If you’ve ever had the chocolate-Nutella babka from Breads Bakery in New York City or Tel Aviv, you’re well aware of the craze surrounding the pastry. The wonderfully flaky, densely chocolate babka is beautifully pleated, golden and caramelized on top, just waiting to be torn into. And if you’ve ever wondered how you could replicate said babka at home, baker extraordinaire Uri Scheft is here to help, thanks to his new cookbook “The Artisanal Kitchen: Jewish Holiday Baking.”
The Artisanal Kitchen: Jewish Holiday Baking: Inspired Recipes for Rosh Hashanah, Hanukkah, Purim, Passover, and More, $12.95 on Amazon
Related Reading: This Upgrade on Babka Swaps Chocolate for Homemade Nutella (!)
This book, which is adapted from his 2016 cookbook “Breaking Breads,” is a streamlined version, focusing solely on the pastries and breads often present during Jewish holiday celebrations. There’s the chocolate babka, of course, along with options for other fillings like ricotta, apple, and poppy seed, plus standbys like challah for Rosh Hashanah, sweet and savory hamantaschen for Purim, and coconut macaroons for Passover. These recipes certainly aren’t reserved for just these holidays, but can be prepared and baked whenever you’d like.
Along with the recipes, Uri also takes time to walk bakers through the notes and tips he uses when he’s working in the kitchen. He also shares the tools he believes are invaluable to the baker’s toolkit, like a digital scale, rolling pins, rulers, and parchment paper.
Farberware Classic Wood Rolling Pin, $14.52 on Amazon
Below, Uri shares a recipe for chocolate rugelach, a classic, rolled-up and filled Jewish pastry originating in Poland. These are a modernized take of the more traditional version, in large part thanks to the Nutella, but the shape is also different. Instead of one long round cut into small pieces, these rugelach are rolled up like croissants.
The bite-sized pastries rely on the same dough as Uri’s beloved babka. Here, the dough is rolled out very thin, swiped with Nutella and chocolate ganache, then coiled into the same shape as a croissant. They’re baked with a brushing of egg wash on top, but the real surprise is once the rugelach come out of the oven, you must paint the tops with homemade simple syrup, making for that wonderfully glossy, crackling finish.
Excerpted from The Artisanal Kitchen: Jewish Holiday Baking by Uri Scheft (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2020. Photographs by Con Poulos.
Chocolate Rugelach Recipe
These rugelach are more of a pastry than a cookie. The babka dough is rolled very thin, then you spread the dough with Nutella and bittersweet chocolate ganache and shape the rugelach into mini croissants. The key to the success of the rugelach is for the dough to be rolled extra-thin, and since the dough is yeasted (remember, you’re using babka dough), it’s important to refrigerate it whenever it starts to resist your rolling pin, which will happen. A marble surface is excellent for rolling this pastry. You can get the effect of cool marble by placing a couple of bags of ice on the counter to chill it before rolling. Note that the babka dough must be chilled for 24 hours before you begin.
- 140 grams (½ cup plus 1 tablespoon) heavy cream
- 120 grams (4 ounces) bittersweet chocolate (at least 55% cacao), finely chopped
- 60 grams (¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon, lightly packed) dark brown sugar
- 30 grams (2 tablespoons) cocoa powder (sifted)
- 30 grams (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter (at room temperature)
- 120 grams (½ cup) Nutella
- 1 recipe Basic Babka Dough, refrigerated for 24 hours
- All-purpose flour for rolling
- Egg Wash: 1 large egg
- 1 tablespoon water
- Pinch of fine salt
- Simple Syrup: 160 grams (¾ plus 1 tablespoon) granulated sugar
- 120 grams (½ cup) water
- Bring the heavy cream to a simmer in a small saucepan. Place the chocolate and dark brown sugar in a heat-safe bowl and pour the hot cream over it. Set aside for 5 minutes, then stir until smooth. Sift in the cocoa powder (yes, it is sifted twice), then stir in the butter until it’s completely melted. Stir in the Nutella until the mixture is smooth and set aside until it is cooled to room temperature (this is very important).
- Set the dough on a lightly floured work surface and roll it, flouring the top as needed, into a rectangle that is about 8 by 22 inches with the short side facing you. Smear half the chocolate mixture over the bottom two-thirds of the dough. Fold the top third of the dough over the middle, then fold the bottom third of the dough over the middle (this is called a simple fold). Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for 20 minutes.
- Lightly flour the work surface and set the dough on top with the seam of the dough facing to the right. Repeat step 2, rolling the dough out to an 8-by-22-inch rectangle and spreading the remaining chocolate mixture over the bottom two-thirds. Fold the dough again into a simple fold. Wrap the dough and refrigerate it for 30 minutes. Note: It is very important to chill the filled dough for exactly the amount of time directed. If the filled dough is chilled too long, when you go to roll the dough, the filling will break and the rugelach will look tiger-striped.
