The poppy seed filling of this babka can also be used as filling for hamantaschen and rugelach.
You can find poppy seeds in bags of 1/2 lb. to 3/4 lb. in some European grocery stores and online. Buying a few small containers of poppy seed at the major supermarkets can be costly.
The babka can be frozen after it is braided with the filling, and before the second rising. Thaw it in the fridge the day before the baking and take it out a few hours earlier to let the dough rise the second time.
Makes two 10 long babkas
For the dough:
1 lb. all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/4 oz. dry yeast (one bag)
1/2 cup sugar
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks) at room temperature
3 egg yolks at room temperature
2/3 cups warm milk
1 teaspoon salt
For the filling:
3/4 cups milk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
7 1/2 oz. poppy seeds, ground twice in a coffee bean grinder
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup ground almonds or cookie crumbs
1/4 cup 60% bittersweet chocolate chips (optional)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1. Make the dough: In a stand mixer with the dough hook mix the flour with the yeast. Add the sugar and butter and mix again. Add egg yolks and milk, continue to mix and add the salt last. Mix for 5 minutes. Increase the speed of the mixer and mix the dough for another 2 minutes. Take the bowl out of the mixer and cover with a damp towel.
2. Turn the oven on the lowest heat for 2 minutes then turn it off. Put the covered bowl with the dough in the oven (that is now turned off) and let it stand until the dough more or less doubles its volume. (It can rise less than twice and it is still fine, continue as usual).
3. In the meantime prepare the filling: Put the milk, butter and sugar in a pot over medium heat and bring to boil. Lower the heat, add the ground poppy seeds and continue cooking while stirring for another 5 minutes. Take off from the heat and add the lemon zest and ground almonds. Mix well and let cool.
4. Butter two 10 long loaf pans and line with parchment paper.
5. Divide the dough into two. Dust generously a large working surface with flour and roll one half of the dough into a rectangle of about 3/16 thick. The size of the rectangle will be about 10 x 13. Spread half the filling thinly on the surface and sprinkle with half the chocolate chips, if desired. Roll the rectangle starting from the 10 side like a roulade. (You will get a 10 long roulade.)
6. Using a knife cut the roulade to its length almost until the end and make a braid by overlapping and wrapping one side over the other. Carefully transfer the babka into the loaf pan and repeat with the other half of the dough and filling.
7. Brush the top of the babkas with the melted butter.
8. Cover the two babkas with a damp towel and let them stand for another hour.
9. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the babkas for 50 minutes. Cool on a rack.
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