Elegant and decadent chocolate babka is always a treat, but we wanted to take this dramatic loaf one step further and create a statuesque braided version with stunning spirals of deep, rich chocolate that would be worthy of a holiday breakfast table. For a dark, fudgy filling, we used a combination of bittersweet chocolate and cocoa powder mixed with confectioners’ sugar and egg whites, which helped make the filling sticky and stable enough that it wouldn’t ooze out of the dough as we shaped and baked it. We found that we needed to double our usual dough recipe in order to achieve the spiral effect we were after. The Dutch oven enabled us to bake this larger loaf with ease; its high sides and large capacity guided the loaf as it rose and baked. Because the hefty loaf needed a good amount of time in the oven to bake through, we baked it on the middle rack and created a foil sling for the Dutch oven, which insulated the bottom crust and prevented it from burning. The foil also made it easier to remove our finished masterpiece from the pot. We covered the pot for the first 20 minutes of baking; the extra insulation and steam trapped in the pot kept the top crust moist while the dense mass of dough gently baked through. We do not recommend mixing this dough by hand.
- Yield: 1 loaf
- Total Time: 6 Hours 45 Minutes
- 4 cups (20 ounces) all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (8 ounces) whole milk, room temperature
- ½ cup (3½ ounces) granulated sugar
- 4 large egg yolks, room temperature
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 16 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 6 tablespoons (1⅛ ounces) unsweetened cocoa powder
- ½ cup (2 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
- 2 large egg whites
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon water and pinch salt
For the Dough
- Whisk flour, yeast, and salt together in bowl of stand mixer. Whisk milk, sugar, egg yolks, and vanilla in 4-cup liquid measuring cup until sugar has dissolved. Using dough hook on low speed, slowly add milk mixture to flour mixture and mix until cohesive dough starts to form and no dry flour remains, about 2 minutes, scraping down bowl as needed.
- Increase speed to medium-low, add butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, and knead until butter is fully incorporated, about 4 minutes, scraping down bowl as needed. Continue to knead until dough is smooth and elastic and clears sides of bowl, 10 to 12 minutes.
- Transfer dough to lightly floured counter and knead by hand to form smooth, round ball, about 30 seconds. Place dough, seam side down, in lightly greased large bowl or container, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let rise until increased in size by about half, 1½ to 2 hours. Place in refrigerator until dough is firm, at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours. (If dough is chilled longer than 1 hour, let rest at room temperature for 15 minutes before rolling out in step 5.) For the Filling
- Microwave chocolate, butter, and cocoa together in medium bowl at 50 percent power, stirring occasionally, until melted, about 3 minutes. Stir in sugar until combined and let cool completely, about 30 minutes. Whisk in egg whites until fully combined and mixture turns glossy.
- Press down on dough to deflate, then transfer to lightly floured counter. Press and roll dough into 18 by 24-inch rectangle, with short side parallel to counter edge. Spread filling over dough, leaving ½-inch border around edges.
- Roll dough away from you into firm, taut cylinder. Pinch seam closed, then reshape cylinder as needed to be 18 inches in length with uniform thickness. Wrap in plastic, transfer to rimmed baking sheet, and refrigerate until firm but still supple, about 30 minutes.
- Make foil sling for Dutch oven by folding 2 long sheets of aluminum foil so each is 7 inches wide. Lay sheets of foil in pot perpendicular to each other, with extra foil hanging over edges of pot. Push foil into bottom and up sides of pot, smoothing foil flush to bottom of pot, then spray with vegetable oil spray.
- Transfer dough log to lightly floured counter, with short side facing you. Using bench scraper or sharp knife, cut log in half lengthwise. Turn dough halves cut sides up and arrange side by side. Pinch top ends together. Lift and place 1 dough half on opposite side of second half. Repeat, keeping cut sides up, until dough halves are tightly braided. Pinch remaining ends together. Twist braided dough into spiral and tuck end underneath. Transfer loaf to prepared pot, cover with lid, and let rise until increased in size by about half, 1½ to 2 hours.
- Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Gently brush loaf with egg mixture. Cover pot, transfer to oven, and bake loaf for 20 minutes. Uncover, rotate pot, and continue to bake until loaf is deep golden brown and registers 190 to 195 degrees, 40 to 50 minutes.
- Using foil overhang, lift loaf out of pot and let cool completely on wire rack, about 3 hours.