Hands-down one of my favorite holiday recipes is chocolate babka.  Babka is a traditional Eastern European holiday bread that can be filled with cinnamon, nuts, or raisins.  For me, dark chocolate is the best way to dress this bread.

Not only is this a favorite holiday recipe, but I find making it a great joy.  The end result of a soft, yeasty, butter bread laced with ribbons of melted chocolate takes patience and some technique, but is worth the effort.

I believe everyone should learn the art of working with dough (even just one recipe) and learning to make such a unique treat will wow your friends and family.

So now that you can produce this awesome loaf, show off your skills and bring it with you to holiday parties, the office, or drop it by a neighbor for a holiday gift!

(P.S. If you are reading, Corie and Mel, I will never make this bread and not think of you!  Merry Christmas.)

Chocolate Babka

Makes 2 loaves

From Gourmet December 2006

For Dough:

3/4 cup warm milk

1/2 cup plus 2 teaspoons sugar

1 tablespoons active dry yeast

3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 large eggs

1 large egg yolk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 teaspoon salt

10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons, softened

For Egg Wash:

1 large egg

1 tablespoon heavy cream

For Chocolate Filling:

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

2 (4 oz) bars dark chocolate (you can go fancy, but I think Hershey’s Special Dark melts marvelously)

1/4 cup sugar

Stir together warm milk, 2 teaspoons sugar, and yeast in bowl of mixer and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.

Add 1/2 cup flour to yeast mixture and beat with paddle attachment at medium speed until combined.  Add eggs, yolk, vanilla, salt, and remaining 1/2 cup sugar and beat until combined.  Reduce speed to low and mix in remaining 2 3/4 cups flour about 1/2 cup at a time.  Increase speed to medium and beat in butter a few pieces at a time.  Continue to beat until dough is shiney and forms strands running from paddle to sides of bowl, about 4 minutes.  (Dough will be very sticky…don’t be tempted to add more flour).

Scrape dough into a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Let dough rise in a warm draft-free place until doubled in bulk, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Butter two 8 1/2-by/4 1/2-inch loaf pans.  Push down dough with a lightly oiled spatula.  Halve dough.  Roll out 1 piece of dough on well-floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into an 18-by-10-inch rectangle.  Turn dough so a long side is nearest you.

Beat together egg and cream for egg wash.  Spread 2 1/2 tablespoons softened butter on dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border all around.  Brush some egg wash on long border nearest you.  Sprinkle half of chocolate evenly over buttered dough, then sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of sugar.  Starting with long side farthest from you, roll dough into a snug log and pinch seam firmly to seal.  Bring ends of log together to form a ring, pinching seal.  Twist entire ring twice to form a double figure eight, and fit into one of the pans.

Make another babka with remaining dough, some of egg wash, and remaining butter and chocolate in same manner; refrigerate remaining egg wash, covered.  Loosely cover pans with buttered plastic wrap and let babkas rise in a warm draft-free place until dough reaches top of pans, 1 to 2 hours.

Put rack in middle of oven and preheat oven to 350° F.

Brush tops of dough with reserved egg wash.  Bake until tops are deep golden brown and bottoms sound hollow when tapped, about 40 minutes.  Transfer loaves to a rack and cool to room temperature.