Smitten Kitchen's Chocolate Babka Buns

Chocolate babka, the crown jewel of jewish baked goods. Is it cake? Is it bread? I honestly don't care so long as its edible and in front of me. My love affair with it began about four years ago when I took a stab at Smitten Kitchen's riff on chocolate babka. It's a decadent sugary and chocolatey butter bomb. At one point I became so obsessed with babka that I started scheming about how to open a jewish-only desserts business with my friend (HI JANINE). Babka didn't ultimately become a part of my life full time, but it will forever be my go-to treat for special occasions. Who needs a birthday cake when you can have babka?

Here in San Francisco babka isn't something that you come across often. You can't whip it up quite as quickly as palmiers or chocolate chip cookies, but it's totally worth the effort. 

For this recipe I did a mash-up of two Smitten Kitchen recipes - chocolate babka and chocolate swirl buns. Deb made a, dare I say, "healthy" version of her original babka recipe which resulted in the swirl buns. There is nothing to be afraid of - this recipe is not short on flavor. While I loved the idea of individual servings of babka, I couldn't go without the tasty streusel topping from her original recipe.

One thing to note - my buns didn't rise as much as I would have hoped and it turns out that issue wasn't unique to me based on Smitten comments. But Deb offers a solution which I've included below to help amp up the fluff factor. 

While they aren't heart shaped, or pink or red in color, these are the perfect little baked good to show loved ones you care on Valentines Day. Or ANY day for that matter. Enjoy!

Chocolate Babka Buns

By Smitten Kitchen



  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) milk, preferably whole
  • 1/4 cup (50 grams) plus a pinch of granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons (5 grams) active dry yeast
    • From Deb: I believe little harm would come from bumping the yeast level up to 2 teaspoons or even 2 1/4 teaspoons, which would be a full standard envelope (1/4 ounce). You should then check your buns sooner; they might double the first time in 45 minutes instead of 1 hour. They might be puffy enough to bake at 25 minutes instead of 30 on the second rise (filled and in the pan)
  • 1 large egg, brought to room temperature
  • 2 cups (250 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 3 tablespoons (45 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus additional for bowl and muffin tins


  • 3 tablespoons (45 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 pound (225 grams) semisweet chocolate
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)

Egg wash

  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons (10 ml) heavy cream or milk

Streusel Topping (Makes 1 1/4 cups)

  • 2/3 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (just under)
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature


1. Warm milk and a pinch of sugar to between 110 to 116°F. If you don’t have a thermometer, you’re looking for it to be warm but not hot to the touch. Sprinkle yeast over milk and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together egg and remaining 1/4 cup sugar, then slowly whisk in yeast mixture.

3. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine flour and salt. Run mixer on low and add egg mixture, mixing until combined. Add butter and mix until incorporated. 

4. Switch mixer to dough hook and let it knead the dough for 10 minutes on low speed. At 10 minutes your mixer will be rattling furiously (just me?), and the dough should be sticky and stringy. Butter a large bowl and place dough in it. Cover loosely with plastic wrap/towel and let it rise for about 1 hour, or until doubled.

5. Pulse the chocolate with the salt, sugar, and cinnamon (if using) until the chocolate is very finely chopped with some parts almost powdery. Add butter and pulse machine until it’s distributed throughout the chocolate. If you don't have a food processor, use your best knife skills to chop the chocolate finely and combine with remaining ingredients. Set mixture aside.

6. Generously butter a standard 12-muffin tin; set aside.

7. Once dough has doubled, turn it out onto a well-floured surface and gently deflate it with floured hands. Let it rest for another 5 minutes. Once rested, roll dough into a large rectangle. I mean muy grande. The short sides should be about 11 to 12 inches. The other side can be as long as you can roll it. Deb says the longer you can make it, the more impressive your chocolate swirls will be. I got to around 18-20 inches. 

8. Sprinkle the filling evenly over the dough’s surface. Don't worry if it looks like too much - it's not. Tightly roll the dough back over the filling from one short end to the other, forming a 12 to 13-inch log. 

* Note - I made the minor mistake of not pushing my filling as close to the edge as possible. I was afraid that as I rolled, it would pour out over the edges - not so in my case. That just means I wasted (sad) a tiny bit of each end of the dough.

9. With a sharp serrated knife, gently saw 1-inch segments off the log and place each in a prepared muffin cup. Loosely cover buns with plastic wrap or a lint-free towel and let them rise for another 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 350°F (180°C).

10. Egg wash your buns before baking them (whisking together an egg and the cream until smooth, brush over each bun top). Sprinkle the streusel on top of each bun, lightly pressing it down to stick to the egg wash.

11. Bake buns for 15 to 20 minutes, until puffed and brown. If you have an instant read thermometer, you can take the buns out when it reads 185 to 190 degrees in the middle of each bun.

Set buns on cooling rack and best of luck holding out eating them until they are room temp!