I crave cake.

Chocolate cake.

We’re hosting a party for my husband’s work colleagues, and I’m trying to decide on dessert. It’ll be a porch party, with poverty chicken, tomato tarts, vinaigrette-dressed string beans and an arugula-peach salad. I know I want a big bowl of peaches, plums and nectarines on the dessert table, but I need an accompaniment.

And I crave cake. Specifically, chocolate cake.

Maybe a Texas sheet cake — that icing-drenched ode to my ’70s childhood. (No … too casual.)

How about a layer cake, slathered with sour cream frosting? (No … too fancy.)

I want something in-between. Something deceptively simple yet stealthily sophisticated. A cake that ends dinner on a subtly sweet note without overpowering my fruit or overshadowing what we ate before.

That’s when I find it:

babkas baked

A syrup-drenched yeast cake with ribbons of chocolate and nuts swirled through.

It’s a chocolate kranz cake, or babka, courtesy of the Jerusalem cookbook. A cake my husband immediately declares bubbe-worthy. It requires no special ingredients; no trips to the market to find exotic flavorings or fillings. And it asks very little of me effort-wise: My mixer does the heavy kneading; my refrigerator does the incubating; my freezer holds the finished cake until the day of our party.

Thinly sliced and placed on a platter, this cake is a perfect ending to our dinner. Best of all, it satisfies exactly what I’m craving:

It’s a cake. And it’s chocolate.

Jerusalem’s Chocolate Kranz Cake

This recipe makes 2 loaf cakes and isn’t nearly as complex as the authors would have you believe. Use either semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate (I used a combination) and any type of nut you’d like (I used almonds). Eat this for dessert, for breakfast or for an afternoon snack — whenever you want a hit of chocolate and a taste of cake that’s densely flavorful yet yeastily light.

Dough:

  • 4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons yeast
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup room-temperature butter, cut into dice

Filling:

  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/3 cup cocoa
  • 4 1/2 ounces melted chocolate (semi-sweet or bittersweet; avoid milk chocolate)
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 1 cup chopped nuts
  • 2 tablespoons sugar

Syrup:

  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar

Place the flour, sugar, yeast and lemon zest in the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the dough hook, mix on low speed for a minute.

Add the eggs and water and mix on medium speed for at least 5 minutes, until the dough comes together. Keep the mixer running and add the salt, then the butter — a cube at a time — until it’s completely incorporated into the dough:

babka dough

Continue mixing for 10 minutes. Your dough will end up shiny and smooth.

babka risingGrease a large bowl with canola or vegetable oil. Shape the dough into a ball and place it in the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least half a day and preferably overnight. (I waited a full 24 hours.)

After the dough has had its nice, long rise, make your filling: Whisk together the powdered sugar, cocoa, melted chocolate and butter.

Press the risen dough down to deflate it. Divide it in half.

babka fillingTake one of your dough halves and — working on a well-floured surface — roll it into a 15X11-inch rectangle. Spread half the chocolate filling over it; sprinkle with 1/2 cup of chopped nuts and 1 tablespoon sugar.

Starting at one long side, roll the dough into a taut cylinder. Making sure the seam is on the bottom of your work surface, cut the dough in half. Then press the top ends together and twist the dough into a rope. Place it in a lightly greased 9X4-inch loaf pan.

Repeat with the second half of your dough, placing the second finished rope in a second 9X4-inch loaf pan.

Cover the cakes with damp tea towels and let them rise in a warm place for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Remove the tea towels and place the cakes on a rack in the middle of the oven. Bake for 30 minutes.

While the cakes are baking, make the syrup: Combine the sugar and water over medium heat and stir until the sugar dissolves. Bring the mixture to a boil, then remove it from the heat to cool a bit.

babka slices1When the cakes are done, remove them from the oven. Immediately brush the syrup over them. (There’s a lot of syrup! Jerusalem’s instructions insist you use it all, but I found it overly abundant. I used all but about 1/4 cupful.) Let the cakes cool until they’re just warm, then remove them from the pans. Cool them completely, then slice them thinly to serve.

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