Camp Kokosh: We’re Cuckoo for Kokosh Cake

By Naftali Sobel

There are many arguments and debates as to whose kokosh is best, what filling to use, how to roll the perfect cake, or which bakery makes it better. Whether you’re in a shteeble or a bungalow colony I’m sure you’ve had such heated and important discussions. Some like their kokosh cake bready and dry, while most like it paper-thin with chocolate oozing out of it. Cinnamon kokosh cake is technically not even kokosh cake since kakaos in Hungarian means chocolate or chocolate loaf. However, I won’t get all literal on you since we use the term loosely and we mean “in the style of” kokosh.

Babka is a closely related cousin to kokosh and literally means grandma or grandma loaf in Polish. It’s essentially a kokosh twisted in a figure 8 and placed in a loaf pan. Israeli babka or kokosh is traditionally called yeast cake (ugat sh’marim) since this confection is made from a yeast-risen bread dough rather than a cake batter. Israeli babka is slit down the middle after it’s rolled before it’s twisted, exposing the layers and allowing it to ooze and crisp. Israeli kokosh and babka is totally misunderstood by the American palate. The dough is usually layered like a French croissant or layered Danish dough. American kokosh dough is not layered or flaky and is more similar to a brioche dough. Once you realize the two products are like apples and oranges you will appreciate each variety for its own unique virtues. Babka fillings can vary from chocolate to cinnamon to Nutella. I’m personally more of a savory, pulled-beef babka type of person.

With Shavuos over and the summer months quickly approaching I was inspired to write about kokosh and the nostalgia it evokes. Whether you’re in a bungalow colony and you go to Oneg Bakery between Fialkoffs and Dushinsky’s in Monticello or if you go to Gombos you’re definitely in good hands. On the other hand, for those that attend camp, it’s usually a struggle to get an extra slice of heaven on Shabbos morning. I remember when I was a camper we would shuffle to the dining room after a long Shacharis and dozens of speeches right before krias haTorah to break our fast and to rejuvenate for the rest of davening. If you’re a smart camper you supplement your kokosh cake breakfast with Entenmann’s or Franczoz donuts or Reisman’s brownie bars. However, it’s the anticipation and yearning that makes it all worth it. Besides, in camp, you’re usually chasing the kokosh with pink strawberry milk, chocolate milk, or iced coffee and not to forget the abundant sugary cereals.

I’m sure everyone is convinced that their camp has the best kokosh, and the answer is that it’s the nostalgia and good feelings that it brings up that really make it so good. In truth, camp kokosh is larger than life with all the folklore and memories that come with it. When we think of camp we think of kokosh, as well as all the good times, memories and friendships we developed for a lifetime.

This recipe is one that I learned in Camp Munk many years ago. It is one of the most circulated camp kokosh recipes and I made this one all the years I cooked in camp.

Kokosh Cake
Yields: 3 Loaves
7 cups high gluten flour plus a bit more if dough is sticky and for dusting table (all purpose flour is OK too)
1 cup very warm water
1 cup egg (approx. 5 large eggs)
1 egg for brushing dough
1 cup oil
1½ TBS instant dry yeast
¾ cup sugar plus a pinch
1 tsp salt

2 jars chocolate marble
2½ cups sugar
¾ cup Holland cocoa
Mix the cocoa and sugar from the filling ingredients together in a bowl and set aside.
Activate yeast in very warm water with pinch of sugar. Once proofed, add sugar, salt, 1 cup eggs and oil. Add the flour. In a mixer, mix on speed one for a minute then on speed 2 for 7-8 minutes, or by hand for approximately 10-12 minutes. Let the dough rise for an hour.
Divide the dough into 3 portions. Form each portion into a ball and let each ball rise an additional 20-30 minutes.

Dust table with flour and roll dough with rolling pin to approximately 3 feet by 1 foot. For each rectangle of dough, put 8 oz. of chocolate marble in the center of the dough and smear with a spatula, making sure every inch of dough is covered. Sprinkle one cup of the cocoa-sugar mixture evenly on top of chocolate marble across the entire dough.
Roll each loaf from the narrow side so it has room to stretch similar to rolling a jelly roll. Tug back before rolling each and every inch to ensure thin layers. Place loaf seam down on cookie tray and poke 5 times with plastic knife to give the dough room to rise without cracking.

Brush each loaf with egg wash thoroughly. Let rise for additional 30-50 minutes before baking. Bake at 350°F for 25 to 30 minutes.