Once the province of Jewish bakeries, the twisted sweet bread has gone mainstream, with the most compelling new versions made from such unconventional ingredients as laminated dough, Nutella, and buckwheat. Below, the top babkas in New York.
2. Arcade Bakery
220 Church St., nr. Worth St.; 212-227-7895
French-trained pastry chef Roger Gural laminates his dough, too, and the results are nearly as transcendent: light, golden, with crisp burnished surfaces and a delicate texture that seems almost to disintegrate on contact. Gural sells his babka in whole loaves and fat slices, which pull apart to reveal caches of serious dark chocolate and walnuts. And despite what we just said about chocolate babka being the only babka, Gural’s whiskey-pecan variety might be even better.
3. Bklyn Larder
228 Flatbush Ave., nr. Sixth Ave., Park Slope; 718-783-1250
If you think alternative grains don’t belong anywhere near a babka, you haven’t tried this nutty, earthy, awesome loaf, made with just enough buckwheat and rye flour to register on your palate. Although the honey-tinged chocolate is ample and tasty, this not-too-sweet bread is all about the dough, which peels apart in multiple moist, speckled layers.
463 W. Broadway, nr. Prince St.; 212-254-3000
Although Melissa Weller didn’t grow up with babka, she has become a devoted scholar of it, and the fussed-over rendition she created for Sadelle’s might be the prettiest in town, with its smooth coat of chocolate icing, its concentric spiraling circles, and its sturdy bottom and crisp-shell crust. The Valrhona-chocolate filling is supplemented with chocolate-shortbread crumbs, and the moist enriched dough is almost pound-cake soft. Bonus hostess-gift tip: It comes in one of the most elegant bakery boxes we’ve ever seen.
5. Oneg Heimishe
188 Lee Ave., nr. Rutledge St., Williamsburg; 718-797-0971
Deep in the heart of Hasidic Williamsburg, this nondescript bakery churns out New York’s most distinctive chocolate babka — sticky as tar; dense with rivulets of wet, fudgy chocolate; heavy as a cinder block and sold by weight. There is nothing subtle about this thing, but you have to admire its sheer audacity — not to mention its fudgy texture and crisp, sugar-crumbed, cookielike crust.