Launching The Chocolate Babka Project
Admittedly, by heritage I am more a German kugelhopf than an Eastern European babka. I remember eating homemade kugelhopf and bundt cake at family celebrations in Los Angeles. When I mentioned babka to my German speaking father, he looked puzzled and asked, “What’s a babka?” Babka, much less chocolate babka, was just not in our pastry repertoire.
Scanning through the New York Times digital archives surfaced Polish babka with nuts and cinnamon. That caused Seinfeld-speak to echo in my head: “that’s a babka?” It turns out that several cultures enjoy what I have started calling “cognate bread cakes.” These celebratory, special occasion, egg-rich, yeasty treats reflect diversity that is at once distinct and also universal. They include both babka and kugelhopf, along with challah, kulich, pandora, panettone, and more. They are mixed with home and homeland, often multiple homelands, as well as with religion. They are leavened through dislocations and disenfranchisements and migrations. In a Joseph Campbell sense they are heroic foods, voyagers through time and space, from home to home, from generation to generation, victoriously returning to festive tables season after season.
That research had me wondering when chocolate first schmeared a babka. Though chocolate for drinking may be traced as far back as 1000 BCE, chocolate for eating and baking develops much later. It is said that the British company, Fry’s, crafted the first eating chocolate bars in 1847. Marquis de Sade instructed his wife to bring him chocolate cookies in prison in 1779 and the 1871 The Jewish Cookery Book by Esther Levy published in America includes a recipe for a chocolate pudding, really a cake. Dorothy Shirley made ‘biskit’ from chocolate at least as early as 1694, according to her receipt/recipe book.
In a sense the Babka Chocolate Project started with chocolate as I looked at its connections to religions, cultures, history, and business through many countries, centuries and convictions for my book On the Chocolate Trail: A Delicious Adventure Connecting Jews, Religions, History, Travel, Rituals and Recipes to the Magic of Cacao (2nd edition, 2017). Curiosity about the chocolate fillings in babka led to hosting two babkathons in Brooklyn, babka tastings that coincidentally ended up on Sundays of New York Marathons. That only made me hunger for more. So does the growing list of babka bakers in the New York area, with their varied recipes and plentiful babka spin-offs.
I hope that you will share your stories, your baking tricks, and your insights as the layers of the “Chocolate Babka Project” unfold through outings, research, baking, and tastings at #chocolatebabkaproject.
Los Siete Cielos or Seven Heaven Challah Recipe
Los Siete Cielos or Seven Heaven Bread Adapted from Rabbi Robert Sternberg’s The Sephardic Kitchen: The Healthful Food and Rich Culture of the Mediterranean Jews Yield: one large bread Allow time for the shaping of the various elements of this challah and enjoy the anise flavored liqueur in the dough. INGREDIENTS: 1 teaspoon plus 1Read more ›
Cheese Babka Recipe
CHEESE BABKA RECIPE Adapted from Beth Hensperger’s The Bread Bible: 300 Favorite Recipes Yield: One large cake DOUGH 1 tablespoon active dry yeast Pinch sugar ¼ cup warm water (105º to 115º) ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted ¼ cup sugar 1 ½ teaspoons salt 2 teaspoons vanilla extract ½ teaspoon almond extract ¾Read more ›
A Shikker Challah
When I saw this recipe calling for brandy in challah, I had to try it. Liquor seemed such an unlikely ingredient for a challah. Titled “Chaleh I,” it seemed to have been a standard Shabbat bread in the collection of over 1600 recipes previously published in the Forward and gathered by Regina Frishwasser (“editor recipeRead more ›
What? No Babka at Catskills Hotels? *
The borscht belt must have been a babka belt. When thinking of chocolate babka, the Catskills came to my mind given the immense quantities of meichelach treats overflowing the tables there in the 1940’s-60’s. Babka must have been ingrained in the Jewish palate then, as it is now, I figured. Surprisingly, my search through several historiesRead more ›
Some Previous Posts
(in alphabetical order)
- A Chocolate Cake for October's Tricks: Devil's Food
- Announcing Second Edition: On the Chocolate Trail
- Book Optioned: Museum Exhibit
- Celebrating Ice Cream Month with Chocolate
- Choco-Travel Tips
- Chocolate Exhibit Hits the New York Times
- Chocolate Trail Broadens: "Semi[te] Sweet: On Jews and Chocolate" Travels
- How About Some Mindful Chocolate Tasting?
- Is that coffee or chocolate?
- Jews on the Chocolate Trail
- Launching The Chocolate Babka Project
- Lunch & Learn: Central Synagogue
- Lunch and Learn: Tasting the Best Chocolate
- Mothers and Survival by Chocolate
- On the Chocolate Trail in Belize’s Jungle
- Talking Chocolate in February
- Warm Up: 3 Historical Drinking Chocolate Recipes