This is a really close contender for my favourite new thing so far. If you’ve been following for a while you know I love making bread, and you also might be aware that I’m a big fan of Bread Ahead Bakery – a London based bakery who have been offering daily tutorials on their Instagram page. A couple of weeks ago they posted about a babka and challah, two enriched, braided bread loaves, and I knew it was for me: I’ve wanted to make challah for so long, the plaited golden bread just looks so beautiful and inviting.
After preparing the dough the night before, I made sure I had all of my ingredients ready to before the 2-hour class begun. We started with the chocolate filled babka, a Polish bread which, like the challah, originates in Jewish cuisine. I was mainly doing the course for the challah instructions, so the babka was a very welcome surprise.
As the dough is enriched, it already had butter, eggs, and milk in, it was very heavy. This was perfect to support the sumptuous chocolate mixture we spread over it, rolled up, and shaped into a simple braid.
After licking the bowl with the chocolate in, I could tell this was going to be good. I wanted to sit and look at the dough rising in the oven, but I then had to make a sugar syrup to give the babka a lovely sweet and shiny finish. As soon as it came out of the oven, I brushed the syrup all over it, making sure to get it in the many folds and twists.
This is hands down the most impressive bread I’ve made the first time around. It was heaven, it looked amazing, and had absolutely perfect chocolate to dough ratio. Best of all, it was relatively simple to make. After delivering some samples to nearby friends, they all confirmed: it was bloody delicious. An absolute hit.
The challah was up next, and although I initially attempted Matthew’s (the course leader) ambitious 8-strand plait, my dough was growing weak and I settled for the safe 3-strand version. I used the same dough as the babka for the challah, but for those observing the Jewish faith, it would be made without dairy, substituting the milk and butter for water and oil.
The challah looked a little ropey due to my man-handling, but still very impressive. I was so happy to finally make this, and I’m determined to get that 8-strand version nailed, so it won’t be my last challah.
I found so much joy in this, and it was great to experiment with different bread styles and shapes. The babka was a revelation: I would never have chosen to make this otherwise, but now it’ll definitely be in my rotation of entertaining bread. The challah was great toasted with a bit of butter, or as the internet tells me, great as french toast, and the babka was perfect with a nice cup of tea. Needless to say, neither loaves lasted very long. My favourite day of the last few months.