Babka, A Labor Of Love – Kosher From Jerusalem (2022)

I know that people say you can make a terrific babka out of challah dough and it’s true that you can make a nice yeast cake that way, but it’s not a babka. It is a reasonable facsimile thereof. Babka is a lot of work, I won’t lie. It’s a compliment to your family or guests if you make it since it takes time. In addition, you cannot cut corners with it if you want it to turn out properly and should know this going in. Babka is not for the faint of heart.
This being said, if you follow the instructions, it will come out beautifully.

I’ve been experimenting with babka dough for so many years that I truly felt that eureka moment when I discovered the recipe for the dough on Smitten Kitchen – although it’s actually an Ottolenghi recipe. They make a Krantz cake from the dough, not a babka since without the streusel topping, it ain’t babka. But the bottom line is that the dough is truly babka dough, not too bready, not too sweet dough and not too margarine-y.

Since I work with margarine, alas, and not butter, I try to use it a bit more sparingly but to all those who will immediately try to figure out how to switch it out with oil, please don’t. I mean, you can, but why? Then you again get a yeast cake, not a babka. The taste and texture are completely different and do not resemble a babka in any form.

DH and I much much much prefer cinnamon babka to chocolate – in case you think we are alone, I quote Jerry Seinfeld to you:

JERRY: Another babka?

CLERK: There’s chocolate and there’s cinnamon.

JERRY: Well-well we got to get the cinnamon.

ELAINE: No, but they got the chocolate. We’ll be going in with lesser babka.

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JERRY: I beg your pardon? Cinnamon takes a back seat to no babka. People love cinnamon. It should be on tables in restaurants along with salt and pepper. Anytime anyone says, “Oh This is so good. What’s in it?” The answer invariably comes back, Cinnamon. Cinnamon. Again and again. Lesser babka – I think not.

I confess, I laugh every time. So, no not the lesser babka but the primo babka.

Now the filling is also something I’ve played with for years but I found a filling that I changed just a bit from Montreal cookbook author Marcy Goldman that I really liked. She calls it the cinnamon shmear, ya gotta love that.

And frankly, I can’t remember where I got the streusel (crumb) topping from, I make it a lot so there you go.

I’ve found that this works just as well in a mixer as in a bread maker, you just must be sure to take that margarine/butter out of the fridge with plenty of time to come to room temp. Since you need to cut it up into cubes, you can do that first to hasten the softening.

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Then, if you use instant yeast and know it’s fresh, you don’t need to proof it (make it bubble to show it’s alive and kicking) and can put all the dry ingredients in together- salt last so as not to harm the yeast, mix, add the wet and mix first with the paddle (not the dough hook) to incorporate properly and then switch to the dough hook to knead the dough. I know, it’s a pain, but do it anyway. The dough hook cannot properly mix things up and your dough will annoyingly not come together the right way so grin and bear it. Remember, we are in this together and want a lovely babka.

Next, take your dough and put it into a plastic bag (ziploc or not, doesn’t really matter).

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This is the hard part, in a sense. Most people when they make something want a certain amount of instant gratification and this dough really really needs to rest in the fridge overnight or at minimum 4-6 hours. It will make the dough much easier to handle and improves the taste and texture.

Next, divide the dough in half, set one ball aside and roll out the dough into a rectangle.

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I do this on parchment paper or my wonderful Oxo pastry sheet and it usually doesn’t need flouring to roll well (if it’s been properly refrigerated). If need be, sprinkle flour with a light hand so as not to toughen the dough.

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Mix up your cinnamon filling ingredients in a bowl.

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Shmear half onto one rectangle and save other half for second ball of dough.

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Then roll it up from the long end till you form a nice log.

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I use the egg white left over from filling to seal the log.

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Then, do not cut all the way to the end to separate the log completely into two. You are cutting it to swirl the log and get those babka layers but I leave the tail end uncut so it doesn’t run away from me.

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Note the uncut end. This makes it much easier to twist together.

Then twist!

