in place of natural cocoa powder in recipes that don’t require leavening.

These include sauces, hot cocoa, frostings, ice cream, pudding, etc.

If you only have Dutch-process cocoa powder on hand, you can substitute it for neutral cocoa powder.

Just make sure to add 1/8 teaspoon of cream of tartar, white vinegar, or lemon juice for every 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder called for in the recipe.

RAW CACAO POWDER

Raw cacao powder is different from natural and Dutch-process unsweetened cocoa powder.

It’s pure powder from the cacao bean and isn’t nearly as processed as both natural and Dutch-process.

Cocoa is processed at high heat, which destroys much of the nutritional benefits of the cacao seed.

Also, cocoa powder is often alkalized during processing to reduce acidity. The result is a product that’s less bitter and more soluble when added to liquids.

Cacao powder, on the other hand, is made of fermented – not roasted – seeds that are processed at low temperatures and then milled into a powder, ensuring its nutritional benefits and its bitter flavor are preserved.

You can use raw cacao powder in recipes that don’t specify Dutch-process cocoa powder, however it is best not to try to.

Compared to cocoa powder, cacao powder has a stronger flavor, it is not as absorbent as cocoa powder, and it is more acidic, so it will react differently with baking soda. 

Understanding Sugar

Sugar may seem very basic if you’ve baked before, but I’ve been asked about it before, so I’m explaining.

There are many different types of sugar, including white sugar, brown sugar, vanilla sugar, powdered sugar, turbinado sugar, and demerara sugar.

When a recipe – any recipe, not just mine – says “sugar” without specifying anything else, it is regular white sugar.

White Sugar

White sugar (sometimes called granulated sugar, table sugar, or white granulated sugar) is made of either beet sugar or cane sugar, which has undergone a refining process.

It is the easiest to find and most commonly used.

Brown Sugar

Brown sugar is white sugar with molasses added to it.

It is commonly used in chocolate chip cookie recipes, and it’s rare for a recipe that calls for brown sugar not to also call for white sugar as well.

When a recipe calls for “brown sugar” but doesn’t specify what type (light or dark), it is referring to light brown sugar.

In my recipes, you can use whatever type of brown sugar you have on hand whether it is dark brown sugar, light brown sugar, or demerara sugar – which is very common in Israel.

Just keep in mind that the flavor and color will be slightly different depending on what you choose to use.

Turbinado Sugar

Turbinado sugar is better known as “raw sugar”. But, despite this name, the sugar is not really “raw.”

Instead, it’s partially refined sugar that retains some of the original molasses.

The term “raw sugar” may also give off the impression that it is somehow healthier.

In reality, turbinado sugar is nutritionally similar to white sugar.

Demerara Sugar

Demerara sugar is very popular in Israel and is especially delicious in tea, but is also used for baking.

Unlike white sugar, demerara sugar undergoes minimal processing and retains some vitamins and mineral.

However, it is still not much healthier than white sugar.

Vanilla Sugar

Vanilla sugar is not very common in the States. However, it is common in Israel and parts of Europe.

This is sugar that sat for an extended period of time with vanilla beans, giving it a vanilla flavor.

Caster Sugar

This type of sugar is common in the United Kingdom.

It has a finer grain than white (granulated) sugar and larger than powdered sugar.

Caster sugar is often called for in recipes for delicate baked goods like meringues, souffles, and sponge cakes.

You can use a 1:1 conversion rate between caster sugar and white (granulated) sugar.

Powdered sugar

Powdered sugar, sometimes known as confectioners’ sugar, is a sugar with a powdered texture.

This sugar is rarely, if ever, used for baking. Instead, it is used for dusting desserts and making frosting and icings.

In some countries, you can also find powdered vanilla sugar.

It is made the exact same way regular vanilla sugar is made. However, the sugar used is powdered instead of granulated.

Vanilla Extract vs Vanilla sugar

In my recipes, I don’t specify what kind of vanilla to use.

The reason for this is that in the States, vanilla extract is exclusively used.

Meanwhile in Israel, along with many European countries, vanilla sugar is common.

In most, if not all recipes, both vanilla extract and vanilla sugar can be used.

In recipes where vanilla sugar can be used instead of extract, you can replace them 1:1.

Replacing Sugar with Honey

If you’d prefer to use honey instead of sugar, you can do so with pretty good results.

Honey can be two or even three times as sweet depending on the honey, so for every 1 cup of sugar, you can use 1/2 to 2/3 cup honey.

Since honey adds liquid, you need to remove some to balance it out.  For every cup of honey remove a 1/4 cup of liquid.

Also, it burns faster than granulated sugar, so you want to lower the baking temperature by 25 F or 4 C.  In addition, check it early and often to avoid burning or overbaking.

BROWN SUGAR

Brown sugar should not be confused with raw sugar or demerara. 

What we call brown sugar is essentially white sugar that has had molasses added back to it.

You can easily substituted brown sugar or even make brown sugar.

Both dark and light brown sugar can easily be made at home if you have a little white sugar and molasses.

It is commonly used in chocolate chip cookie recipes, and it’s rare for a recipe that calls for brown sugar not to also call for white sugar as well.

When a recipe calls for “brown sugar” but doesn’t specify what type (light or dark), it is referring to light brown sugar.

DARK BROWN SUGAR 

Dark brown sugar can be made with 1 cup white granulated sugar and 2 tablespoons molasses. 

Add both ingredients into a bowl and mix with a fork until completely mixed.

LIGHT BROWN SUGAR

Light brown sugar can be made with 1 cup white granulated sugar and 1 tablespoon molasses. 

