I was pretty good at school, although in my final year of high school I just gave up, much to my parents’ dismay. They told me to get a job by the end of the week or live to regret it, so I put together a CV a week before my final exams and started handing it out at my local shopping centre.
I ended up with a job in a shoe store, which I hated, but it led me to my first pastry-related job at a chocolate cafe called Max Brenner. It was a totally new and brilliant concept and the stuff of my 18-year-old dreams. I became obsessed with hospitality and wanted to learn how to make coffee and serve basic desserts. It’s a long way off from where I am now, but that was a fun six-month introduction to a field I had no idea about. One of the things on their menu I loved was a chocolate babka, a sweet yeasted bread elaborately layered with a filling; in this case, chocolate and hazelnut.
Philip Khoury’s chocolate-hazelnut babka
Makes 2 x 450g loaves or 1 × 900g loaf
Prep time: 2 hours, plus 3.5 hours proving, 1.5 hours chilling, 30 minutes infusing, 5 minutes cooling
Cooking time: 40 minutes
Save 20% when you buy two or more Broadsheet books. Order now to make sure they arrive in time for Christmas.SHOP NOW
600g vrioche dough (see below)
Plain flour, for dusting
80g chocolate chips
50g hazelnuts, chopped and toasted
50g exotic clear glaze (see below; use before glaze cools)
75g plant-based milk
70g caster sugar
4g ground cinnamon
12g cocoa powder
75g dark chocolate with at least 66–72% cocoa solids, chopped
75g hazelnut butter
To make the chocolate-hazelnut filling, bring the milk, sugar and cinnamon to a simmer in a small saucepan over a medium heat. Add the cocoa powder and whisk until it is combined and lump-free.
Add the chocolate and hazelnut butter and whisk until smooth. Cover the surface with cling film and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to cool to room temperature. You can also prepare the filling ahead of time and leave in the refrigerator for up to a week, heating gently in the microwave to soften.
To assemble and bake, prepare the vrioche dough following the instructions below and leave it to bulk ferment or double in size in the bowl. Lightly flour the work surface, then turn out the dough and punch it down to deflate the air. Roll the dough out into a 22 x 30cm rectangle.
Spread the filling over the dough, leaving a 2cm border at one short edge. Sprinkle with the chocolate chips and chopped hazelnuts then place on a baking sheet and leave to chill in the refrigerator to set the filling. Line a 450g loaf tin with baking parchment.
Roll the chilled dough from the short edge opposite to where you have your 2cm border, then brush with water and stretch and press it to seal the log. Using a serrated knife, cut the log in half lengthways using a gentle sawing motion to cut all the way through. (To make the twisting easier and neater, you can chill the two halves of the rolled log for 15 minutes in the freezer.)
Twist the two halves around each other so that the cut side showing the chocolate is on top, then tuck the ends in. Put it into the lined loaf tin, brush the top lightly with water to keep it supple, then wrap the tin loosely with cling film and leave to prove in a warm place for 1–1.5 hours until the loaf doubles in size.
Preheat the oven to 180°C fan and bake the loaf for 25 minutes, or until a probe thermometer reads 90°C. Babka loaves can be deceptive because they will brown nicely on top before they are fully baked inside due to the size and shape of the loaf.
Remove from the oven and cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then remove gently (many a warm babka breaks up when it’s prised too early from the tin. You might need to run a sharp knife along the edge of the tin to help ease it out). Once cool, brush the top of the loaf with the exotic clear glaze (see below).
Store well wrapped at room temperature for up to 4 days, or frozen for 3 months – slicing before wrapping always helps.
Traditional brioche gets its beautiful feathered texture, softness and flavour from a lot of butter and the shaping technique. Here, I have developed a recipe which, in conjunction with the tangzhong technique and the inclusion of a healthy dose of olive oil, produces a beautiful and versatile dough. [Tangzhong is a roux-like paste of water and flour that helps baked goods retain moisture and remain fresh for longer.] Prepare then chill the tangzhong and proceed to mix the dough, then add the tangzhong last, once the dough has developed enough. This recipe can be prepared by hand, but a stand mixer will make much lighter work of it. It makes 650g; you will only need 600g for the brioche recipe.
