Saturday 10 September 2016

Chocolate, Cherry and Marzipan Babka (GBBO Signature Challenge)

When I watched this, I thought "that is a really tough challenge". An enriched dough loaf with chocolate, in 2½ hours? My normal brioche has a first prove of about 7 hours! Surely it's not possible. I was backed up in this assumption by most of the contestants producing under-baked loaves...

So, on a rainy Saturday morning, I set myself my first timed challenge. Produce a loaf of bread in under 2½ hours, including chocolate in the recipe. I did a plan of attack, based on a few rules (mainly learnt from the episode of GBBO).
1) Smaller is better. I went for a 1lb loaf tin recipe...this gives me a smaller volume to prove and bake.
2) I need to speed that prove up, so I planned to use the oven as a proving draw, complete with an oven thermometer to monitor.
3) Keep the extras dry...wet ingredients will slow down the prove, and the bake.
4) Don't overload the dough with butter and eggs.

I went for one of my favourite flavour combinations...dark chocolate, cherry and just works, and dried cherries in particular can give out amazing flavour, without kicking out too much moisture that could lead to soggy bread.

I then worked out a rough plan of attack. I wanted to put aside 45 minutes for the loaf to bake...hopefully it wouldn't need that, but better to have a slightly under-proved, but fully cook loaf, than well aerated raw dough! I also worked on 45 minutes for each prove, so that would leave me 15 minutes to do everything else! That would be close...

It turned out the proves only needed 30 minutes in the jury-rigged proving drawer, and making and shaping the dough was fairly rapid, as I had a decent plan, and it was fairly simple. A babka is quite quick to shape, and has the advantage of spreading the filling well throughout the loaf (an issue I've hit doing a simple spiral). I had the loaf onto the cooking rack at 2h 07 minutes, which I'm really happy, and quite surprised at! Even being modest, it tasted really good, and was baked through perfectly (the prod test provided a good spring). The crust was slightly too dark, but that can be resolved simply by lowering the temperature very slightly, and adding the tin hat earlier.

This recipe will be quite detailed, including timings and temperatures where relevant. You can really speed up the entire process by keeping a close eye on these.

Chocolate, Cherry and Almond Babka - Recipe

Dough Ingredients

  • 250g strong white flour
  • 7g fast action yeast
  • 100ml full fat milk
  • 30g caster sugar
  • 1 egg (room temperature)
  • 40g butter (room temperature)
  • Pinch of salt
1) Turn the oven on to ~35'C. Most don't have markings down at this point, so set up an oven thermometer, and be prepared to crack the oven door open/closed to control the temperature. Place a large heatproof mixing bowl in the oven to lose it's chill.

2) Put the milk and sugar in a measuring jug, and microwave for ~15 seconds. use a temperature probe to get this to 35'C.

3) Once you have the milk to 35'C, add the yeast and stir using a fork to combine it. Leave this to start while you prepare the flour

4) Weigh out the flour into a stand mixer bowl, and add the salt

5) Put the bowl in a stand mixer, add the milk mixture and the egg, and begin to mix using a dough hook attachment

6) Once the dough comes together (about 2 minutes), add the butter to the bowl and mix on a medium speed for about 8 minutes (approx total time at this point is 10 minutes).

7) Take the mixing bowl out of the oven, and grease it very lightly with some oil.

8) Turn the dough out into the bowl, cover the bowl with clingfilm, and place it in the oven (which should be at ~35'C). Leave this to prove for about 30 minutes, until the dough is doubled in size. While this is happening, you can prepare the fillings

Filling Ingredients

  • 50g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
  • 50g dried cherries (not glacé cherries)
  • 100g icing sugar
  • 100g ground almonds
  • 20g egg white (about half a large egg white)
  • ½tsp almond essence

1) Finely chop of grate the chocolate, and place in a bowl

2) Chop the cherries into 3 or 4 bits each, and place in a bowl

3) Sieve the icing sugar into a stand mixer bowl, then add the ground almonds.

4) Mix the dry ingredients using a dough hook to combine them

5) Add the egg white and almond essence, and continue to mix until a dough/paste is formed

6) Take the mixture, and knead until the marzipan forms a soft dough. Wrap this in clingfilm until used

7) Take a 1lb loaf tin, grease it and line it with baking parchment (approx total time is now 40 minutes)


1) Once the dough has been proving for 30 minutes, it should have doubled in size, and you should have made all the fillings and prepared the baking tin. Assembly of the babka should take about 10 minutes at most.

2) Take the dough out, and turn it onto a floured surface.

3) Knock it back, then roll it out into a rectangle about 40-45cm x 30cm.

4) Spread the chocolate and cherries evenly over the rectangle

5) Roll the marzipan out into a rectangle roughly the same size, and lie this on top

6) Starting at a short end, roll the dough and fillings into a firm spiral

7) Cut the spiral in half lengthways, to create 2 half-tubes

8) Place these back to back, and then twist them together, before placing in the lined loaf tin.

9) Cover the tin with a bowl, and return to the oven (still at 35'C). (approx total time should now be ~50 minutes).

10) The worst of the time pressure is now over! The babka is going to prove for about 25 minutes in the oven. Take this time to clean down work surfaces, make a cuppa. Put 300ml of water in a jug, and a small amount of milk in a ramekin with a pastry brush nearby.

11) After 25 minutes, remove the babka from the oven (keep it covered), and turn the oven up to 180-190'C. The oven will take ~ 5 minutes to heat up.

12) Once the oven is heated up, uncover the babka, and using a pastry brush brush a small mount of milk over the exposed dough.

13) Place in the oven, and pour the water into a tray at the bottom of the oven. (approx total time should now be 1h30)

14) Once the babka has been in the oven for ~15 minutes, place a piece of tin foil over the top to stop it going too dark. Also insert the oven thermometer into the middle of the loaf to monitor the temperature.

15) I cooked my loaf until the centre was 94-95'C (the minimum is apparently 85'C, but watching the program a lot came out underdone at that temperature). it took 37 minutes.

16) Once you are happy it's cooked, remove from the oven, take out of the tin, and place on a wire rack to cool. Stop your timer, and see how you did!