Ari’s Pick: Chocolate Raisin Babka

Lots of dark chocolate, Red Flame raisins, and a splash of cinnamon in a traditional Jewish sweet bread

I’m going to stick my neck out here and say that along with the Bakehouse’s Classic Cheesecake, the Chocolate Raisin Babka is one of the best-tasting things we bake! If you try it, you’ll be back, relatively soon thereafter, for another one! It’s available every day during December. It’s a great gift as well as a marvelous way to start a day or end a meal.

overhead view of a chocolate raisin babka on a marble surface with 3 slices cut

If you’re not familiar with it, babka is a traditional Jewish “sweet bread,” akin to a light-textured coffee cake, or maybe a tad denser piece of Italian panettone. It starts with a rich, slow-rise brioche dough made with lots of butter, real vanilla, and fresh egg yolks. That in turn is painted with dark chocolate, sprinkled with chocolate crumble and orange-syrup-soaked raisins—all of which get formed into a fine-looking loaf, and then baked off to a golden brown with a fragrant cinnamon-sugar crust. To say that people love this stuff would be an understatement. It’s already got a LOT of loyal fans, and it seems to be gaining more momentum all the time. Writing in The Nosher last year, Joanna O’Leary described it as, “Part bread, part cake, and totally delicious: babka is among the most iconic Jewish sweets and a common fixture at the dessert table of religious celebrations.”

a slice of babka on a plate on a marble surface with a cup of coffee in the backgroundBabka’s history? It likely has its roots somewhere in Eastern Europe. One theory says it’s indigenous to Ukraine, part of an ancient fertility symbol used in the matriarchal system once in place in the region; the original name was likely “baba,” meaning “grandmother”; with the “modern era’s” smaller sizes, the name shifted to the diminutive, “babka,” meaning “little grandmother.” Historian and food writer Lesley Chamberlain believes babka came up from Italy, brought by Queen Bona in the 16th century, and developed over the centuries into what some would then say is a Russified version of the typical Italian panettone. In either case, the old forms of the babka were likely much larger, somewhere from the size of a modern day panetonne on up to some a few feet high. Historian Gil Marks believes its roots go back to the early 19th century—Jewish housewives would put some jam and nuts into leftover challah dough. The chocolate is most certainly a 20th century American addition, since it wouldn’t have been used in this way up until modern times.

Susana Trilling, author of the excellent cookbook, Seasons of the Heart, and creator and cooking teacher extraordinaire of the Oaxacan cooking school, and maker of those terrific chile jams I wrote about a while back, told me, “… bar none, Zingerman’s Bakehouse makes the BEST Babka I have ever eaten!! It was incredible.”

The crew at the Bakeshop have smartly taken to selling the Chocolate Raisin Babka by the slice so you can grab a bite on your way over to the Coffee Company or to take home for a small snack. If you’re eating alone, try warming a single slice of babka in the oven for a few minutes, then enjoy it with a cup of strong coffee—the 2021 Holiday Blend that’s out at the Coffee Company, Deli, and Roadhouse is a great match (try it as an espresso if you’re at the Coffee Company).

Hungry for More?

Ari headshot
Ari Weinzweig
Co-Founding Partner at Zingerman's | + posts

In 1982, Ari Weinzweig, along with his partner Paul Saginaw, founded Zingerman’s Delicatessen with a $20,000 bank loan, a Russian History degree from the University of Michigan, 4 years of experience washing dishes, cooking and managing in restaurant kitchens and chutzpah from his hometown of Chicago. They opened the doors with 2 employees and a small selection of specialty foods and exceptional sandwiches.

Today, Zingerman’s Delicatessen is a nationally renowned food icon and the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses has grown to 10 businesses with over 750 employees and over $55 million in annual revenue. Aside from the Delicatessen, these businesses include Zingerman’s Bakehouse, Coffee Company, Creamery, Roadhouse, Mail Order, ZingTrain, Candy Manufactory, Cornman Farms and a Korean restaurant that is scheduled to open in 2016. No two businesses in the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses are alike but they all share the same Vision and Guiding Principles and deliver “The Zingerman’s Experience” with passion and commitment.

Besides being the Co-Founding Partner and being actively engaged in some aspect of the day-to-day operations and governance of nearly every business in the Zingerman’s Community, Ari Weinzweig is also a prolific writer. His most recent publications are the first 4 of his 6 book series Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading Series: A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Building a Great Business (Part 1), Being a Better Leader (Part 2), Managing Ourselves (Part 3) and the newly-released Part 4, The Power of Beliefs in Business. Earlier books include the Zingerman’s Guides to Giving Great Service, Better Bacon, Good Eating, Good Olive Oil, Good Vinegar and Good Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Ari regularly travels across the country (and world) on behalf of ZingTrain, teaching organizations and businesses about Zingerman’s approach to business. He is a sought-after Keynote speaker, having delivered keynotes for Inc. 500, Microsoft Expo Spring Conference, Great Game of Business Gathering of Games, Positive Business Conference at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, American Society for Quality (ASQ), and the American Cheese Society. Most recently, Ari and Paul Saginaw were invited to address an audience of 50,000 for the University of Michigan 2015 Spring Commencement.

One of Zingerman’s Guiding Principles is being an active part of the community and in 1988, Zingerman’s was instrumental in the founding of Food Gatherers, a food rescue program that delivers over 5 million pounds of food each year to the hungry residents of Washtenaw county. Every year Zingerman’s donates 10% of its previous years profits to local community organizations and non-profits. Ari has served on the board of The Ark, the longest continuously operating folk music venue in America.

Over the decades, the Zingerman’s founding partners have consistently been the recipients of public recognition from a variety of diverse organizations. In April 1995, Ari and Paul were awarded the Jewish Federation of Washtenaw County’s first Humanitarian Award. In 2006, Ari was recognized as one of the “Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America” by the James Beard Foundation. In 2007, Ari and Paul were presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award from Bon Appetit magazine for their work in the food industry. Ari was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the American Cheese Society in 2014. And Ari’s book, Building a Great Business was on Inc. magazine’s list of Best Books for Business Leaders.

Notwithstanding the awards, being engaged on a daily basis in the work of 10 businesses and 21 partners, writing books on business and in-depth articles on food for the Zingerman’s newsletter, Ari finds time to be a voracious reader. He acquires and reads more books than he can find room for. Ari might soon find himself the owner of the largest collection of Anarchist books in Ann Arbor outside the Labadie collection at the University of Michigan library!

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