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Sweet, spiced pumpkin yeast bread meets rich, dark chocolate in this twist on the classic babka. This gorgeous fall Pumpkin Chocolate Babka is a sweet braided bread that is as delicious to eat as it is fun to make!
Fall is our favorite season for lots of reasons, but one is for all the delicious seasonal baked goods! Some of our other favorites are Glazed Apple Fritter Yeast Bread, Cranberry Orange Bread, and Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bread!
I always make pumpkin bread studded with chocolate chips each October, but it doesn't have the same "wow" factor of this babka. The dough is moist and subtly spiced from the pumpkin and the addition of pumpkin pie spices. And the chocolate filling is plentiful, dark, and perfect with the pumpkin flavor.
My husband, Paul, is a big Seinfeld fan, so when I was brainstorming a pumpkin-themed yeast bread, Elaine's voice popped into my head from Seinfeld Episode 77 ("The Dinner Party) - "You can't beat a babka!"
Truth be told, I have never had a babka before! It's been on my list ever since Elaine and Jerry discussed the merits of the chocolate babka versus the cinnamon babka, but I don't happen to live in New York where I guess babka (which is sometimes also called a "krantz") is more prevalent, probably because of a larger Jewish population.
What is a babka?
Babka is a traditional Jewish bread that originated in Poland and the Ukraine. It is made from a soft, brioche-like dough made with butter and eggs, and typically filled with either chocolate or cinnamon filling.
This version isn't traditional by any means, but the twisting and braiding reminds me of challah bread, another one of my favorite Jewish bread recipes that we make often.
You roll the dough up in a log, just like you would roll cinnamon rolls, except instead of slicing off rounds, you take a sharp knife or pizza cutter and slice the roll in half, right down the middle lengthwise. Then you twist the two strands around each other, keeping the cut side up so the ribbons of filling and dough are visible on top.
- Pumpkin puree: Be sure to get regular pumpkin puree at the store, and not a can of pumpkin pie filling. Or better yet, use homemade pumpkin puree if you can get your hands on some sugar pumpkins!
- Chocolate: I use a combination of bittersweet chocolate and cocoa powder to get an intense layer of chocolate that goes well with the pumpkin without overpowering it. I particularly like Ghiradelli chocolate, but I also use Hershey's, Rodelle, and Guittard and have good results with each.
- Pumpkin spices: Rather than using pumpkin pie spice, which I don't usually keep in my spice cupboard thanks to limited space, I instead use a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and allspice. But you are welcome to replace them with an equal amount of pumpkin spice if you have it.
How to Make a Pumpkin Babka
- Proof the yeast: In a large bowl, combine warm milk, a little sugar and flour, and the yeast. Give them a stir and let this sit for about 5 minutes until the yeast is nice and foamy.
- Add spices, pumpkin, and butter: Once the yeast is bubbly, go ahead and add all of the pumpkin spices, salt, pumpkin puree, egg, and softened butter. Mix them together well using the paddle attachment on a stand mixer. It's okay if the butter doesn't completely mix in all the way at this point.
- Gradually knead in the flour: Add the flour, about half a cup at a time, and switching to the dough hook to knead the bread dough together. Knead for 5 minutes on medium speed until the dough is smooth and pulling away from the sides of the bowl. If the dough is too sticky, gradually add an additional ¼ to ½ cup of flour.
- Cover and let rise: Place a piece of plastic wrap over the dough and stick the bowl in the refrigerator to rise slowly for 4-6 hours or even up to overnight. Not only does this slow rise allow the dough to develop flavor, but it also makes it easier to roll out and shape the babka later in the process.
- Make the chocolate filling: When you are ready to roll out and shape your babka, make the chocolate filling by melting butter in a medium saucepan and stirring or whisking in the sugar until mostly dissolved. Add the chopped semisweet sweet chocolate and cocoa powder, whisking until combined. The mixture will be thick, but spreadable.
- Roll out dough: On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pumpkin dough into a large rectangle. It should be about 12x20". Add more flour as needed when rolling out so it doesn't stick to the surface or your rolling pin .
- Fill and roll up into a log: Spread all of the chocolate filling over the dough in an even layer. Then carefully roll up the dough into a log on the long side, just like you would roll cinnamon roll dough. Once it is rolled up into a tight log, use a pizza cutter or sharp knife to slice it lengthwise down the center of the log, splitting it in half into two long pieces and exposes the swirls of chocolate filling inside.
- Shape into a loaf: Twist the two pieces of dough into a log, carefully lifting on piece over the other into a sort of twisted-braid where the cut side is exposed on top to give the babka its signature look. Nestle the bread loaf into a 9x5-inch loaf pan lined with a parchment paper sling for easy removal. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 1-2 hours until almost doubled in size.
Enriched bread doughs like babka or brioche that have butter, eggs, or other heavy ingredients in them often take longer to rise than other bread doughs.
- Make the syrup: While the bread rises, make the syrup glaze by combining water, sugar, and honey in a small saucepan and bringing it to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil for 4 minutes, stirring occasionally, then remove from the heat and allow the syrup to cool to room temperature.
