Babka—But Speedier!

March 16, 2017

These days, everyone and their grandma is obsessed with babka. Honestly, it’s hard not to be. The buttery loaf cake, which typically comes swirled with chocolate or cinnamon, is a highlight of the Eastern European Jewish dessert cannon. And thanks to a slew of bakers and restaurants that have introduced innovative fillings and started incorporating babka into French toast, bread pudding, and ice cream sandwiches, the dessert is currently enjoying a delicious renaissance.

But as wonderful as babka is, devotees to the old school Jewish bakery swear by a lesser-known baked good: kokosh. Like babka, kokosh comes twisted with layers of chocolate. The two look similar enough that kokosh is often informally described as the Hungarian take on babka—a squat and homely, though no less tasty, cousin to the majestic Polish-Jewish cake.

In reality, the two baked goods are not directly related. Kokosh’s actual predecessor is makosh, a Central European rolled pastry filled with poppy seeds. (Mák means poppy seed in Hungarian.) The chocolate version, which evolved later, was named kokosh after the Hungarian word for chocolate, kakaó.

Who needs babka? Photo by James Ransom

Compared to most yeasted baked goods, including babka, kokosh is noticeably flat. Bakeries sometimes package it with the name chocolate “strip"—indeed, its extended shape does evoke a long stretch of highway. According to Gil Marks’ Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, “Hungarians tended to roll out the dough very thin and not allow it to rise, instead rushing it directly into the oven; the resulting pastry had very thin cake layers, alternating with thin layers of filling, akin to the layers in a yeast strudel.”

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Despite its shape, though, kokosh manages to pack in a universe of chocolatey swirls. Meanwhile, the absence of a rise time is a boon for the home cook who wants dessert without the wait.

Zoom in. Photo by James Ransom

My personal take on kokosh is something of a hybrid. I love the flavors of chocolate and poppy seed separately, I enjoy them even more together. So I combine them into a single filling, grinding the blue-black seeds into a nutty powder and simmering them with cocoa, milk, and sugar to form a thick, spreadable paste. A hint of coffee and orange deepens and rounds out the flavor. A slice of warm kokosh may not hold the same star power as babka, but it will never let you down.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Windischgirl
  • Loves Food Loves to Eat
    Loves Food Loves to Eat
  • scott.finkelstein.5
  • dtremit
  • Leah Koenig
    Leah Koenig
Leah is the author of Modern Jewish Cooking: Recipes & Customs for Today's Kitchen (Chronicle, 2015)


Windischgirl March 17, 2017
Let's not forget there is a third sibling among these Hungarian baked goods: Diós Kalács! It's filled with ground walnuts mixed with sugar and accented with lemon zest; Anyu (my Hungarian grandmother) would sneak in the occasional golden raisin for a tangy accent. (If I distract you with Diós, there's more Mákos for me...)
I just unearthed my stash of her old cookbooks, margins and endpapers decorated with splotches and her own handwritten recipes. Let's see if I can locate her recipe...
dtremit March 18, 2017
My grandmother's family came from Slovakia, not too far from the Hungarian border, and we made the version you describe every Christmas. We just called it Kolache. The dough here should work just fine. The secret to the walnut filling is to lightly beat an egg white or two -- not to the point of soft peaks, just until it's foamy -- and mix that in with the ground walnuts and sugar.
Loves F. March 16, 2017
OMG I'm so happy you posted this! I've been trying to figure out my Oma's "poppyseed strudel" for years. She's "shared the recipe" with family members over the years... but always leaves out steps or ingredients, and it's rarely written in English. And now she's 95, not baking much anymore, and I've been so worried about losing my favorite treat forever. She's from Yugoslavia, and her mother was Hungarian, and all my searches for this roll led to super-risen rolls which just aren't the same as Oma's (and the only name she's ever used for it is "strudel.") When I saw this pic on instagram, I jumped out of my chair, because the dough looks exactly like hers!! Now I've gone down a huge Kokosh/Makosh/Beigli rabbit hole and I'm so, so, so excited!!! Thank you!
Leah K. March 16, 2017
Love it!!
scott.finkelstein.5 March 16, 2017
Considering that this is a Jewish pastry, I assume that there's an easy parve conversion?
Leah K. March 16, 2017
You could certainly make it with almond milk and parve margarine like Earth Balance. That said, it's one of those pastries that is really worth keeping milchig. Serve it at brunch with eggs and salad instead of for dessert after a meat meal. :)