Babka is an extremely popular Eastern European Jewish dessert, and for good reason. Imagine eating pools of gooey, delicious chocolate alongside crunchy toasted nuts that have been swirled and baked inside a warm, slightly crusty loaf of bread – that’s babka. Obviously, bread and chocolate are two of the best foods on the planet, so it only makes sense to marry them together in baked form. You can also create babka with raisins or cinnamon (or both), but our preference is for chocolate, so we devised a healthy-ish version of the classic. We swapped out white flour and white sugar for more nutrient-rich ingredients – but you won’t taste the difference! We recommend making a second loaf to ensure leftovers (this version is healthy enough for breakfast, after all).
Related: Sephardic-Style Spiced Challah
Chocolate Walnut Filling
For the dough, in a saucepan, gently warm the almond milk, so it’s warm to the touch but not too hot. Take off the heat and add in the yeast and maple syrup. Allow it to sit for 5-10 minutes until it becomes frothy and foamy. If it doesn’t foam up, your yeast may have died or the milk was too hot.
Next, combine the dough ingredients by hand, or using a food processor or electric mixer with the hook attachment (we chose the food processor). Whichever method you decide, mix together the butter, egg, coconut sugar, vanilla and salt. In the food processor, pulse on low for about two minutes until the butter is creamy.
Gradually begin to add the flour, 1 cup to start. Pulse in the foamy milk-yeast mixture along with remaining flour until the dough comes together to form a ball. If the dough isn’t coming together, add more flour, starting with 1 tablespoon at a time. If it’s too dry, add water 1 tablespoon at a time.
Knead the dough by hand on a lightly floured surface or using your electric mixer for about 8-10 minutes, until the ball of dough is smooth and not sticky.
Place the kneaded dough in a bowl that’s been lightly oiled or buttered (so the dough doesn’t stick) and cover with a towel or beeswax/plastic wrap. If you can, refrigerate for 6 hours up to overnight. If you don’t have that time, let it rest in the warmest place in your kitchen for an hour, but overnight is best.
To make the filling, melt the butter in a saucepan, then stir in the rest of the ingredients, except the walnuts, until the mixture is silky and smooth.
To assemble, on a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into a rectangle, approximately 22 x 12 inches. Once rolled out, spread the filling evenly over top, you don’t need to leave a border. Then sprinkle the walnuts all over.
Starting from one side, begin rolling the dough into a long log, like you’re rolling up a tortilla or a yoga mat; then stick it in the freezer for 10 minutes (this will help with slicing the dough in the next step).
Remove the dough from the freezer and slice the rolled dough log in half lengthwise.
Place the two slices right next to each other with the chocolate insides facing up and make an “X” shape (the “X” should be right in the middle). Twist both sides over each other, like a braid or a rope. Place in a bread pan that’s been buttered and covered in parchment paper, you may need to fold it a bit more or squish it into the pan. Cover the babka with a towel and let it rest for 1 – 1 ½ hours so it can rise further.
Preheat the oven to 350ºF and bake for 40-50 minutes, until an inserted toothpick comes out clean (unless it punctures a chocolatey area).
While it’s baking, prepare the syrup by combining the water and coconut sugar in a saucepan, bring to a boil, then simmer for 4 minutes and whisk until the coconut sugar is completely dissolved. Allow to cool completely.
When the babka is out of the oven, generously brush the syrup over the top to help lock in moisture and create a glossy finish.
Gently remove the babka from the pan, slice and enjoy. Babkas also freeze remarkably well, so you can make several batches for other occasions.