In an old “Seinfeld” episode, Jerry and Elaine stop at a bakery on their way to a dinner party, intending to buy a chocolate babka as a hostess gift. But they’re thwarted by the couple ahead of them, who buy the last babka – and are headed to the same party. What to do?
The bakery’s other options – carrot cake, Black Forest cake, a Napoleon – are rejected with Seinfeldian logic. (You don’t make carrots into a cake. I’m sorry.) Finally, Jerry states the unavoidable truth: “You can’t beat a babka.”
Babka generally is known as a Jewish or Eastern-European bread, rich with egg yolks and butter and enclosing various fillings, the best of which is chocolate enhanced with cinnamon. Variations abound. There are cinnamon-sugar fillings, and fillings further embellished with dried fruit (think cherries or raisins), or nuts (think chopped almonds or pecans). Some bakers use Nutella, and even peanut butter. Some babkas come topped with a crumbly streusel, and there are always a few who dust theirs with powdered sugar.
But honestly, you can’t beat cinnamon and chocolate.
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Even better, a babka is one of those wonders of the kitchen that deliver bang-up results through deceptively simple techniques. The supple, buttery dough is a joy to knead, not the sticky glob that makes people fear dealing with yeast. Melted chocolate is spread over the dough, which then is rolled up like a jelly roll.
You can quickly twist and double this strand before placing it in a loaf pan, or use a Bundt pan for a circular bread.
The most spectacular babka is the ingenious Kranz cake variation, in which the strand is split down the middle, opened to reveal the chocolate, then crisscrossed to make a braid.
However you shape it, the goal is the same: a slice of rich bread coursing with veins of dark chocolate.
Turns out the show about nothing was on to something: You can’t beat a babka.