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Polish Chocolate Babka

Well, someone will be along in a minute to tell me this isn’t a proper babka; a proper babka is raised with yeast. Noted. But I will say I have eaten quite a good few baking powder raised babkas from Eastern European bakeries in Toronto in my day, and I am very happy finally to be able to make one myself.

The recipe from which I adapted this appealed to me as looking like it would be neither dry and crumbly, nor excessively gooey and sugar-laden. It has cocoa applied with a heavier hand than most chocolate babkas seem to, but that’s because the hand was mine. “Less sugar, more chocolate” is definitely one of my mottoes.

Now let’s talk about the pan. I used a kugelhopf type pan, which holds about 5 cups of water – but keeeep reading. I think this is a better way to measure these pans than inches or centimetres, because the shapes do vary and a little bit of difference this way or that way can change things quite a bit. Now before you rush out and get a 5 cup pan, I had better tell you that mine overflowed. Not desperately, and whoever designed it cleverly made the top of the chimney a little lower than the outer edges, so it all dribbled down the centre and left me with a squiggly little sample cake. (Which is in the photo, as I didn’t want to cut the cake at the time I was photographing it.) Quite convenient, actually! But there is no guarantee you can reproduce this at home so I would say your pan needs to hold 6 cups of liquid. The good news is that my pan is fairly old. I think newer pans tend to be a bit larger. Otherwise, next time I make this I intend to make a couple of little bonus cupcakes with the batter in addition to the main event.

Apart from having to break out the electric mixer, this is a very easy cake to make. The glaze is a little fiddly, but you could replace it with a dust of icing sugar if you can bear to give it up. This is also, apart from the butter in said glaze, a dairy-free cake. (Providing the chocolate is also purchased carefully, but easily done.)

This is probably my platonic ideal of chocolate cake, and also it kept well for almost a week. After that, it wasn’t that it wasn’t keeping – it was that it was gone.

12 to 16 servings
1 hour 30 minutes – 30 minutes prep time
plus 30 minutes to glaze

Polish Chocolate Babka

Make the Cake:
1 1/3 cups soft unbleached flour
1 cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
a little oil and cocoa to dust
6 large eggs
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup mild vegetable oil
1/2 cup boiling water

Sift together the flour and cocoa powder, and stir in the baking powder and salt. Set aside.

Brush the inside of a bundt pan or other pan with a tube in the centre (chimney) with oil. Dust it in cocoa powder until it looks dry – so be thorough but light with the oil. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Put the kettle on to boil.

Break the eggs into a large mixing bowl and add the sugar and vanilla. Beat for about 5 minutes, until very light and creamy looking. Beat in the oil, then the boiling water. Beat for about another minute, then start beating in the dry ingredients, about 1/4 at a time, until well incorporated. You will likely need to stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl in the middle of the process.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, scraping it out well. Place the pan on a baking tray (not required but advised!) and place it in the oven. Bake for 50 to 55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Let cool for 10 to 15 minutes before unmoulding.

Make & Apply the Glaze:
150 grams (5 ounces) dark semi-sweet chocolate
2 tablespoon rum, kirsch, or other liquor
3 to 4 tablespoons unsalted butter

Melt the chocolate, rum, and 1 tablespoon of the butter together in a double boiler over gently simmering water. Stir frequently. Remove from the heat as soon as melted, especially if it shows signs of starting to thicken up again. Stir in the remaining butter, one tablespoon at a time, until the butter is melted and the chocolate is thin enough to flow – just. It may help to reheat the chocolate very gently by placing it back over the hot – but removed from the heat – water.

Have the cake placed on a loose wire rack over a tray lined with parchment paper, and gently spoon the glaze over the cake. The object is to have as much as possible land on the cake, covering it completely. It is inevitable that a certain amount will slide off; hence the parchment paper. At some point you may need to scrape the parchment paper and recycle the glaze. I also found myself using the back of the spoon to spread it around, which worked reasonably if not glamorously well. 

Last year at this time I made Bean & Carrot Salad with Lemon-Mustard Dressing.


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