Spelt Chocolate Babka & Six-Braid Spelt Challah

Spelt Chocolate Babka photography © ShulieMadnick
Before I jump into the recipe, I hope that you are all doing ok during this Coronavirus pandemic. Jonathan and I were scheduled to fly to Israel for Passover in April and celebrate the holiday with our son. He is an Environmental Science graduate student in Tel Aviv. Quarantine requirements and flight cancelations squashed those plans. Israel was one of the first countries that took drastic measures early on to curb the spread of COVID-19, and I am thankful for that. Here in the US, inspired by Israel's guidelines, Jonathan and I were already being more cautious. Jonathan was still traveling to New Jersey for work two weeks longer than I was comfortable with, but I was relieved when he started working from home soon after. While people were still taking the metro to DC while awaiting the CDC and Federal and local Governments guidelines, I was already self-imposing precautionary measures and restricting my own movements. Fairfax County in Virginia, where we live, is the most affected county in Virginia by this infectious disease.

Passover wasn't a wash. I had virtual cooking sessions with my son. And by virtual cooking, I mean I posted on Instagram Stories step by step recipes he (and I) were cooking for Passover. There were also several WhatsApp video sessions, him showing me the consistency of a dish or how high the flame on his stove is. It's vigorous even on low if you happen to be wondering.  Sagie (soft g. gee/ghee) ended up cooking his first holiday for himself and his roommates. There must be a sense of accomplishment and independence in that.
Spelt Challah photography © ShulieMadnick
Amidst all this, Jonathan developed a continuous low-grade fever that lasted for almost two weeks. Coincidentally, he also hurt his back and couldn't move. I was concerned, but as many of you experienced, no one would administer or prescribe a Coronavirus test, nor were there enough testing kits to go around. I made several batches of chicken soup and thankfully whatever he had passed.

In the last several months, I was also taking a photography class at a local college, to mainly improve my Lightroom and printing skills. The course shifted from on campus to Zoom and wrapped up this week. In the process, I produced 'Obscure,' a final project presentation I was working on during the semester.  If you read my artist statement, at the end of the presentation, it will give you an insight into my process during the Coronavirus. Watch it in a full-screen mode.
Spelt Challah photography © ShulieMadnick
The realizations of how depended we were on supplementing our diet by ordering in, dining out, or just buying ready-made foods dawned on me when we were loading more dishwasher loads than I ever remembered and washing endless dishes by hand. It seems like I was in the kitchen at all times. Baking and cooking can be meditative and therapeutic, but at some point, I had enough. The baking of challahs and babkas frenzy came over me when I was over that hump.

I found comfort in baking, but for the life of me, I don't know why I used 2 oz cornstarch in the babka chocolate filling in the recipe I published years ago as a guest on another blog. I was out and was not about to do a grocery run just to fetch corn starch with the pandemic raging. The filling came out perfectly smooth, glossy, and spreadable with only two ingredients, chocolate, and butter.

Just watch it that your chocolate chips aren't too bitter. People were hoarding and raiding the shelves during the pandemic, so the brand of chocolate chips I usually buy was out. I bought a different brand of chocolate chips than I am used to, and it was more bitter. Maybe due to higher cocoa content in the chocolate?! In other words, the cheaper brand works better. The sugar in the recipe you can reduce, if you wish, if you aren't making chocolate babkas with the dough. I tweaked this recipe and ended up this time baking one spelt chocolate babka with 1/3 of the dough and a six-braid spelt challah with the remaining 2/3.

Spelt Chocolate Babka


1. I often add the dry yeast directly into the flour as in the method I am using in this recipe. But at times, I bloom/proof/activate the yeast beforehand. Blooming is explained in this video. If you don't have a thermometer, just use lukewarm water. I will wait 10-20 extra minutes for the yeast to fully bloom if it's slow foaming at first.

2. If you don't have a mixer, no worries. You can knead by hand. It takes a tad longer than the 10-12 minutes in the mixer. There's a sense of satisfaction, making the challah from scratch without a mixer.  Punching and kneading the dough by hand is therapeutic and satisfying, on any given day, much less during quarantine.


