Ari's Picks

Looking to bring along a Taste of Zingerman’s?

A taste of zingermans bakehouse babka at zingermans bakehouse.

A taste of Zingerman’s Bakehouse Babka could be just right

More and more over the years people bring or send a Zingerman’s gift—a taste of Tree Town, it’s a terrific way to convey their own commitment to high quality and an easy way to share some of their connection with the community here in the Ann Arbor area. Sour Cream Coffee Cake, which we’ve been making for over 35 years now, is probably the most popular way to do that. Magic Brownies, which we’ve been making for almost that long, are another favored choice. I’d like to propose a third option, something that might well make for a great taste of Zingerman’s and Ann Arbor: the Bakehouse’s Chocolate Babka. While it’s not well known in the Midwest, in New York, Babka has long been a big deal. I tend to be a bit skeptical about trends in Tinsel Town, but folks on the East Coast could well be onto something with their regular Babka-eating.

While Babka is pretty easy to pronounce, it’s not easy to make. Melissa Clark, writing in the New York Times, says that:

Baking a chocolate Babka is no casual undertaking. The Eastern European yeast-risen coffee cake has 14 steps and takes all day to make. But the results are worth every sugarcoated second – with a moist, deeply flavored brioche-like cake wrapped around a dark fudge filling, then topped with cocoa streusel crumbs.

If you’re from New York, the odds are reasonably high that you’re well familiar with Babka. If not, you’re in for a treat. Babka is traditional Jewish “sweet bread,” akin you could say to a light-textured coffee cake, or maybe a bit denser piece of Italian panettone. It starts with a rich, slow-rise yeasted dough made with lots of butter, real vanilla, and fresh egg yolks. That in turn is sprinkled with chocolate “crumble” and orange-syrup-soaked raisins, all of which get formed into a fine looking swirled loaf, and then baked off to a golden brown with a sensual cinnamon-sugar crust. The Bakehouse crew adds a good dose of dark chocolate on top and rolled into the middle as well. It’s already got a LOT of loyal fans, and it seems to be gaining more momentum all the time.

Babka’s history? Its roots are in Eastern Europe, very likely indigenous to Ukraine, where it would have been a part of an ancient fertility symbol used in the matriarchal system once in place in the region. The old forms of the Babka were likely much larger, somewhere from the size of a modern day panettone on up to some a few feet high. The original name was likely “baba,” meaning “grandmother”; with the “modern era’s” smaller sizes the name shifted to the diminutive, “Babka,” meaning “little grandmother.” Up until the 20th century, it’s unlikely that Babka would have had any chocolate in it, since chocolate came from the Western Hemisphere and became popular in Europe only late in the 19th century.

Earlier versions of Babka would likely have been closer to the Eve’s Apple Babka we make at the Bakehouse (a special bake coming in August). For those who want to return to the older, more true to traditional type offering, this is it. Still, I know, chocolate is likely to take the cake. Susana Trilling, author of the excellent cookbook, Seasons of the Heart, and creator and cooking teacher extraordinaire of the Oaxacan cooking school of the same name once wrote me to say that, “… bar none, Zingerman’s Bakehouse makes the BEST Babka I have ever eaten!! It was incredible.”

The Bakehouse’s Chocolate Babka will be available all summer on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.

Bag A Babka At The Bakehouse
Ship This Sweet To Your Sis
P.S. If you want to try making Babka at home, the recipe will be in the Bakehouse’s forthcoming cookbook, Celebrate Every Day, due for release October 3rd. Pre-order here!

Want more from Ari?

Sign up for Ari’s Top 5 e-newsletter and look forward to his weekly curated email—a roundup of 5 Zing things Ari is excited about this week—stuff you might not have heard of!