Dairy Free

Chocolate Cherry Pull-Apart Babka (Optionally Vegan)

Wednesday April 13, 2016

I’ve recently come to realize that I’m a food-fixer. Like none of life’s ailments can’t be fixed with a full stomach and leftovers in the fridge. In law school, I held dinner parties, mostly to cheer everyone up and get a chance to talk about something other than Commercial Paper. Did you break a toe? Here’s a vat of chili. New baby stressing you out? Here’s a stack of cookies, with some raw cookie dough because obviously. Lose a beloved dog? Warm chocolate pecan banana bread, coming up.

So, this weekend found me fussing over a chocolate cherry babka, while Bean carefully painted a get-well-soon card.

In my head, I imagined something just over-the-top indulgent, but not TOO decadent that you only wanted a little bit. Oh no, this would be something that would accommodate hours on the sofa, movies at the ready, peeling off another chunk of bread whenever you damn well pleased. This would be the slow IV of pampering that our friends needed. A babka sounded about right. Even more right, was a pull-apart babka. Highly conducive to endless snacking, just pull away another roll whenever you need a fix.

The catch, as always, is that it needed to be dairy, egg, and soy free to also accommodate our food-intolerant daughter. Babka’s are eggy breads, like challah or tsoreki, which is why they feel so silky and luxurious. They are also full of butter, and the obvious milk chocolate. I’m happy to report, with some minor substitutions, none of us even noticed those ingredients were missing.




Chocolate Cherry Babka (with my vegan substitutions)


¾ cup non-dairy milk (we used Vanilla-flavored Rice Milk)

½ cup plus 2 teaspoons sugar

3 teaspoons active dry yeast

6 tablespoons warm water

4 ½ teaspoons Egg Replacer

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 ½ cups flour

¾ teaspoon salt

10 tablespoons butter replacement (we used Earth Balance Soy-Free Spread), cut into cubes at room temperature

5 tablespoons butter replacement

8 oz 70% bittersweet chocolate bar, smashed into pieces

1 cup dried cherries



Slightly warm up the milk to about 100 degrees (Farhenheit) – not actually hot, but like pleasant warm water coming out of the sink. You don’t want it to be too hot, or you’ll kill the yeast.

Add together slightly warm milk and 2 teaspoons sugar. Sprinkle yeast on top. Set aside. (Yeast should bubble and foam.)

In a small bowl, combine warm water and Egg Replacer. Mix until you don’t see any globs or chunks.


In a large bowl, add together flour, egg mixture, yeast mixture, vanilla, and salt. Once that is combined, add in 10 tablespoons fake butter a little at a time. The dough will be very sticky and shiny.

On a floured surface, knead dough for 6 minutes.


Put the dough in a greased bowl with dishcloth or saran wrap on top and let rise for 1 ½ to 2 hours. It should double in size.


While that’s happening, you can get your pans and chocolate cherry filling ready. Bring your 5 tablespoons of fake butter down to room temperature. Grease two 9-inch cake pans.


After your dough has risen, punch it down and put it on a floured surface. Divide it in half. Roll out half the dough to a long rectangle, approximately 10 by 18 inches.


Next, with a spatula, smooth half the butter all across the surface (just like if you’re making cinnamon rolls). Then sprinkle half the chocolate on top, then sprinkle half the cherries.

Now, starting at the longest edge, roll the dough into a log. It doesn’t have to be perfect.


Use a knife to slice the dough every 2 or 3 inches or so. Pick up each chunk of dough and mold it into a ball in your hands. Place the balls into a circular pattern in your cake pan. I put one ball in the center, then placed the other balls around it like a daisy.


Now, repeat the whole process with the remaining half of dough, butter, chocolate, and cherries.


Place the cake pans in an unheated oven for another 1-2 hours. They should fluff up and nearly fill the pan.


After the second rise, take the pans out of the oven and heat your oven to 350 degrees. When your oven is at the right temperature, bake for 40 minutes (I swamped them at the 20 minute mark so that they’d bake evenly.)


As with all bread, after they come out, knock them on the bottom to hear if they sound hollow (and therefore fully baked).


I have to warn you, this smells TREMENDOUSLY delicious while it’s baking. Both Dave and Bean started don’t-mind-me moseying through the kitchen, noses in the air like some Pepe le Peu skit. Their eyes casually scanning all counter and tabletops, just to make sure they hadn’t missed anything that might require test-tasting.

I had decided on a 70% chocolate (as opposed to 60% or milk chocolate) so we could avoid dairy, but I really think the dark chocolate worked really well with the sweetness of the cherries and bread. The combination was mellow-sweet as opposed to overpowering sweet, exactly the balance I’d wanted.


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