According to the New York Times, the babka is having a moment. So I wanted to have my very own moment with it. But coming up with the perfect vegan Chocolate Babka took a little longer: in fact, it took a few weeks of experimentation and trial and error and, in between, eating delicious versions of chocolate babka that were almost there but not quite.
The loaf I have for you today is everything a chocolate babka should be: rich-tasting, buttery, chocolate-y, sweet without being too cloying. And it has a texture that’ll make you feel like you’ve landed on a cloud. Or are eating it.
I knew I had hit on the right version when I took half a loaf of this cake to a friend’s home and the next day she confessed to me that her Jewish husband and she guzzled it all up in minutes. We didn’t even save some for Danny, she told me guiltily, referring to her eight-year-old who was in bed.
It’s easy to go nuts for babka. This cake with a brioche-like texture melts in the mouth and the many layers of flavor that go into building it, making it sweetly addictive. But a vegan babka is easier said than done. The structure of this bread is, like brioche, built with a liberal use of eggs that give the babka its characteristic airiness and lightness.
For my vegan version, I used aquafaba– that rather yucky chickpea brine that I have sent down the drain by the gallon in my past life (I do eat a lot of chickpeas, you know). After seeing everyone in the vegan world rave about it for about a year now, I did consider trying it out a few times as an egg substitute, but c’mon, chickpea brine? Wouldn’t that just make everything taste beany and salty? I do love beans, but I don’t exactly want my cake to taste like them.
Lucky for me, I was wrong. I’ve tried it in a few baked recipes so far, with great results. The aquafaba appears to leave no flavor or indeed any trace of itself (unlike eggs which create that awful smell when baked), and it does contribute to creating lightness and airiness in baked goods, just like eggs. And it’s free, at least if you eat chickpeas — and easy. The only thing you really need to remember when subbing aquafaba for eggs is to swap out each egg with three tablespoons of aquafaba. Couldn’t be simpler.
The recipe I used riffed off from a very non-vegan recipe by Melissa Clark (watch her video for a good tutorial on shaping the babka). This is a time-consuming cake, with many steps: you make the dough, you make the fudgy, chocolatey filling that tastes SO AMAZING, you make the incredibly delicious streusel, and finally you make the syrup which goes on at the very end, giving the cake a glossy, beautiful look. The results make all of that work well worth it.
This recipe makes two loaves, because, believe me, one’s not going to be enough. You might even want to share. Although, on second thoughts, don’t count on it.
Vegan Chocolate Babka
- For the dough:
- 4-5 cups of all purpose flour
- 1 packet of 2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
- 1/2 cup warm nondairy milk, like almond, soy or cashew milk
- 1/3 cup plus a pinch of sugar
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- 3/4 cup aquafaba
- 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 8 tbsp or 1 stick vegan butter or margarine at room temperature
- 1 tsp salt
- For the fudgy filling:
- 1/2 cup cashews soaked for 30 minutes, then blended with 1/2 cup water until it forms a very smooth cashew cream. If needed to keep the blender blades moving, add 1 tbsp water at a time, not exceeding 4 tbsp.
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
- 8 tbsp (1 stick) vegan butter or margarine at room temperature
- A pinch of salt
- For the chocolate streusel:
- 1/2 cup all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
- 1 1/2 tbsp cocoa powder
- A pinch of salt
- 4 1/2 tbsp vegan butter or margarine
- For the syrup
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 2/3 cup water
- Make the dough
- Mix the yeast and nondairy milk and a pinch of sugar in a bowl and set aside five minutes until it froths, indicating it's alive.
- Place four cups of flour in a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer.
- Add the salt, 1/3 cup sugar, lemon zest, nutmeg and vanilla and mix well.
- Add the yeast mixture and aquafaba and knead on medium speed until the dough comes together in a ball. If the mixture is too sticky, add flour, a tablespoon at a time, until a supple, smooth dough forms.
- Add half the vegan butter and knead until it's absorbed by the dough. Repeat with the other half and knead another five to six minutes until you have a very smooth, elastic dough.
- Make a ball of the dough and place in an oiled bowl, turning once to coat the top. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside to rise in a warm place for 2 hours.
- After two hours, punch the dough down, form into a ball, place into the bowl once more, cover, and place in the refrigerator overnight or at least for six hours to let the flavor develop.
- Make the fudge filling:
- Place the cashew cream and sugar in a small saucepan. Heat on medium-low heat until the sugar is melted, stirring frequently to ensure it doesn't stick to the bottom. Add the chocolate and the softened butter and stir until very smooth. Turn off the heat and stir in the vanilla and salt. Refrigerate until use, which thickens it up further
- Make the streusel:
- In a food processor, process the chocolate chips until they break down into smaller pieces. Add the flour, cocoa, salt and butter and pulse 2-3 times until the mixture comes together in large crumbs.
- Make the syrup:
- In a small saucepan, heat the water and sugar until the sugar is completely dissolved, 2-3 minutes. You need to do this right before the babka comes out of the oven.
- Make the babka:
- Oil and line with parchment paper two 9-inch loaf pans.
- Knead the refrigerated dough briefly and divide into two.
- On a floured surface, take one portion of the dough and roll it out evenly into a 18 X 8 inch rectangle.
- Take half the fudge filling and using a spatula or a spoon, spread it evenly across the surface of the rectangle.
- Using your fingertips, and starting with the long side, roll the dough into a tight coil, the way you would a jelly roll. Seal the ends. Cover with a kitchen towel and place in the freezer for 10 minutes.
- Repeat the process with the second piece of dough.
- Now take the first coil of dough out of the freezer and cut it lengthwise into half, using a sharp knife to expose the filling.
- Braid the two halves and then fold them over once to make them fit into the loaf pan.
- Snuggle the dough into the pan. Repeat with the other coil of dough.
- Place the loaf pans, covered, in a warm place for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. The dough will rise but will not double. The loaves will rise further in the oven.
- Before the loaves go into the oven, scatter the streusel on top.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the loaves for 50 minutes.
- Remove the cakes to a rack and immediately poke all over with a skewer, all the way to the bottom. Then pour on the sugar syrup, making sure you divide it evenly between the two cakes.
- Remove the loaves from the pan, and continue to cool them on a rack.
Jerry and Elaine have a chocolate babka moment:
More Jewish vegan recipes from the archives: