Pumpkin and Mexican Chocolate Sourdough Babka

Wow…it has been a minute, hasn’t it? I got tied up in a lot of non-beer writing for more than a year, and then COVID hit, which put an immediate end to any Alcotourism for the time being. So what’s an out-of-work beer writer to do? Make a sourdough starter and start packing on the carbs like everyone else, duh. This will be the first in a series of recipes I add to my site to generate some content and keep my writing skills sharp.

It’s officially fall, which means I eagerly flip into #AllPumpkinEverything mode faster than you can flick your facemask off after you leave the grocery store. I can’t get enough of that beautiful gourd, and the wonderful blend of spices that come along for the ride. Not only is this sourdough sweet bread stuffed with pumpkin, but it also has a rich Mexican chocolate paste for an extra kick of flavor. I bak

Before you start, you’ll need to have an active sourdough starter. If you’re part of the 11.5% of Americans who didn’t start a daily regimen of mixing flour and water during the pandemic, King Arthur has a great plan to get you on the path to having a kitchen that looks like Henry Hill’s…coated in white powder. Moving on, I promise I won’t go more than three paragraphs before getting on to the good stuff, so here’s the recipe, which yields two medium babka loaves.

Step 1: Make Your Levain

Unlike normal sourdough bread, Babka is a sweet brioche-style loaf, so it helps to begin with a sweet levain. To make the levain for your babka, you’ll need:

25g mature starter
•20g brown sugar
•80g bread flour
•35g filtered water

Mix all of these ingredients together into what will feel like a very stiff starter. Don’t worry, it will lighten up as it ferments. Set into a warm place and allow to double in volume. Depending on the strength of your starter, this could take anywhere from 4-12 hours. My starter Patrick got it done in 6…just like his father, somewhere in the top 25%.

Step 2: Mix your dough

For the dough, you’ll need:

•All of your risen levain
•240g milk
•2 large eggs
•80g white sugar
•1tsp pumpkin pie spice
•8g kosher salt
•570g of bread flour
•1 stick of room temperature unsalted butter

In the bowl of your stand mixer, combine the milk, levain, eggs, sugar, pumpkin pie spice and salt, and use the paddle attachment to combine as best as possible. Your levain will be quite thick, so it will likely be a solid clump in the liquid. Switch to the dough hook, and as you mix on low speed, slowly add your bread flour a cup at a time until everything is combined. You can scrape down the sides of the bowl to get all of the flour incorporated, but it will eventually come together into a relatively sticky dough.

Once the dough forms, you can start adding the softened butter one pat at a time, giving each addition time to incorporate before adding the next. It will look like a mess for a while, and you’ll need to scrape the sides of the bowl a few times during the process. Eventually, all of the butter will work its way into the dough, and you can increase the speed to medium-low.

Allow it to knead for 10 minutes or until it forms a supple, workable dough that’s not sticky. Once you have a soft, glutenous texture, turn it out onto a floured surface and knead for a few minutes to form some extra gluten. Transfer into a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and allow to proof at room temperature for 2 hours before transferring to your refrigerator for an overnight rest.

Step 3: Make Your Fillings

In the morning, set a stick of butter out to soften for your pumpkin filling while you gather the ingredients for the Mexican chocolate spread:

•1 stick of unsalted butter
•4.5oz of dark chocolate chips
•1/3 cup of powdered sugar
•1/3 cup of dark chocolate cocoa powder
•1tsp of espresso powder
•Heavy pinch of kosher salt
•Cinnamon and cayenne pepper

Melt the butter in a pot over low heat, and whisk in the chocolate chips, stirring until smooth. Next, add the powdered sugar, cocoa powder, espresso powder and salt, whisking constantly until you have a rich, spreadable paste. Finally, add cinnamon and cayenne pepper until you reach a taste you like, remembering a little goes a long way with the latter. You want a pleasantly warm sensation, not Nashville hot chicken. Set aside and grab what you need for the pumpkin filling:

•1/2 can of pumpkin puree –NOT PUMPKIN PIE FILLING–
•2 tbsp dark brown sugar
•1/4 tsp kosher salt
•1-2 tsp pumpkin pie spice (or more if you like to party)
•1 tbsp good maple syrup (bourbon-barrel-aged would be very nice here if you have it)

Combine all ingredients in a bowl with a spoon until smooth. No need for any special equipment. Taste and add more pumpkin pie spice because your mother didn’t raise a quitter.

Step 4: Form the Babka

Take your dough out of the refrigerator, turn out onto a floured cutting board, and cut in half…this recipe makes 2 babka loaves. Roll your dough into a 10×12 inch rectangle as best as you can.

Start spreading your filling in alternating horizontal stripes. Don’t lay it on too thick, or you’ll run out before you finish your second babka. Once the dough is covered start rolling the long edge up as tightly as you can until you have a 12-inch log. Nope…not touching that one. If you find the dough sticking to your cutting board, use a bench scraper to help peel it up.

Using a bench scraper or sharp knife, trim off the uneven ends of the log before splitting it in half, lengthwise. With both segments laying cut side up, braid them together before transferring into a greased standard bread loaf pan. Cover with plastic wrap and repeat the process with the second half of your dough. Realize you only have one loaf pan, and form the second braid into a circle in a greased springform pan (if you do this, make sure you put a cookie sheet underneath to catch any butter that may leak out during cooking). Cover, and transfer both loaves to a warm place in the 80-85 degree range until it rises to fill the pan. This could take 4 or more hours, but Patrick is a stud, so he did it in three.

Step 5: Bake the Babka

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Brush the top of your babka with an egg wash (1 egg mixed with 1tbsp of water), and bake for 35 minutes or until golden, brown and delicious. You can stick a toothpick in to check for doneness, but the filling will make it come out messy, so shoot for an internal temperature of 185 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cool in the pan for 20 minutes on a wire rack, before de-panning, cursing because you didn’t use parchment paper to make de-panning easier, and cool the rest of the way before Instagramming, cutting, Instagramming the layers and at some point, EATING.

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