Ottolenghi’s Chocolate Babka (Krantz)

We have been lucky this year, they say. Two full months and more of really good weather. It has been indeed a marvellous season. Perhaps exactly for this reason, or maybe because I
spent most of it working or having a good time, it literally slipped from my hands.

These empty hands I have, I am trying to fill with something which feels like a project. I try to line up thoughts, ideas, and bits of inspiration that only idle time outdoor could give me, and finally sit down to build something new. More than January and the actual start of the year, it is autumn the perfect time to give me purpose; September the month which marks a new beginning.

As the days become considerably shorter, and the mist and the wind and the rain awake me from my midsummer dream, I retire back in the cosy warmth of a home heated by an oven. Weekends are no longer occasions for spending time outside – being it playing tourists at home, or lounging in the park, going to a festival or crossing town to enjoy some street food at one of the many amazing markets. Rather, free days are consumed inside, giving time to long-neglected activities which required more attention than the summer version of myself could possibly give. One of these is baking – the other, writing.

There was one recipe that kept whirling in my head – it was just never the right time, until now. It was once again a recipe from Jerusalem, which looked so obscenely tempting I could hardly look away from those pages. A luxurious, decadent goodness called Chocolate Krantz Cake, one of the kind I only saw in the photos of the best bakeries in the world. I just couldn’t get it out of my head.

Last week, forced indoor by the adverse weather, we embarked on the adventure of making it. Truth to be told, we have never made a sweet yeast bread of this complexity before, if any – besides brioche. This adventure then felt like a project, a two-day long one, punctuated by waiting and hopes. On the way, we discovered we were worrying for no reason: it all came together easily, gifting us with a cheerful couple of hours of rolling, laughing, making a mess on the table, licking chocolate spoons; with a house filled with the sugary, chocolaty scent of the cake baking in the oven; and a lovely afternoon of tea making, reading and cake nibbling.


Chocolate Krantz Cake

I report the recipe as it can be found in Ottolenghi’s book. I added my notes* at the end. 

“Making a krantz isn’t easy or quick. You need to let the dough rise overnight and then fill and shape it, which is quite an elaborate process. But […] it is well worth it! […] They are just the sort of thing everyone hurls themselves at as soon as they come out of the oven. They will also keep for up to two days at room temperature, wrapped in foil, and up to a couple of weeks when frozen.

For a fabulous alternative to the chocolate filling, brush each dough half with 6 tbsp / 80 g melted unsalted butter and then sprinkle with 1⁄2 cup / 120 g light muscovado sugar, 1 1⁄2 tbsp ground cinnamon, and scant 1⁄2 cup / 50 g coarsely chopped walnuts; then roll as described in the chocolate version.”

Makes 2 loaves
For the dough:
 4 cups / 530 g all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
1/2 cup / 100 g superfine sugar
2 teaspoons fast-rising active dry yeast
grated zest of 1 small lemon
3 extra-large free-range eggs
1/2 cup / 120 ml water
rounded 1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3cup / 150 g unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 3/4-inch / 2cm cubes
sunflower oil, for greasing
For the chocolate filling:
 scant 1/2 cup / 50 g confectioners’ sugar
1/3 cup / 30 g best-quality cocoa powder
4 oz / 130 g good-quality dark chocolate, melted
1/2 cup / 120 g unsalted butter, melted
1 cup / 100 g pecans, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons superfine sugar
For the sugar syrup (enough for both cakes):
2/3 cup / 160 ml water

1 1/4 cups / 260 g superfine sugar


For the dough, place the flour, sugar, yeast, and lemon zest in a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook and mix on low speed for 1 minute. Add the eggs and water and mix on low speed for a few seconds, then increase the speed to medium and mix for 3 minutes, until the dough comes together.

Add the salt and then start adding the butter, a few cubes at a time, mixing until it is incorporated into the dough. Continue mixing for about 10 minutes on medium speed, until the dough is completely smooth, elastic, and shiny. During the mixing, you will need to scrape down the sides of the bowl a few times and throw a small amount of flour onto the sides so that all of the dough leaves them.

Place the dough in a large bowl brushed with sunflower oil, cover with plastic wrap, and leave in the fridge for at least half a day, preferably overnight.

Grease two 2 1⁄4-lb / 1kg loaf pans (9 by 4 inches / 23 by 10 cm) with some sunflower oil and line the bottom of each pan with a piece of waxed paper. Divide the dough in half and keep one-half covered in the fridge.

Make the filling by mixing together the confectioners’ sugar, cocoa powder, chocolate, and butter. You will get a spreadable paste. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface into a rectangle measuring 15 by 11 inches (38 by 28 cm). Trim the sides** to make them even, then position the dough so that a long side is closest to you. Use an offset spatula to spread half the chocolate mixture over the rectangle, leaving a 3⁄4-inch / 2cm border all around. Sprinkle half the pecans on top of the chocolate, then sprinkle over half the superfine sugar.