315g bread flour
120g soy milk
5g instant yeast
25g caster sugar
25g golden or agave syrup
50g sweet potato, cooked and cooled
40g extra virgin olive oil
Prepare the tangzhong by adding 15g of the bread flour and the water to a small saucepan and mixing it together to dissolve the flour. Heat over a medium heat and cook, stirring constantly with a silicone spatula so it doesn’t catch, until it is thick all the way through (a temperature probe will read 65°C minimum). I have not had any ill effects from just bringing it to the boil while stirring well. Pour the tangzhong into a shallow dish or baking tray, cover the surface with cling film and leave to chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour, or until cool to touch.
Pour the soy milk into a bowl, add the instant yeast and stir to dissolve. If using active dry yeast you may need to leave it to stand for 10 minutes to dissolve the coating.
Add the remaining bread flour, sugar, golden syrup, salt, sweet potato and olive oil to a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook attachment. Add the milk-yeast mixture and the sweet potato mixture and start mixing on low speed. A dough will start to form. Once all the flour is combined, increase the speed slightly and mix for about 5 minutes – the dough should be smooth and developed. Keep kneading until a windowpane test shows a well-developed dough.
Add the chilled tangzhong to the dough and mix until it is incorporated and smooth. The dough may look like it’s beginning to become wet and separated, but keep mixing until the dough starts to climb up the hook and come away from the sides of the bowl. This stage of mixing should take about 3-5 minutes, taking about 10 minutes mixing in total. You can tip the dough out onto a lightly oiled work surface to shape it into a ball, then place it back into the bowl, cover in cling film and leave it to rise in a warm place for 1.5-2 hours until doubled in size.
(This initial rise – or what professionals call a “bulk ferment” – allows the dough to develop flavour and to rest. Timings are always a guide, based on a room temperature of 20-22°C. If your room is warmer or colder your timings may need to shift. Yeast is a living organism and if it’s warmer it works quicker and if colder it’s much slower, so read your dough for its visual cues rather than rigidly sticking to timings.)
When the dough is ready to use, knock it back by punching all the air out in the bowl. Try to avoid mixing it at this stage as you want to keep the dough flexible for rolling or shaping into your desired shape – although not a huge problem, as this can be remedied by a 15-minute rest on the work surface before shaping.
Exotic clear glaze
This is a brilliant glaze to help protect cut fruits from the elements and give a tasty and attractive shine to finished bakes. Inspired by the glaze that Pierre Hermé makes with citrus peels and vanilla, which I used to joke with my colleague who introduced to me to it as the “eau de patissiere”, this glaze can be microwaved to melt as its high water content will heat up quickly. If it needs to be reheated on the hob, you will need to break it with a whisk and add a splash of water before reboiling it. This recipe makes 450g; you will need 50g for the brioche recipe.
4g agar-agar powder
100g caster sugar
1 strip lemon peel
1 strip orange peel
1/2 vanilla pod
1 sprig mint
Pour the water into a large saucepan. Weigh the agar agar accurately in a small bowl, add the sugar and mix to combine, then add to the saucepan of water.
Peel a couple of strips of lemon and orange and add them to the water together with the vanilla and mint.
Bring the mixture to a simmer for 2 minutes, then remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 30 minutes, before straining the mixture through a sieve.
The mixture should be used as it cools – you will notice it starting to thicken. If it cools or clumps, reheat it in the microwave in short bursts or in a saucepan over a low heat. The glaze sets firmly.
Set the glaze aside in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. When needed, cut a small piece off and heat it in the microwave in short bursts to melt it, or in a saucepan.
This is an edited extract from A New Way to Bake by Philip Khoury. Published by Hardie Grant Books, available in stores now, RRP $55. Photography by Matt Russell.