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Not-So Basic Babka


Yeast dough can seem intimidating, so many home bakers feel that it’s beyond their abilities.   In my quest to find the perfect yeast dough, I discovered this recipe, adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi, and it’s pretty much foolproof. One of the things I love about this dough is that it gets refrigerated overnight. The chilled dough is extremely easy to work with, and it has the added benefit of breaking up the baking process, so it doesn’t become an all-day affair.   Babka is traditionally made from a yeast dough with a sweet filling. Here’s a choice of three delicious fillings, and you can always mix and match some of your favorite flavor pairings. Be creative!   Yields 2 loaves


Prepare the Dough

1. In a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine flour, sugar, and yeast. Add eggs, water or milk, and salt. Mix on medium speed for three minutes until ingredients come together. Add butter one tablespoon at a time, and mix for 10 minutes. The dough will form a nice ball.
2. Place the dough into a large greased bowl and refrigerate overnight, or at least six hours.
3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit (190 degrees Celsius).
4. Divide dough in half and roll out each part to approximately 11 by 15 inches (28 by 38 centimeters).

Shaping Your Babka

1. For the Chocolate Halva Variation: Spread the filling evenly over the dough, leaving a quarter-inch (one-centimeter) border. Roll the dough along the long side tightly, like a jelly roll. Cut off the ends, then slice the roll down the center in the length (exposing the filling). Twist the two strands around each other and pinch ends together. Place into a greased nine-inch (23-centimeter) loaf pan.
2. For the White Chocolate Cheese Variation: Spread the filling evenly over the dough, leaving a quarter-inch (one-centimeter) border. Roll the dough along the long side tightly, like a jelly roll. Fold roll in half and twist into a figure eight. Place into a greased nine-inch (23-centimeter) loaf pan.
3. For the Cinnamon Pecan Variation: This is a pull-apart babka. Spread the filling evenly over the dough, until the edges. Cut lengthwise into four equal strips, then stack them one on top of the other. Slice the layers into six equal parts, cutting across the width. Grease a six-inch (15-centimeter) loaf pan. Lay the pieces in the pan, with the dough/filling side up, so that you will be able to see the 24 layers of dough and filling.

Assemble and Bake

1. You can top the babkas with streusel or sugar glaze. If topping with streusel: Combine all ingredients with a fork to form large crumbs. Brush the dough with an egg wash and sprinkle generously with streusel.
2. Cover babkas with a damp towel and allow to rise for one and 1/2 hours. Bake for 30–35 minutes.
3. If topping with glaze: Prepare sugar syrup while babka is baking. Boil water and sugar together until sugar is dissolved. Allow to cool and brush over babkas when they are removed from the oven. The sugar glaze will give the babkas a nice shine, as well as keep it fresh longer.

Fresh yeast is sold in compressed blocks in the refrigerated area of your supermarket. It needs to be dissolved in warm water and some sugar before adding to a dough. You may see recipes that instruct you to “proof” your yeast. This means to dissolve the yeast in warm water and sugar and watch for bubbles which will “prove” the freshness of the yeast. If the yeast doesn’t bubble, don’t use it, as it won’t work.

Active dry and instant yeast both come in granules, but instant is much finer. Both of these can be added directly into your dry ingredients, but since active dry has small grains, I prefer to dissolve it first.


Photography by Saraizel Senderovits