Yesterday morning I sadly flew home, back to London after a few days working in Sicily, where I took as much time as I could to eat gelato and enjoy the weather . It was a whirlwind of a trip, travelling across the island, seeing and eating as much as possible. I was busy working so unfortunately didn't get to explore as much as I would normally like but of course I did manage to sneak away from my duties to get hold of some local ingredients to bring home to bake with, I'm talking hazelnuts, lemons, oregano and of course pistachios, possibly one of the most well known Sicilian ingredients. Next time I visit I want to go to the source and explore Bronte. Whilst I was on the island I tried pistachio in gelato, granita (my new favourite thing), cannoli and even in a few savoury dishes. Of course I wanted to use the nuts in a recipe and the one that sprung to mind is one that I have been meaning to share for far too long. Over the last five or so years as the trend for Babka has come and maybe even gone, I totally fell in love with them. A swirled loaf packed full of chocolate and nuts then soaked in syrup, whats not to like? My version is fairly standard, a soft brioche style dough enriched with butter and eggs, swirled together with a mixture of butter and chocolate, covered in pistachios and baked. The dough I use is based on my cinnamon bun dough but with more egg and a touch more butter. I find that using a dough that is light on the additions of butter and egg makes for a much drier loaf because the dough is rolled fairly thin it can have a tendency to dry out so a properly enriched dough really helps make the perfect babka.
When it comes to the filling I have taken a big queue from the recipe for Krantz Cake in Ottolenghi's book Jerusalem. I have tried many versions over the years and his is by far the best so I have based my recipe on that version, although there are a couple key differences but these mainly come down to flavour preference and ease of making.
Like many recipes for Babka this makes two loaves and while you could of course reduce the recipe in two I love the ability to have one of these loaves in the freezer ready to whip out when needed.
Chocolate and Pistachio Babka
600g plain flour
7g dried yeast
2 tsp salt
30g caster sugar
250ml whole milk
3 large eggs
75g unsalted butter
Chocolate Pistachio Filling
100g pistachios, roughly chopped
50g light brown sugar
30g cocoa powder
120g dark chocolate (60-70% cocoa solids)
120g unsalted butter, diced
large pinch flaked sea salt
200g caster sugar
To make the dough place the flour, yeast, salt and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and mix briefly together to combine. Pour in the milk and the eggs and, with the dough hook attached,mix together on low/medium speed for about 10-15 minutes or until the dough is no longer sticking to the sides of the bowl and is elastic. With the mixer still running add the butter and mix until fully incorporated into the dough then continue mixing for a further 10-15 minutes or until elastic and no longer sticking to the bowl. Form the dough into a ball and place into a lightly oiled bowl, cover with clingfilm and refrigerate overnight.
In the morning start off by making the chocolate filling. Place all of the ingredients except the pistachios into a small saucepan and cook over low heat until fully melted and smooth. Be very careful, stirring constantly, to prevent the chocolate catching on the pan and burning. Set aside for 20 minutes to cool and thicken slightly.
Remove the dough from the fridge and divide into two equal sized pieces. On a lightly floured worksurface roll out into a rectangle roughly 30x40cm. Spread half of the chocolate mixture all over the dough, leaving a small border around the outside. Roll the dough, along the long edge, into a tight spiral then using a very sharp knife cut through the middle, cutting the dough into two long pieces. Place one piece of dough over the second forming an x then braid together the two pieces of dough. Gently place the babka into a 9x4 loaf pan that has been lightly greased and lined with a strip of parchment paper. Cover the tin with clingfilm and set aside for about an hour and a half or until the dough has about doubled in size. Repeat with the second piece of dough.
Whilst the loaves are rising preheat the oven to 180C (170C Fan). When risen remove the clingfilm and bake for about 30-35 minutes or until the loaves are golden brown on top. Whilst the loaves bake, make the syrup by placing the sugar and water into a small saucepan and bringing to a simmer. Once the sugar has fully dissolved turn off the heat and set aside until needed. Once the babka has baked remove from the oven and brush liberally with the syrup, it will seem like a lot but trust me and use it all. Allow the loaves to cool fully before cutting into them, otherwise the bread will end up doughy and dense. If you are freezing one of the loaves, once cooled wrap in two layers of clingfilm and a layer of foil. When you come to defrost the loaf leave it at room temperature, still wrapped, for a few hours. This way as the babka defrosts the condensation that forms ends up on the outside of the loaf and doesn't effect the quality. Fresh from the oven the babka will keep for about three days.