Add both ingredients into a bowl and mix with a fork until completely mixed.

DEMERARA

Demerara is popular in Israel and is easier to find than light brown sugar. It is a type of cane sugar with a nice toffee flavor and can be used in place of brown sugar.

HOW TO SUBSTITUTE DARK AND LIGHT BROWN SUGAR

DARK BROWN SUGAR

Dark Brown Sugar can be made with 1 cup of light brown sugar and 1 tablespoon molasses. 

Add both ingredients into a bowl and mix with a fork until completely mixed.

LIGHT BROWN SUGAR

Light Brown sugar can easily be replaced in a recipe with half dark brown sugar and half white granulated sugar.

DOES THE TYPE OF BROWN SUGAR YOU USE REALLY MATTER?

Yes and no.

It will change the flavor and likely the color.

Dark brown sugar has more molasses which will give it deeper, more complex flavor that’s closer to toffee or caramel.

However, I tend to use what’s on hand, which for me means dark brown sugar in Israel and light brown in the States.

I also happen to love the extra flavor dark brown sugar gives, so I like using it even if I have both on hand.

TROUBLESHOOTING

WHY IS IT TAKING LONGER THAN DESCRIBED TO BAKE?

Over time, the thermostat on ovens gets a little off, causing some ovens to run hot and others to run cool.  This is why recipes tend to say things like “10 to 15 minutes or until golden brown.” 

So, if it takes you longer than expected that’s fine, don’t worry about it. Just keep baking until ready.

WHY DID MY RECIPE COME OUT TOO DRY?

Just like some ovens run cool, others run hot.  If your oven runs hot, bake these at a lower temperature.  Ideally, you should get an oven thermometer to know what temperature you’re really baking at.

MY SNAFU:

The first time I made this, I didn’t give it time to rise to double the size, figuring that one and a half is fine. This was a big mistake!

It made the babka heavier. On the other hand, you don’t want to let it rise too long either. When I did this, the moisture starts to accumulate around the bottom and the dough came out dryer.

Yield: 14 servings

Chocolate Babka

Bridseye view of chocolate babka sprinkled with sesame seeds

This chocolate babka is similar to the ones you can find in Israeli bakeries where they are referred to as a yeast cake.

Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes

Ingredients

Dough

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour (500 grams)
  • 3/4 cup water (180 milliliter)
  • 1/2 cup white sugar (115 grams)
  • 1/3 cup oil (80 milliliter)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon instant yeast
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Filling

  • 1 cup cocoa (125 grams)
  • 2/3 cup white sugar (135 grams)
  • 1/2 cup oil (120 milliliter)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, chopped, optional
  • 1/3 cup chocolate chips, optional

Glaze and Topping

  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/4 cup water (60 milliliter)
  • 1/4 cup white sugar (50 grams)
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame seeds

Instructions

  1. Combine flour, water, sugar, oil, eggs, yeast, vanilla, and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer
  2. Using your bread hook, knead until the dough pulls away from the bowl.  If the dough is too sticky, add a tablespoon of flour at a time until you get the right consistency.
  3. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and put in a warm place. Let it rise until it doubles in size.
  4. Roll the dough out into a rectangle on a flour surface. The dough should be thin, but thick enough that it won't rip.
  5. In a mixing bowl, combine cocoa, sugar, oil, cinnamon. Spread it on the dough in a thick even layer. Optional: Sprinkle evenly with nuts and/or chocolate chips.
  6. Starting at the shorter end, roll the dough into a log. Cut the log straight down the middle.
  7. Braid the two pieces around each other. Make sure the cut part with the chocolate filling is always face up. Place a parchment paper lined loaf pan and let it rise until double in size.
  8. Preheat the oven to 350°F or 175°C. Brush babka with remaining egg. 
  9. Bake 25 to 35 minutes or until the top is a beautiful brown color.
  10. Heat the remaining water and sugar in a pot to create simple syrup. Generously spoon the syrup over the babka and sprinkle the sesame seeds.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

14

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 403Total Fat: 18gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 14gCholesterol: 40mgSodium: 169mgCarbohydrates: 55gFiber: 3gSugar: 23gProtein: 7g

Did you make this recipe?

Please leave a comment on the blog or share a photo on Pinterest

Leah

Monday 20th of September 2021

Hi! I'm about to make this recipe. I see there is an asterisk next to 'oil' in the filling section, but cannot find where it is referenced. Please share! Thank you!

Leah

Monday 20th of September 2021

@ElissaBeth, Thank You! and thank you for replying to quickly on such a hectic day. Chag Sameach!!

ElissaBeth

Monday 20th of September 2021

Hi,

It was leftover from a note that used to expand on types of oil but now it is a part of the post.

Penny

Thursday 2nd of September 2021

Do you have suggestions for an apple cinnamon filling (not canned apple pie filling please)?

Saturday 3rd of July 2021

Its very nice. Ive made it twice. Do you have a cinnamon filling recipe to share.?

ElissaBeth

Monday 5th of July 2021

I've yet to come up with a perfect cinnamon filling but I'm working on it :)

Agi

Monday 3rd of May 2021

Outstanding Babka. I made it exactly what the recipe called it. I will definitely make it again and again.

ElissaBeth

Tuesday 4th of May 2021

I'm glad you enjoyed it :)

Natasha

Thursday 18th of March 2021

Does this make one or two babkas? My braided log seems too long to fit in one 2 lb loaf tin

ElissaBeth

Thursday 18th of March 2021

It makes one large one or two small ones.

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