Hazelnut Chocolate Babka

Based on my challah dough, a touch of heat from ancho chile amplifies the chocolaty indulgence twisted into this cinnamon-and-ginger-scented dough. Challah dough isn’t buttery like traditional babka dough, making this bread as suitable for weekday breakfasts as for brunch. Forming these loaves is a bit of a project, but one well worth trying.

Recipe by Lior Lev Sercarz, from “Mastering Spice” by Lior Lev Sercarz

Makes two 9×5 inch loaves


Spice Blend

3⁄4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, preferably Vietnamese (2 grams)
1⁄2 teaspoon ground ginger (1 gram)
1⁄2 teaspoon ground ancho chile (1 gram)
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (1 gram)

Mix together the cinnamon, ginger, ancho, and nutmeg.

1 cup lukewarm water (210 grams)
1 tablespoon active dry yeast (11 grams)
1⁄4 cup sugar (50 grams)
3 3⁄4 cups all-purpose flour (500 grams)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (35 grams), plus more for the bowl
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon labne or plain whole milk Greek yogurt (25 grams)
1 teaspoon kosher salt (4 grams)
2 large eggs (120 grams), at room temperature
1⁄3 cup Nutella or other chocolate hazelnut spread (95 grams)
1⁄2 cup chocolate chips (90 grams)


1. To make the babka dough: Whisk the warm water, yeast, and 1 teaspoon of the sugar (5 grams) in a medium bowl. Let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes.

2. Combine the flour, oil, labne, salt, 1 of the eggs, the spice blend, yeast mixture, and the remaining sugar (45 grams) in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Mix on low speed, scraping the bowl occasionally, until the dough comes together in a firm, stretchy mass, about 7 minutes.

3. Turn out onto a clean work surface and knead to form a tight ball,about 2 minutes. Lightly oil the mixer bowl, return the dough to it, and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Let rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

4. Grease two 9 x 5 inch loaf pans. Turn the dough out onto a clean unfloured work surface and divide in half.

5. Flatten one ball into a rectangular shape. With a rolling pin, roll it into a 9 × 12-inch rectangle (1). Use an offset spatula or butter knife to spread 1⁄3 cup Nutella (95 grams) or other chocolate-hazelnut spread over the dough (2). Sprinkle 1⁄2 cup chocolate chips (90 grams) evenly over the spread. Starting from one long side, roll the dough tightly into a long log (3). Cut the log lengthwise in half (4). Twist the two halves together, keeping the exposed chocolate layers facing up, and push in the ends to form a 9-inch-long twist (5). Transfer the twist to one of the prepared pans (6). Repeat with the remaining dough. Cover both pans with a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place until the dough has risen to the pans’ rims, about 45 minutes. *see below for pictures of each step

6. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F. Beat the remaining egg with a few drops of water and gently brush it over the loaves to lightly coat.

7. Bake until golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. A cake tester should slide through with no resistance and come out without any raw dough, though there may be melted chocolate clinging to it. If the top begins to brown too much, tent it lightly with foil. When the loaves are done, immediately brush the tops with 2 tablespoons honey mixed with 1 teaspoon water. Cool completely in the pans before slicing and serving.