A major part of the Jewish festival of Hanukkah is the story of the oil that miraculously lit the menorah in the holy temple in Jerusalem for eight full days. That’s why the Jewish holiday tradition calls for fried foods, like latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly donuts). Babka — and especially chocolate babka — is also served by many families at Hanukkah. Babka is a dense cake made with cinnamon and sugar that looks like bread; it often has streusel on top. The festive cake originated in the Jewish communities of Poland and Ukraine; chocolate babka is a mid-century American Jewish invention.
For the Cake:
½ cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2⅓cups all-purpose flour, sifted
2 teaspoons yeast
½ cup water
3 tablespoons butter, softened
For the Filling:
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened and divided
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped and divided
¼ cup granulated sugar
Combine sugar and salt. Set aside.
In a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook attachment, combine flour, yeast, water, butter and eggs. Mix at medium speed until dough becomes smooth and is not sticking to sides of bowl, about 8 minutes. Add sugar and salt mixture and mix until smooth, about 5 minutes.
Place dough on greased surface and round under all edges to make a smooth ball. Place on sheet pan and spray with pan spray. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Remove dough from refrigerator and let rest at room temperature for 1½ hours.
Place dough on floured work surface and cut in half. Flatten each half-dough and roll each very thinly into an approximately 9” ×12” rectangle. Spread 2½ tablespoons of the softened butter on each half of the dough, leaving a half-inch border all around. Sprinkle 4 ounces of the chocolate evenly over each buttered half, then sprinkle each with 2 tablespoons sugar.
Roll the first half up like a jelly roll down the short side. Repeat with other half. The two should be similar in length and circumference.
Place the two rolls side by side and trim the ends so they are smooth and even in length. Cut the first rolled-up log in half lengthwise, then twist the two cut halves into one twisted dough. Repeat with other rolled-up log.
Place each twisted loaf in a greased loaf pan and let rise 2½ hours.
When you’re ready to bake, preheat oven to 350°F.
When oven is preheated, transfer loaf pans to oven and bake until a toothpick goes into the cakes without any resistance and comes out clean, around 40 to 50 minutes.
Transfer each loaf to a wire rack to cool completely before serving.