With Hanukkah over and Christmas right around the corner, things have become a wee bit hectic and stressful for Gothamist. There's all those presents we still haven't bought, and upcoming travel to see family in the next few days. This past weekend, the thought of yet another afternoon of fighting the weekend shopping hordes to fight over trinkets just wasn't even fathomable. We knew something had to be done. We had to bake.

2004_12_chocolate_filling.jpgBut our regular baking repertoire--chocolate chip cookies, cupcakes, brownies--wouldn't do. Oh, no. We required a project that would take all day into the evening. A project that would require patience, fortitude and a little luck. We were going to attempt that New York City favorite, the Chocolate Babka.

That's right, folks. The same type of babka that eluded Seinfeld. And for those of us who grew up with Polish grandmothers, a reminder of childhood. While the chocolate aspect of this recipe isn't traditional, it is yummy. We decided to try Martha Stewart's recipe, figuring it would be good since she's Polish herself (don't let her ex-husband's WASPy last name fool you).

We won't lie to you. As we were gathering all of our ingredients, chopping the 2 1/4 pounds(!) of chocolate, and spending hours in preparation for the final product, we once or twice questioned our sanity. Babka-making is definitely a time-consuming activity, not an everyday type of thing. But holidays are the perfect time to indulge a whole day's worth of energy in creating a perfectly delicious and ephemeral piece of art. And nothing compares to that sweet yeasty, buttery smell as the bread bakes in the oven.

2004_12_babka_rolled.jpgIf you didn't grow up with babka (unlucky you), it's not too late to start a new tradition now. Russ and Daughters on the Lower East Side sells excellent chocolate and cinammon babka. If you've never eaten babka, try theirs first and see if it doesn't inspire you to want to make some of your own, either this season or next year.

RECIPE--Chocolate Babka

Makes 3 loaves
When shaping the babka, twist dough evenly throughout the length of the roll a full five to six turns. The babka can be prepared up to Step Eight and frozen for up to a month before baking. When ready to bake, remove from freezer; let stand at room temperature for about five hours, and bake.

1 1/2 cups warm milk (110°F)
2 packages (1/4 ounce each) active dry yeast
1 3/4 cups plus a pinch of sugar
3 whole large eggs, room temperature
2 large egg yolks, room temperature
6 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
1 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups (3 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces, room temperature, plus more for bowl and loaf pans
2 1/4 pounds semisweet chocolate, very finely chopped
2 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon heavy cream
Streusel Topping (see recipe below)

1. Pour warm milk into a small bowl. Sprinkle yeast and pinch of sugar over milk; let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.

2. In a bowl, whisk together 3/4 cup sugar, 2 eggs, and egg yolks. Add egg mixture to yeast mixture, and whisk to combine.

3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine flour and salt. Add egg mixture, and beat on low speed until almost all the flour is incorporated, about 30 seconds. Change to the dough hook. Add 2 sticks butter, and beat until flour mixture and butter are completely incorporated, and a smooth, soft dough that’s slightly sticky when squeezed is formed, about 10 minutes.

4. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead a few turns until smooth. Butter a large bowl. Place dough in bowl, and turn to coat. Cover tightly with plastic wrap. Set aside in a warm place to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

5. Place chocolate, remaining cup sugar, and cinnamon in a large bowl, and stir to combine. Using two knives or a pastry cutter, cut in remaining 1 1/2 sticks butter until well combined; set filling aside.

2004_12_baked_babka.jpg6. Generously butter three 9-by-5-by-2 3/4-inch loaf pans; line them with parchment paper. Beat remaining egg with 1 tablespoon cream; set egg wash aside. Punch back the dough, and transfer to a clean surface. Let rest 5 minutes. Cut into three equal pieces. Keep two pieces covered with plastic wrap while working with the remaining piece. On a generously floured surface, roll dough out into a 16-inch square; it should be 1/8 inch thick.

7. Brush edges with reserved egg wash. Crumble a third of the reserved chocolate filling evenly over dough, leaving a 1/4-inch border. Refresh egg wash if needed. Roll dough up tightly like a jelly roll. Pinch ends together to seal. Twist five or six turns. Brush top of roll with egg wash. Carefully crumble 2 tablespoons filling over the left half of the roll, being careful not to let mixture slide off. Fold right half of the roll over onto the coated left half. Fold ends under, and pinch to seal. Twist roll two turns, and fit into prepared pan. Repeat with the remaining two pieces of dough and remaining filling.

8. Heat oven to 350°F. Brush the top of each loaf with egg wash. Crumble a third of streusel topping over each loaf. Loosely cover each pan with plastic wrap, and let stand in a warm place 20 to 30 minutes.

9. Bake loaves, rotating halfway through, until golden, about 55 minutes. Lower oven temperature to 325°F; bake until babkas are deep golden, 15 to 20 minutes more. Remove from oven, and transfer to wire racks until cool. Remove from pans; serve. Babkas freeze well for up to 1 month.

RECIPE--Streusel Topping

Makes 3 3/4 cups
This topping is the crowning glory of Chocolate Babka.

1 2/3 cups confectioners' sugar
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

1. In a large bowl, combine sugar, flour, and butter. Using a fork, stir until fully combined with clumps ranging in size from crumbs to 1 inch.