- Bake the babka, then brush with syrup: In a 375 degree F oven, bake the babka for 30-35 minutes until done. A skewer inserted into the loaf should come out mostly clean. Drizzle or brush as much of the the room temperature syrup over the babka as you would like. More syrup makes for a sweeter, stickier, moister babka. Let it cool completely to set up before removing from the pan, slicing, and serving.
Did you know? Libby's is based in Illinois, which produces more canned pumpkin puree than the other top five pumpkin-producing states combined! According to the USDA Economic Research Service, almost 80% of the Illinois pumpkin crop is devoted to pie filling and Illinois produces more than 3x the amount of pumpkins as the next leading state.
Yes, babka actually freezes pretty well! Just let it cool completely, then wrap it in a couple layers of plastic wrap and store in a freezer-safe Ziploc bag for up to 2-3 months. Let it thaw on the counter for a few hours before serving.
The glaze helps it stay fresh a little longer than some other breads. I would say it's best eaten within 4 days as long as it is stored in an airtight container on the counter.
If you want to serve your pumpkin chocolate babka warm, I suggest reheating it in a 200 degree F oven for about 10 minutes.
I think of it as a bread, but it is really kind of both and we definitely eat it as a dessert because of the sweet glaze and chocolate filling.
- Don't rush the rise. This dough is weighed down by fat from the butter and eggs, as well as the addition of the pumpkin. You need to let it have enough time to rise so you get a nice texture when baked.
- Add a streusel: Apparently many babkas are topped with streusel. If you want to add a streusel topping, I recommend using the one from my pumpkin cream cheese muffins.
- Don't stress over the swirls! Babka looks impressive and like it's difficult to make, when it's actually no harder (and maybe even easier) than making a batch of cinnamon rolls.
- Don't underbake the bread: This bread can be a little harder to tell when it's done because of the color of the dough. It should be a deep golden brown on top. But you can also use a digital thermometer to check the internal temperature of the loaf, which should be 185 degree F when it's done.
More Pumpkin Recipes
- Twice Glazed Pumpkin Scones
- Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
- Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins
- Pumpkin Cookies
Did you make this recipe? Let me know what you thought with a comment and star rating below. You can also take a picture and tag me on Instagram @houseofnasheats or share it on the Pinterest pin so I can see.
Pumpkin Chocolate Babka
- ⅓ cup whole milk warm
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
- ½ cup pumpkin puree
- 5 Tablespoons butter softened
- 1 egg
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- Pinch ground ginger
- Pinch ground cloves
- Pinch allspice
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 5 Tablespoons butter
- ⅔ cups sugar
- 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate coarsely chopped
- 5 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- ¼ cup water
- ¼ cup sugar
- ½ Tablespoon honey
- In a large bowl, preferably one attached to a stand mixer with a dough hook, combine the warm milk, yeast, 1 teaspoon of sugar, and ⅓ cup of the flour and allow it to sit until foamy.
- Add in the pumpkin, butter, egg, salt, and spices and mix to combine. Add in the remaining flour, bit by bit, until completely incorporated, then knead for 5 minutes at medium-high speed using the dough hook of a stand mixer, until the dough is smooth.
- Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap and set it in the refrigerator for 4-6 hours to give the dough a chance to rise at a cold temperature, which helps develop the texture and flavor. It will also make this dough easier to roll out.
- When dough is about ready to be formed into a loaf, prepare a 9-inch loaf pan by lining it with a parchment paper sling, which will make it easy to remove the loaf when it is done baking.
- Prepare the chocolate filling by melting the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, then stirring in the sugar until almost completely dissolved. Remove from heat and add in the chopped chocolate. Stir until melted and smooth, then add the cocoa powder and stir to combine and form a thick filling.
- Take the risen dough out of the refrigerator and turn it onto a lightly floured surface. Roll it into a 12x20-inch rectangle and then spread the chocolate filling evenly across the dough, spreading it all the way to the edges.
- Roll the long edge of the dough into a tight log, just like when making cinnamon rolls, and pinch the edges closed. Use a sharp knife or pizza cutter to slice the dough in half lengthwise, Then with the cut sides facing up, cross one end over the other and repeat all the way down the length of the dough, keeping the cut sides facing up while wrapping the two lengths of dough around each other to form a rope or twist.
- Gently lift the twisted loaf and squish it into your prepared pan, tucking the ends under. Set in a warm place, covered with a clean towel, to rise for 1 ½ to 2 hours or until almost doubled in size.
- While dough is rising, prepare the syrup by combining the water, sugar, and honey and bringing it to a boil in a small saucepan. Let the syrup boil for 4 minutes, then remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. When oven is hot, bake the babka for 30 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the loaf comes out mostly clean (it's hard to miss the chocolate streaks so chances are it won't be perfectly clean. Remove the cooked babka from the oven and drizzle it with the room temperature syrup. I only used about half of the syrup and thought it was perfect but you could easily use more if you want to add more sweetness and have a moister babka.
- Wait until the babka is completely cool before removing it from the pan and slicing to serve.