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Decadent chocolate swirl buns

Combining bread and chocolate is nothing new. I do not know how long French children have enjoyed snacking on buttery pain au chocolat, but I am sure the practice of surrounding bittersweet chocolate with thin, crispy sheets of puff pastry goes back many, many generations. Portland’s Grand Central Bakery makes a superb pain au chocolat and occasionally I will succumb to the craving and buy one. I start out trying to behave myself and then two minutes later it is gone and I am left with a lap full of pastry shards. It’s truly one of my all-time, favorite, sinful foods. A homemade version appeared on this blog eight months ago.

For a couple of years I’ve wanted to make chocolate babka. Chocolate babka is an exotic-looking sweet yeast bread rolled around a chocolatey-filling. They’re typically baked into loaves and sliced, but this miniature, hand-held version caught my eye on Smitten Kitchen yesterday and I knew I absolutely had to make them. As they baked the house smelled of homemade bread and melting chocolate. As I carried the finished product into the garage to photograph it was all I could do to keep from burning my tongue and popping one in my mouth.

Two of these were eaten immediately and five of them went to neighbors. What’s left of them will be re-warmed this morning and enjoyed with espressos. This afternoon I will modify my recent dietary behavior and enjoy celery and carrot sticks.

Chocolate swirl buns, a recipe from Smitten Kitchen

Yield: 12 muffin-sized buns

Ingredients

Dough:

  • 1/2 cup milk, preferably whole
  • 1/4 cup plus a pinch of granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1 large egg, brought to room temperature
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus additional for bowl and muffin tins

Filling:

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 pound semisweet chocolate
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)

Directions:

Prepare dough: Warm milk and a pinch of sugar to between 110 to 116°F. If you don’t have a thermometer, you’re looking for it to be warm but not hot to the touch; best to err on the cool side. Sprinkle yeast over milk and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. In a small bowl, whisk together egg and remaining 1/4 cup sugar, then slowly whisk in yeast mixture.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine flour and salt. Run mixer on low and add egg mixture, mixing until combined. Add butter and mix until incorporated. Switch mixer to dough hook and let it knead the dough for 10 minutes on low speed. Butter a large bowl and place dough in it. Cover loosely with a lint-free towel or plastic wrap and let rise for 1 hour, or until doubled.

Meanwhile, prepare filling: If your chocolate is in large bars, roughly chop it. Then, you can let a food processor do the rest of the work, pulsing the chopped chocolate with the salt, sugar, and cinnamon (if using) until the chocolate is very finely chopped with some parts almost powdery. Add butter and pulse machine until it’s distributed throughout the chocolate. (If you don’t have a food processor, just chop the chocolate until it’s very finely chopped, then stir in the sugar, salt, cinnamon and butter until it makes a pasty/chunky/delicious mess.) Set mixture aside.

Generously butter a standard 12-muffin tin; set aside.

Form buns: Once dough is doubled, turn it out onto a well-floured surface and gently deflate it with floured hands. Let it rest for another 5 minutes. Once rested, roll dough into a large, rectangle. The short sides should be 12 inches, the other side should be 20 inches or so. (The longer you roll it the more dramatic and swirled your buns will be.)

Sprinkle the filling evenly over the dough’s surface. Tightly roll the dough back over the filling from one short end to the other, forming a 12 to 13-inch log. With a sharp serrated knife, gently saw 1-inch segments off the log and place each in a prepared muffin cup. Loosely cover buns with plastic wrap or a lint-free towel and let them rise for another 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350°F .

Bake: Bake buns for 15 to 20 minutes, until puffed and brown. If you have an instant read thermometer, you can take the buns out when it reads 185 to 190 degrees in the middle of each bun. 

Set buns on cooling rack and let them cool slightly before you remove them from the muffin tins.

Do ahead: These buns can be formed, placed in the muffin cups and refrigerated (loosely covered with plastic, which you might want to oil to keep it from sticking) the night before, to bake in the morning. You can bake them directly from the fridge. They can be baked and frozen until needed, up to 1 month.

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