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Prepare a loaf pan by lightly spraying with oil and then lift the dough with the parchment paper right into the pan.

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I trim the excess parchment paper afterward. Then brush with your leftover egg white (unbeaten) so that your streusel crumb topping will stick properly.

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Now cover with plastic wrap or towel lightly (the excess parchment paper will keep it from sticking) and let rise till dough is even with top of loaf pan. Then bake in preheated 350 degree oven for approximately 45 minutes. I once followed instructions to bake it for 30-35 minutes and to my HUGE aggravation, the dough was uncooked in the middle. So, after all that work, keep an eye on the baking time so you don’t get aggravated. It will be richly browned not light golden. That’s as it should be. Let rest for about an hour if you can so the dough cools enough for the filling to set. If you cut it too early, it may seep out and that’s a shame.

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Now prepare your favorite drink, cut a slice and have a blissed out moment!

Cinnamon Babka

Dough
4 1/4 cups (530 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons dry instant yeast
2/3 cup unsalted butter/marg (150 grams) at room temperature cut into cubes
Grated zest of 1 lemon
3 large eggs
1/2 cup warm water

For the cinnamon schmear/filling:
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted to remove lumps
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon, yes tablespoons, not a mistake
8-10 tbsp (141.8 grams) unsalted butter/marg, at room temperature
1 large egg yolk- save the white to seal the rolled dough, and to brush on loaf before putting streusel on
milk, or soy milk if needed to give a smooth texture, see pic above

Streusel (crumb) topping

8 tblsp (100 grams) butter/marg

1 cup flour

1 1/3 sugar

Directions:

In a mixer, put in flour, sugar, salt and mix. Add dry instant yeast and give a whirl. (you are keeping it from direct contact with the salt). Then add room temp butter/marg cut into cubes, letting it get a bit crumbly so you see it breaking up into flour mixture and add zest, eggs and water. Stir till incorporated and switch to dough hook allowing it to knead the dough till a soft nice dough is formed.

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Take out a plastic bag or ziploc, scoop all the dough into the bag, close it and pat into a round and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.

I find that it helps me to finish the prep of the filling and streusel crumb topping so that when the dough is ready to be used, you can get right to it.

For cinnamon shmear, mix everything together, either by hand or in your mixer till a smooth consistency is formed. If too thick to spread, add some soy milk to thin a bit. You want it easily spreadable on the dough without tearing it. I confess, if I prep this the night before, I leave the shmear and streusel out of the fridge. If it’s not summertime, nothing happens to it and it’s ready to roll and doesn’t harden on you.

For streusel, mix all together till fine crumbs form. You want it to cover the dough nicely.

Now put it all together. Take the dough out of the fridge and have your parchment paper down, your loaf tin oil sprayed and the egg white and rolling pin at the ready. Cut the dough in half, set one half aside. Roll into a rectangle (if it’s sufficiently cold from fridge, you should not need any flour to roll it. However, there is always the chance you will, so have some at the ready. Take the soft filling, using an offset spatula (you can use a regular one but offset is simply easier to use) and shmear the rectangle nearly to the ends with the mixture. Then, using the parchment paper to help you roll it, roll the dough into a log, sealing the end by brushing the egg white on the far end of the dough and sticking it together.

Take a sharp knife and leaving the very top uncut (see pic above), cut through the dough all the way without pulling it but rather deep cuts all the way down. If you need to do it a few times till cleanly cut through fine but don’t drag the dough with the knife.

Take the ends of the dough and twist together. :You might have to take the twist and fold in two to fit in pan. See pic above. Pick up the dough with the parchment paper and place in lightly oiled pan. Tuck the dough into the pan so that it sits properly. Brush the dough with the egg white thoroughly and sprinkle with prepared crumb topping till nicely covered.

Repeat with other half of dough.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Let dough rise in loaf pan till the top of the dough reaches the top of the pan- no need to rise above the pan. This generally takes about an hour in a warm environment.