½  kg (1.1lbs) all-purpose unbleached flour
½ kg (1.1lbs) spelt flour
25 grams (3 ½ packets) of active dry yeast (each packet is 1/4oz)
¾ cup sugar in the raw
1 tablespoon salt
2 eggs, whisked
½ cup canola oil
1 1/2 – 1 3/4 cups water

1 egg, whisked, for egg wash
Sesame seeds
Oil for brushing

Chocolate Filling Ingredients:

18 oz bittersweet chocolate chips
6 oz butter

This chocolate filling is generous filling for 3 babkas. If you decide to make, three babkas leave the filling ingredients as is. If you choose to make one babka and one six-braid or two three-braid challahs with the remaining 2/3 dough, make only a 1/3 of the chocolate filling.


In a mixer, with a dough hook attachment, add the dry ingredients, both spelt and all-purpose flours, dry yeast, salt, and sugar, and mix on low. Add the wet ingredients, two whisked eggs, and canola oil, one by one, and mix on low. Add the1 1/2 - 1 3/4 cups of water in small batches and continue mixing at low speed for 10-12 minutes until the dough is soft and smooth. In my babka dough 1 1/2 cups water was enough. If your dough becomes too wet, just add an additional 1 tablespoon of flour at the time to achieve a smooth dough.

Take the dough out of the mixer bowl (it will be slightly sticky) and form into a ball. Brush a large glass or ceramic bowl with a thin coat of oil. Place the dough into the greased bowl and brush the top with a thin film of oil. Cover with a clean kitchen towel or saran wrap and place in a warm spot in the kitchen for an hour or until the dough doubles in size.

While the dough is rising, melt the chocolate and butter in a bain-marie, a chocolate melting double boiler water bath method, occasionally mix until chocolate is melted to a smooth, silky texture. Take the chocolate/butter mixture off the heat and cool at room temperature.

Grease up to three 9 X 5 X 2 3/4 inch loaf pans depending on how many babkas you are making.

Divide the dough into three equal parts. Put two parts back into the bowl with some space between them and cover with a kitchen towel or saran wrap.

I, myself, do not flour surface, but if you find it necessary, flour just slightly. You are now working with only one part, 1/3 of the dough. Punch the air out of the dough and shape into a smooth, seamless ball.

With a rolling pin roll out the dough ball into about an 18 X 14-inch rectangle. With a rubber spatula or an offset spatula spread third of chocolate mixture on the rolled out dough surface, leaving an uncovered border of about ¼ inch all around. Start rolling the dough from the broader side of the rectangle into a rolled torte (log) shape. Twist rolled Dough 5-6 times/twists and fit into the greased loaf pan.

You can also slice the rolled dough log lengthwise and braid the two long sliced pieces, as demonstrated on Instagram highlights under babka,  then place into the baking loaf pan.

Cover the dough with a clean kitchen towel or saran wrap and let rise in a warm place on the counter for 30 minutes to an hour.

Repeat with the remaining 2 parts leftover dough if you wish to make 3 babkas.

Preheat oven to 350F / 177C.

Brush the top of the babka dough with the whisked egg, sprinkle with sesame seeds, and bake in a 350F / 177C preheated oven for 30 - 40 minutes or until deep golden on top.

Six-Braid Spelt Challah Directions:

Divide the remaining 2/3 dough into six equal parts. Punch the air out of each part and form each into a seamless ball. Roll out each ball into 12-18 long ropes and braid as instructed in this video here, and here. You can also watch the braiding time-lapse on Instagram highlights here.

Place the six-strand spelt challah on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet, cover with a clean kitchen towel, and let rise in a warm place on the counter for 30 minutes to an hour.

Preheat oven to 350F / 177C.

Brush the top of the six-braid spelt challah dough with the whisked egg, sprinkle with sesame seeds, and bake in a 350F / 177C preheated oven for 35 - 45 minutes or until deep golden on top.

Challah Links:

Honey Challah
Braiding Challahs: Three Strand Crown and Round and The Best Honey Challah
Saffron, Turmeric, Curry Leaves, Cumin & Black Mustard Seeds Honey Challah
Date Walnut and Silan, Fig and Spelt and Marzipan Almond (Crown) Challahs Washington Post
Vanilla Bean Brown Butter Cinnamon Swirl Challah
Red Star Yeast Challah
Chasing Challah in Mumbai (no recipe)
Cranberry Orange Swirl and Nigella, Sesame and Pumpkin Seeds Challah
Quince Honey Challah Knots
Challah by Breads Bakery
Spelt Flour Challah Dough Rolls and Chocolate Babka 
Chocolate Yeast Cake and Roulade

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