babka is so fun to say. say it out loud right now! babka! vodka! latkes! all equally enjoyable to consume, and uttering each leaves the mouth wide open, ready to laugh or be stuffed with said fare.

babka is a sweet, traditionally jewish bread, raised with yeast and filled with either chocolate or cinnamon. a length of dough is rolled out, filled, twisted, and loafed, resulting in a rippled interior. each slice has a different design, patterned with unique twists of gooey filling.

its level of difficulty is comparable to that of cinnamon rolls. yeast can be finicky, but once the dough is successfully proved, the whole process is smooth sailing. i love both of the fillings; the chocolate is a dark, rich mixture of cocoa powder, grated chocolate, and raspberry jam, and the cinnamon is a lighter combination of brown sugar and spices. many babka recipes have either a streusel topping or a sugar syrup that gets brushed on top immediately after baking. this recipe has neither; i like it plain and bready, eaten warm with butter. this recipe has both!

i was trying to describe babka to my friend, but i was super tired, so the best i could do was “it’s like bread but” and clasp my hands together to mimic its intricately braided top. he accordingly dubbed it “hand-holding bread,” so that’s how i think of it now. find a friend! hold hands! eat babka!

this recipe makes enough dough for three large loaves, or two large and three mini loaves. there is enough of each filling for two large loaves, or one large and three mini.

dough (adapted from modern jewish cooking)

  • 2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 tsp sugar, plus 1/2 cup
  • 1 cup water
  • 5-6 cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, cut into small pieces, room temperature

chocolate filling (adapted from modern jewish cooking)

  • 3/4 cup raspberry jam
  • 2 tbsp Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa powder
  • 8 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely grated
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp butter, room temperature

cinnamon filling

  • 1 cup light or dark brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 1 tsp kosher salt

for the dough, warm the water to 110º in a glass measuring cup. sprinkle the yeast evenly on top, then the 1 tsp of sugar. let sit for 5 minutes, until foamy, then stir. meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together 5 cups of flour with the salt. add the 1/2 cup sugar. whisk in the eggs. make a well in the mixture and pour in the yeast-water. stir slowly with a wooden spoon until the dough starts to come together, then turn out onto a floured work surface. knead for 10 minutes, working in the butter as you go. knead in up to 1 cup more flour to keep from sticking to the counter. the dough should be supple and a little sticky. rub 1 tsp canola oil around a bowl, add the dough, and turn to coat. cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise for an hour in a warm place.

for the chocolate filling, stir together the jam and cocoa. in a separate bowl, stir together the grated chocolate and sugar, then add the butter. rub together with your fingers until clumps form. stir into the jam cocoa mixture.

for the cinnamon filling, stir all ingredients together.

butter loaf pans (see above). punch down the dough, and cut it either into 3 equal sized pieces. if you’re making mini loaves, cut one of the pieces into 3 more equal sized pieces. roll out to 1/8-inch thickness. for large loaves, cut to 12 by 15 pieces, and for smaller loaves, 4 by 3. spread desired filling evenly over dough, leaving a 1/2 inch border on all sides. roll up starting from the short end, and pinch the ends closed. using a sharp knife, trim 1/2 inch off either end. slice the roll in half vertically down the center, leaving a 1/2 inch hinge at one end. you should have two long strands of dough, connected at the top. twist the strands together and pinch at the bottom to seal. place into the loaf pan, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let rise for 45 minutes, until puffy.

preheat the oven to 350º, and bake the babkas for 40 minutes (large) or 20 minutes (mini). if browning too quickly on top, cover loosely with foil. the babkas are done when they’re golden brown and no longer doughy in the center (this is hard to determine; try prying the strands apart a bit). let cool for an hour in the pan, then cool completely on a rack. serve in slices with butter.


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