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 babkas come topped with a crumbly streusel, and there are always a few bakers who dust theirs with powdered sugar.
But honestly, you can’t beat cinnamon and chocolate.
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.