Sounds a bit like food from Star wars only its not. It’s a cross between “Tsoureki”, the traditional Greek Easter bread, and “Babka”, a Polish, chocolate filled brioche-like bread. “Babka” dough is very similar to the Greek “tsoureki” only is contains far less orange flavor and no mastic, a very traditional way of flavouring Tsoureki. At first, I was a bit hesitant to use the mastic, as I thought the combination with chocolate would make it taste more like an alien culinary delight. But I did, and it really works! But if you can’t find mastic use vanilla or cinnamon, which is the traditional “Babka” flavouring.
The other challenge was to make the “Tsoubabka” look nice. All the photos I found online were really pretty. Amazing swirls of chocolate gave me the impression only the hands of an experienced pastry chef could achieve such beauty. Then I came to terms with the fact that I’m not a pastry chef and gave it a go. I thought as long as it tastes good who cares about the swirls. Having said that, it’s not that difficult to achieve quite an impressive look. So the swirls are not perfect like in the pictures. But really, who cares if something tastes THAT good. It’s best if you chill your dough before rolling and twisting. And if you are short of time, unchilled dough will also produce very good results, if you don’t mind making a bit more of a mess.
Now about the syrup. I noticed some recipes of “Babka” call for a brushing of syrup as soon as it comes out of the oven. That’s contrary to a traditional “tsoureki” recipe. So I tried both. The syrup really takes this bread to another level. I’m now considering adding a final brushing of syrup to my “tsoureki” recipe. When you eat the “Tsoubabka” you don’t really taste the syrup, but the moisture is all there.
I also added almonds in the filling as I thought it needed a little crunch. I love almonds and they add a fantastic flavor to this lovely bread. This sweet, pretty, absolutely delicious bread makes a great gift for Easter and it’s a nice twist from the traditional “Tsoureki”. It has all the “Tsoureki” flavour with a nice chocolate fix.
For the dough:
- 1/3 cup milk, lukewarm
- 2 tsp dried active yeast
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 Tbs orange zest
- 2 medium mastic tears, or ¼ tsp ground mastic (you can replace with 1 tsp vanilla extract. If you want to replace it with cinnamon you need to add ½ tsp in the chocolate filling)
- 2 cups plain flour
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ cup unsalted butter (115 grams), at room temperature
For the filling
- 80 grams bittersweet chocolate (Not 70% coca solids, otherwise your filling will be too bitter. I used Cadbury’s “Bournville”)
- 2 Tbs butter
- 2 Tbs cocoa powder
- 1 Tbs sugar
- ¼ cup almonds, roasted in a 175 C oven for 5 minutes, then coarsely chopped
For the syrup
- 1/3 cup water
- ¼ cup sugar
First make the syrup. In a small saucepan mix the sugar and water together and bring to a boil. Boil for 1 minute then take off the heat and cool.
Butter a 13 x 23 cm loaf pan and line with two pieces of parchment paper, like a cross.
Make the dough. In a medium bowl, mix the lukewarm milk with the yeast and one teaspoon of the sugar. Mix until yeast dissolves. Cover with plastic wrap and leave to stand for about 30 minutes. During this time, the mixture will puff up. If it doesn’t, it means the yeast is not active so discard and start over. This doesn’t happen often but it did happen to me once. So instead of wasting your time waiting hopelessly for your dough to rise, discard and start again.
Crush the mastic tears with a pinch of sugar in a mortar and pestle. Grind to a powder.
Lightly whisk the eggs and mix with the puffed up yeast-milk mixture (mixture will deflate and that’s ok). Add the orange zest and mix again.
In a bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the dough hook, add the flour, sugar, ground mastic and salt. Mix briefly and make a well in the centre. Add the egg mixture and butter and beat at medium speed until a sticky dough forms and all the ingredients are incorporated. Check that you don’t see any big chunks of butter. If mixture is too sticky add some more flour until you have a soft dough. Tip dough on a floured surface and knead briefly by hand, incorporating more flour if needed. The finished dough should be soft and a little sticky.
Lightly oil a large bowl. Put in the dough and cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise for about 1 ½ hours, until double in size. Transfer the dough in the fridge for about 30 minutes to firm up. This will make it easier for you to roll and fill the dough. If you are short of time, skip the chilling. Your bread will still come out great.
Make the filling. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the bittersweet chocolate, cocoa and sugar. Keep stirring over very low heat until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.
Assemble the “Tsoubabka”. Preheat the oven to 175 C. Lightly flour a kitchen counter. Roll the dough into a rectangle measuring about 35 x 45 cm. Spread the chocolate filling evenly on the entire surface of the dough using a small offset spatula or a silicone spatula. Sprinkle filling with the almonds. Roll the dough like a Swiss roll, starting from the long side of the rectangle (you will end up with a 45 cm long roll).
Take a sharp knife and cut the roll in the middle lengthwise. You will end up with two long pieces, 45 cm long. Don’t worry about the mess. The chocolate will show through but it will not ooze out. Take the one piece of dough and put it on top of the other to create a cross. Now twist the ends on one side to create something like a rope. Then twist the other two ends. Fold the twist and put in the prepared loaf pan. Cover with a cotton kitchen towel (not terry cloth) and let the loaf rest for half an hour. During this time it will puff up a bit but it will not double in size. Bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.
As soon as the loaf comes out of the oven, drizzle with the cooled syrup. Let the “Tsoubabka” cool in the pan for 30 minutes. Use the greaseproof paper to remove the bread out of the loaf pan. Cool completely -if you can last that long- before slicing and serving. Couldn’t imagine a “happier” Easter!