Sourdough Babka with Chocolate Hazelnut Filling
Is it possible to make a vegan babka using a sourdough starter instead of fast action yeast? Yes! Find out how to make my Sourdough Babka with Chocolate Hazelnut Filling below.
What is “babka”?
If you’ve stumbled across this recipe you’ve probably got a rough idea of what babka is. But in case you’re still unsure let me give you the low down. Babka is a Jewish sweet bread that is made from an enriched dough that is filled with either a chocolate or cinnamon filling, plaited and then baked in a loaf tin before being drizzled with a sugar syrup.
The reason you’re currently seeing babka appearing all over your Instagram feed is because it appeared as the technical challenge in Chocolate Week of the Great British Bake Off. It’s also why I am sharing with you my take on this classic Jewish loaf! That’s right, I’ve put my spin on things. This is’t authentic but it’s seriously tasty. So how have I “tweaked” the classic recipe?
First of all I’ve swapped fast action yeast for sourdough starter. I always have a sourdough starter bubbling away in my kitchen which means I don’t have to worry about making sure I’ve got a packet of dried yeast in the house. I also love using sourdough starter in sweet bread dough because it adds a more complex flavour and stops the final bake being sickly sweet.
The other change I’ve made to the traditional recipe is that it doesn’t have any egg or dairy in it. Which, probably sounds like a big departure given that babka is made with an enriched dough but hear me out. An enriched dough is one that has extra fat added in the form of milk, butter and/or egg. The result is that you get a rich, super soft, pillowy, almost cake like bread that has a soft, sometimes chewy, crust. The good news is that despite not using dairy or eggs this dough is still enriched with extra fat! This babka might be vegan but that doesn’t stop it being delicious! I use oat milk and my favourite non-dairy butter to make this dough rich and decadent. We can skip the eggs altogether.
Forgetting the ingredients for one moment, how you shape a babka is also super important. You might be familiar with another Jewish plaited bread (Challah). Babka differs in that you roll out the dough, spread over a filling and then tightly roll the dough into a sausage before cutting in half and then, finally, plaiting the dough. It can be a really messy process but it is lots of fun. Once you are finish shaping the dough you scoop it up into a loaf tin. When you cut through the final bread you will have swirls of filling throughout your dough.
Chocolate and cinnamon are both classic fillings. I added chopped hazelnuts to mine for some extra crunch! You could add fruit too. The choice is yours.
Tips for success!
Make sure you’ve fed your starter before you begin making this recipe. You need your starter to already be bubbly and active or the proving times will take even longer.
I feed my sourdough starter with equal parts water and flour. This means it’s quite a runny starter. If your sourdough starter has a lower hydration you may need to add more liquid.
When you’re rolling your dough you want to make sure you make it nice and tight. The more layers you create in this rolling up process, the more layers of filling you will have throughout your bread.
I often make the mistake of leaving too much filling exposed at he top of my loaf. It can be hard to know if the filling is going to burst out of the top as the loaf grows inside the oven but if it does, consider covering the loaf with foil or baking paper in the last few minutes of the bake. You don’t want the chocolate filling to catch and burn.
Adding an oven dish filled with water to the bottom of the oven will create some steam. The reason we want steam is to stop the outside of the bread drying out and forming a tough crust! Don’t skip this step if you want the perfect babka.
Because this loaf is made with sourdough starter instead of fast action yeast it takes a little longer to make. But don’t worry, it’s worth it!
Sourdough Babka with Chocolate Hazelnut Filling
For the dough
To make the dough
- Place the flour into a large mixing bowl and make a well in the middle.
- Add the starter into the well along with the warm milk, melted butter and sugar.
- Mix well bringing the flour in from the sides of the bowl until a dough has begun to form.
- If using an electric mixer with dough hooks, mix on a low speed for 5 minutes then high for a further 5 minutes. If mixing by hand, stretch and fold until the dough is elastic and beginning to hold its shape.
- Cover the the bowl and leave to prove for 6 hours or until doubled in size.
To make the filling
- Place the butter, maple syrup, chopped dark chocolate and cocoa powder into a bowl. Place into the microwave for 15 second bursts (stirring each time) until the butter and chocolate have melted and you have a thick but runny chocolate filling.
To shape the loaf
- Before shaping the loaf line a loaf tin with grease proof paper.
- Tip the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll out into a long thin rectangle. (The shortest edge should be roughly the same length of your loaf tin).
- Spread the filling over the dough and then sprinkle over the chopped hazelnuts.
- Starting on one of the short sides of the rectangle, tightly roll the dough into a log.
- Seal the dough by pinching the dough together to create a seam.
- Place the dough seam side down and then cut in half lengthways so that you have two long halves of dough with the filling exposed.
- Pinch the top two ends together and then criss-cross the two lengths of dough over each other to form a two stranded plait.
- Pinch the bottom two ends together and scoop the loaf into the lined loaf tin.
- Cover the dough and leave to rest for another 30 minutes - 1 hour until the dough has risen to fill the tin.
- While the dough is rising for the second time, pre-heat your oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.
To bake the loaf
- Place an oven dish filled with 200 millilitres of water into the bottom of the oven.
- Bake the loaf in the middle of the oven for 45 minutes or until the bread is springy to the touch (or a thermometer shows the internal temperature of the bread to be at least 95C).
- Remove from the oven and leave to cool on a cooling rack.
- Heat the sugar and water together in a small saucepan, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.
- Once the sugar has dissolved bring the syrup to the boil for 1-2 minutes and then take off the heat.
- Pour over the simple syrup and let it soak in before serving.