- Set the dough on a lightly floured work surface with the opening facing left. Lightly dust the top with flour and roll the dough into a 15-by-28-inch rectangle with a long side facing you. When the dough resists rolling and bounces back (and it will), cover it with a kitchen towel and let it rest for 10 minutes (if resting longer than 10 minutes, place it in the refrigerator), then try again.
- Divide the dough lengthwise into three 5-by-28-inch strips. Make a small cut in the right edge of one of the strips of dough, about 1 inch from the bottom right corner of the strip. Then, starting at that notch, make another notch every 2½ inches. Repeat on the top left edge of the strip, making the first notch at 2½ inches and repeating in 2½-inch lengths all the way down. Place a dough cutter or a chef’s knife in the first notch at the bottom right edge and angle the knife up to the next notch on the left edge to make the first diagonal cut. Repeat in the other direction and continue, connecting the notches to create triangles.
- Make a small notch in the center of the wide base of each triangle. Hold a triangle in your hand and gently stretch it to elongate it. Repeat with the remaining triangles, then roll the triangles up, starting at the wide base and ending at the narrow tip. Place the rugelach, with the pointy end tucked under the dough, on parchment paper–lined sheet pans. (You’ll have enough rugelach to fill 2 to 3 sheets; you may need to bake the cookies in batches if you run out of sheet pans.)
- Cover the sheet pans with kitchen towels (see the box opposite for other homemade proof box ideas) and set them aside in a warm, draft-free spot to proof until they jiggle when the sheet pan is tapped, about 1½ hours.
- Preheat the oven to 325°F.
- Make the egg wash by mixing the egg, water, and salt together in a small bowl. Brush each rugelach so the top is lightly coated. Bake the rugelach until they are nicely browned and cooked through, about 15 minutes (do this in batches if necessary), rotating the pan midway through baking.
- Meanwhile, make the simple syrup: Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Turn off the heat and set the syrup aside to cool. Transfer the rugelach to a wire rack set over a sheet of parchment paper and brush the still-warm rugelach with the simple syrup. Serve warm or at room temperature. Store the rugelach in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
Basic Babka Dough Recipe
This simple babka dough will yield a very rich and delicious babka. And if you want an even richer, flakier version, try out the Advanced Babka Dough on page 54. Making babka takes less than an hour of actual work—the rest of the time is the proofing and the baking. You can shape the cake into a twisted loaf, or bake it in smaller pieces in a muffin tin, or even try baking it free-form. The thing about babka is that even if it isn’t perfect in your eyes, when it comes out of the oven hot and fragrant, your friends and family will still devour it.
Basic Babka Dough
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 120 grams (½ cup) whole milk (at room temperature), plus extra as needed
- 20 grams (2½ tablespoons) fresh yeast or 6 grams (2 teaspoons) active dry yeast
- 280 grams (2¼ cups) all-purpose flour (sifted, 11.7%), plus extra as needed and for dusting and kneading
- 220 grams (2 cups plus 2 tablespoons) pastry or cake flour (sifted, 8.5 to 9%)
- 2 large eggs
- 75 grams (⅓ cup) granulated sugar
- Large pinch of fine salt
- 80 grams (5 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon) unsalted butter (at room temperature)
- Make the dough: Whisk the vanilla into the milk in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Use a fork or your fingers to lightly mix the yeast into the milk; if using active dry yeast, stir the yeast into the milk. Then, in this order, add the flours, eggs, sugar, salt, and finally the butter in small pinches.
- Mix on the lowest speed, stopping the mixer to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed, and to pull the dough off the hook as it accumulates there and break it apart so it mixes evenly, until the dough is well combined, about 2 minutes (it will not be smooth). If the dough is very dry, add more milk, 1 tablespoon at a time; if the dough looks wet, add more all-purpose flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough comes together. Increase the mixer speed to medium and mix until the dough is smooth and has good elasticity, 4 minutes.
- Stretch and fold the dough: Lightly dust your work surface with flour and turn the dough out on top; lightly dust the top of the dough and the interior of a large bowl with flour. Grab the top portion of the dough and stretch it away from you, tearing the dough. Then fold it on top of the middle of the dough. Give the dough a quarter turn and repeat the stretch, tear, and fold. Continue to do this until you can stretch a small piece of dough very thin without tearing it, about 5 minutes. Then use your hands to push and pull the dough against the work surface and in a circular motion to create a nice round of dough. Set the ball in the floured bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and set it aside at room temperature for 30 minutes.
- Chill the dough: Set the dough on a piece of plastic wrap and press it into a 1-inch-thick rectangle. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours before proceeding with one of the recipes in this chapter. Note: If you choose to make a half recipe of the babka dough (to make only one babka—but why would you want to do such a thing?), you may need to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl quite often to make sure the dough mixes evenly. With a lesser quantity of ingredients in a mixer bowl, it sometimes takes more work to mix the dough. If the dough hook is not kneading the dough well (because the volume is too small), remove the dough from the bowl and stretch and fold it by hand until the dough is smooth.
Header image by Con Poulos.