How to Make Chocolate Babka

We love this sweet, twisted bread filled with chocolate and cinnamon. We'll show you how to make babka from scratch that looks just as good as any European bakery's.

When it comes to comforting bakes, I like to turn to my Eastern European roots. My kitchen’s always full of kolaches around the holidays. and poppy seed loaves for special occasions. I’ve made them so often, I practically know them by heart. I figured, then, that it was time I tackled a new, slightly more challenging European recipe: babka.

This beautiful twisted bread is found in many Eastern European and Jewish bakeries. Most babkas are flavored with a bit of citrus zest and filled with cinnamon, almond paste or chocolate (though there are lots of variations). Since babkas aren’t overly sweet, they make for a fabulous breakfast or afternoon snack. While the swirls and fillings might make this bread look like something too tough to tackle, I’m here to assure you that making babka from scratch is a worthwhile and manageable task. Plus, all your friends and family will be so impressed by the appearance and the flavor (mine were!). So let’s get into baking!

Homemade Chocolate Babka Recipe

This is one of my favorite recipes of all time, right from my very own kitchen. Here’s what you’ll need for the bread’s three components: dough, filling and glaze.

For the dough:

  • 4-1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2-1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • Zest of one orange
  • 3 eggs + 1 yolk
  • 2/3 cups butter, softened
  • 3/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 cup water

For the filling:

  • 5 ounces dark chocolate
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

For the glaze:

  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup sugar

Step 1: Making the babka dough 

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This bread is a bit different than most homemade bread for two reasons: 1) You don’t have to proof the yeast here (though we’ll show you how for all your favorite recipes), and 2) this bread proofs overnight in the fridge.

To make the dough, start by stirring together the flour, sugar, yeast and orange zest in the bowl of your stand mixer. Be sure you’re measuring your flour the right way—it makes a huge difference. Then using the dough hook attachment, mix in your eggs, yolk and water until incorporated with your dry ingredients. If the mix doesn’t come together and looks very dry and crumbly, add an additional tablespoon or two of water and mix.

Your stand mixer and dough hook are really going to come in handy during this next part—this is not a recipe to tackle using just elbow grease and a wooden spoon. With the mixer on low speed, sprinkle in your salt and then add your butter into the mix a tablespoon at a time. Once you’re finished adding the butter and it looks fairly well incorporated, crank up the speed to medium and let the dough hook knead the bread for 10 minutes.

When this is done, turn your dough out into a greased bowl, cover it and place it in the fridge to rise overnight. When you’re really craving good bread, this might seem like a long time to wait. But think of it this way: no babysitting your bread while it proofs. To me, that’s a nice advantage; I can whip this up on a Saturday afternoon and have fresh babka Sunday morning.

Step 2: Make the chocolate babka filling

Before you take the dough out of the fridge, whip up an easy chocolate filling for this babka. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar, cocoa powder and cinnamon. Then in a small saucepan, melt the stick of butter and five ounces of chocolate together. Once smooth, pour over the dry ingredients and stir together. No need to break out the mixer for this one; this filling comes together easily with just a wooden spoon or spatula.

Step 3: Roll out the dough

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After that extra-long proof, it’s finally time to take the dough out of the fridge. Don’t worry if it hasn’t exactly doubled in size—sweet doughs don’t rise the same way as traditional bread doughs. Start by dividing the bread in half. Turn one half out onto a well-floured surface. The other half can hang out in the fridge.

Roll out your dough to a rectangle approximately 10 inches by 12 inches. The dough should be fairly thin but not translucent. Then spread half the chocolate filling across the dough leaving a half-inch border. Then roll up the dough tightly starting at one of the 12-inch sides. Seal the roll with a bit of water. This technique is pretty similar to making a potica—another Eastern European favorite.

Lisa Kaminski/Taste of Home

Stash this roll in the fridge or freezer while you repeat the process with the other portion of dough and filling. Having it slightly firm for the next step will be helpful.

Step 4: Twisting the bread

Lisa Kaminski/Taste of Home

Take your chilled roll out of the fridge (let the other just-rolled one take its place for now). Using a sharp knife, slice off the very ends of the roll—just about a half-inch. Then slice down the center of the roll the long way, dividing the roll in half. It might seem like a shame to split a pretty spiral, but it’s going to be worth it!

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Then, with the filling sides up, twist the pieces together like a rope. Place into the bottom of a 9×4″ loaf pan that’s been greased and lined with parchment on the bottom. You can fiddle with it a bit so the bread fills the pan more evenly. It should look like a rope or twist. Repeat the process with the second loaf and allow them to rise again for about an hour and 45 minutes at room temperature. Cover them with a damp tea towel so they don’t dry out.

Editor tip: Bread proofs best at around 80ºF, so getting a good rise is more challenging in the cold months. I’ve got some tricks on how to get that lift even when it’s chilly outside (and inside).

Step 5: Baking

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After their second rise, the babkas should be slightly larger. Again, the enriched dough here won’t allow them to grow significantly, but they should look slightly more puffed up than when you started.

Pop the loaves onto the middle rack of your oven (it’s the best place for almost any bake) and bake for 30 minutes at 375ºF. You can tent them with foil halfway through the bake if you find they are getting too brown.

While the babkas are in the oven, it’s a good time to whip up a quick simple syrup. Just heat equal parts sugar and water together until the sugar is dissolved.

Step 6: Glazing the babka

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As soon as the babkas come out of the oven, brush them with the simple syrup. (Here’s how to make it.) This will give the loaves a fabulous shine plus add a bit of sweetness.

Allow the loaves to cool for about 15 minutes or so before removing from the pan. Cool them the rest of the way on a wire rack. I don’t blame you if you want to slice into them warm (they look so good and smell even better), but a cooled babka is a bit easier to slice. The choice is yours! Also, since this recipe makes two babkas, it’s good to know that they freeze very well. Pop one in the freezer and be sure to eat the other within a few days. Next, add this gorgeous swirled cinnamon babka to your baking bucket list.

Lisa Kaminski/Taste of Home

The result is a sweet-but-not-too-sweet showstopper that combines feel-good flavors like chocolate, cinnamon and just a hint of orange. I like a generous slice alongside my morning cuppa (and then another slice after dinner as dessert). It takes some extra time, but it’s a great special occasion alternative to go-to coffee cakes.

Try other homemade breads!
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Lisa Kaminski
Lisa is a former Taste of Home editor and passionate baker. During her tenure, she poured her love of all things sweet (and sometimes savory) into Bakeable, Taste of Home's baking club. Lisa also dedicated her career here to finding and testing the best ingredients, kitchen gear and home products for our Test Kitchen-Preferred program. At home, you'll find her working on embroidery and other crafts.