Brush a little bit of water along the long end farthest away from you. Use both hands to roll up the rectangle like a roulade, starting from the long side that is closest to you and ending at the other long end. Press to seal the dampened end onto the roulade and then use both hands to even out the roll into a perfect thick cigar. Rest the cigar on its seam.

Trim about 3⁄4 inch / 2 cm off both ends of the roulade with a serrated knife. Now use the knife to gently cut the roll into half lengthwise, starting at the top and finishing at the seam. You are essentially dividing the log into two long even halves, with the layers of dough and filling visible along the length of both halves. With the cut sides facing up, gently press together one end of each half, and then lift the right half over the left half. Repeat this process, but this time lift the left half over the right, to create a simple, two-pronged plait. Gently squeeze together the other ends so that you are left with the two halves, intertwined, showing the filling on top. Carefully lift the cake into a loaf pan.

Cover the pan with a wet tea towel and leave to rise in a warm place for 1 to 1 and 1⁄2 hours. The cake will rise by 10 to 20 percent. Repeat the whole process to make the second cake.

Preheat the oven to 375°F / 190°C, making sure you allow plenty of time for it to heat fully before the cakes have finished rising. Remove the tea towels, place the cakes on the middle rack of the oven, and bake for about 30 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.

While the cakes are in the oven, make the syrup. Combine the water and sugar in a saucepan, place over medium heat, and bring to a boil. As soon as the sugar dissolves, remove from the heat and leave to cool down. As soon as the cakes come out of the oven, brush all of the syrup over them. It is important to use up all the syrup. Leave the cakes until they are just warm, then remove them from the pans and let cool completely before serving.

* Notes:

  • I used 100% regular wholemeal flour instead of the all-purpose/plain flour and it worked perfectly fine.
  • Instead of superfine sugar, I used demerara caster sugar, also with good results.
  • I didn’t have any lemons when I made these so I used 1 tsp pure vanilla extract in its place.
  • I used large rather than extra-large eggs and they were OK.
  • Since I don’t keep sunflower oil in the house, I used ghee – which worked well for the task.
  • I like very dark chocolate, so I used 85% dark chocolate – in my humble opinion, it made a great contrast with the sweetness of the syrup and balanced things out wonderfully.
  • I swapped pecans for walnuts. I am sure hazelnuts would be fantastic, too.
  • I ended up using less syrup (about 2/3 of the total). Although the author heatedly suggests using all the syrup, I am not fond of super-sugary stuff, so I think I will use even less next time. I think you should listen to whatever your sweet tooth tells you…

** I used the scraps of dough and a bit of leftover chocolate filling to make those mini buns (pictured above), which I baked in a muffin tin for less than half the amount of time it took to bake the loaves. They were delicious and totally moreish. I will try to make cinnamon buns out of this recipe sometime soon – as I think the results might be overwhelmingly good.

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12 Comments

  1. Babs September 16, 2013

    wow…. e poi dicono che ti viene voglia di addentarne un pezzetto!
    per forza 🙂 !!!
    come farne a meno?
    ciao!
    b

    Reply
    • Valeria September 17, 2013

      Impossible resistere, Babs, ci ho provato! 🙂

      Reply
  2. ilgamberorusso September 16, 2013

    Che foto meravigliose!senza contare tutto il resto 🙂 laura

    Reply
    • Valeria September 17, 2013

      Grazie Laura diciamo anche che questa robina qui è parecchio fotogenica, ha!

      Reply
  3. rossella September 16, 2013

    Se non avessi già chiesto in matrimonio Barbara di Pane&Burro, pubblicamente su questi schermi, ora mi dichiarerei a te. Non importa se siete entrambe sposate eh? Foto magistrali, come posso non (ulteriormente) innamorarmi?

    Reply
    • Valeria September 17, 2013

      Ahia son arrivata tardi, mi son persa la dichiarazione – che io le dichiarazioni mica e rifiuto, eh? :)) Grazie Ross! ps – tra poco passo da te per gli onori! peperepeeeeee <3

      Reply
  4. September 24, 2013

    Ma che meraviglia! mi piacerebbe moltissimo provare a farlo ma con i vari passaggi che ci sono non mi fido della mia traduzione…per caso metterai anche la versione italiana?
    In ogni caso complimenti, foto e ricetta strepitosa!!

    Reply
  5. September 26, 2013

    Uh che peccato!!! mi piacciono sempre tantissimo le tue ricette, sarà una scusa per capirci sempre di più!!
    Grazie mille intanto, la proverò sicuramente!

    Reply
    • Valeria September 29, 2013

      Eh lo so, dicevo, scriverò a breve del motivo…Ma non è detto che sia per sempre. 🙂 Un abbraccio

      Reply
  6. cookingworldtour March 6, 2014

    Wow, this is looking sooo great!

    Reply
    • Valeria October 7, 2014

      Thank you – and tasted even better 🙂

      Reply

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