During the OG lockdown, Melbourne chef Avi Azoulay introduced his Facebook friends to his choc-hazelnut babka – a dense, rich, mesmerisingly braided cake that originated in Poland’s Jewish community in the 19th century (where it was made with extra challah dough and filled with jam or cinnamon). By early July, he had assumed a new Instagram alter ego: Babka Boi.
And so a side hustle began.
“I really didn’t expect it to turn into that,” says Azoulay, who’s worked the pans at Miznon, Lucy Liu and Atlas Dining offshoot Lomah since returning to Melbourne in 2013 after a few years in Israel.
He was born in Australia, but his Israeli heritage led him to his parents’ homeland, where babka is wildly popular. That’s due in large part to the influence of Danish-Israeli pastry chef Uri Scheft, who’s garnered a cult following for the version sold at his Tel Aviv bakery chain Lehamim (which literally means “breads” in Hebrew – there’s an equally famous outpost in New York). Azoulay fell in love with the cake while he was living there.
He’s been perfecting his version – which draws inspiration from various recipes and influences – ever since, and choc-hazelnut is his specialty. It’s filled with Nutella, homemade chocolate paste, choc chips and hazelnuts. And, importantly, he’s nailing the dough-to-filling ratio. “I’ve had some babkas with way more dough than filling, so I wanted mine to be really chocolatey – and have loads of butter,” he says.
Making the babka is a three-day process that includes a 24-hour fermentation and a lot of rolling and braiding. Because it’s so labour intensive, he only bakes around 15 loaves each week. But each babka weighs about 900 grams – and has the richness and density of a Christmas pudding or New York-style cheesecake – so one goes a long way. Azoulay says you can even pop some slices in the freezer, where they keep well. (Just zap in the microwave or pop in the oven to heat them up.)
As well as the signature choc-hazelnut filling, expect to see others such as apple, cinnamon and almond in the future. And if you’re in need of a savoury hit post-babka, he’s also selling 500-gram tubs of Israeli-style hummus (it definitely outranks the mass-produced supermarket stuff).
The babka costs $30 and the hummus costs $12. Orders can made via Instagram for pick-up in Bentleigh on Fridays between 2pm and 3pm. (Order by 7pm Wednesday.)