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Put the babka into the hot oven for approximately 45 minutes. It should be deep brown not light brown so do not remove at 30-35 minutes (unless you oven bakes way too hot) or the center of the babka will remain doughy, a very aggravating thing. Remove from oven and let cool on wire rack. If you thump it lightly, it should have a hollow sound. Let cool for an hour if possible before cutting since if you don’t, the filling which is still molten, will seep out of the dough in a wave. Let cool, then slice and taste some heaven.

FAQs

Who invented babka? ›

Historian and food writer Lesley Chamberlain believes that babka came up from Italy, brought by Queen Bona Sforza of Poland in the 16th century and developed into a Russified version of the typical Italian pannetone.

Is babka a cake or bread? ›

A babka is a sweet braided bread or cake which originated in the Jewish communities of Poland and Ukraine. It is popular in Israel (often referred to as simply a yeast cake: עוגת שמרים) and in the Jewish diaspora.

Is babka a dessert or breakfast? ›

Not that New Yorkers' love of babka is anything new, and it's easy to see why. Babka's rich, buttery, brioche-like crumb, woven with ribbons of chocolate, is unfussy and approachable. You can eat it as dessert or breakfast, as a brunch side or a quick snack.

How do you serve babka? ›

A slice of dense, chocolatey babka pairs excellently with a cup of coffee or tea for a decadent breakfast or as an afternoon pick-me-up. While it can last for up to a few days, don't fret when it goes stale. Imagine the French toast this would make! Or try it in a bread pudding or French toast casserole.

What does the name babka mean? ›

The surname Babka is derived from the Russian and Polish word baba, which means grandmother or old woman. Originally, this name meant "son of an old woman." It also developed into a nickname for an "old man."

What are the origins of babka? ›

Babka originated in the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe in the early 19th century. Part bread, part cake, the name is thought to derive from a popular Easter cake made in Poland called “baba” which means “grandmother” in Polish.

Should you refrigerate babka? ›

Store your babka at room temperature in the provided packaging using the reseal tab on the back if opened; do not refrigerate. Our babkas are baked daily and, if you can resist eating them, will stay delicious for up to 5 days after purchase.

Is babka a Christmas tradition? ›

Babka is usually topped either with streusel or with powdered sugar and can be structured in either twists or in pleats. It's commonly enjoyed by Belarusians, Ukrainians, Macedonians, Bulgarians, Russians and Poles in the month of December.

What makes a good babka? ›

Babka should be firm, rich, and slightly dry. When you cut into a babka, the inside should appear delightfully marbled. Common babka fillings are chocolate, cinnamon, and fruits. The dessert is often topped with sugar syrup and streusel.

Is babka a Passover food? ›

Chocolate babka: a sweet bread treat made with enriched dough and layered with chocolate – a weekend project you'll be glad you made. Greetings, Easter (and Passover***) bunnies! ***This babka is leavened and therefore not suitable for Passover, if your family, unlike ours, cares about such things.

Is Breads bakery babka kosher? ›

7:30-8 PM. Note: Breads Baker is not a kosher bakery. Their menu is vegetarian with some fish items (no shellfish). There are some non-dairy baked goods available.

Is brioche and babka the same? ›

Babka is a rich buttery bread made with brioche dough and layered with chocolate spread. Very similar to chocolate bread, just richer, butterier, chocolaty, and moist.

Do you warm up babka? ›

When you're ready to eat the frozen babka, place it on your counter (in all it's plastic wrap, etc) and let it thaw to room temperature. Then, take it out of the plastic wrap you froze it in and rewrap it in a single layer of tinfoil. Place it in a 325ºF oven for 8-10 minutes to warm it through before serving.

Do you eat babka warm? ›

I can now attest, having consumed the whole thing (ok, I shared a little), that warmed up babka is not the better way of eating babka. It is the only way. Even if you're not a huge babka fan, I suggest you give it one more warmed-up try.

How do you know if babka is done? ›

When it's finished, the loaf will be a deep golden brown on top and sound hollow when the bottom is tapped. You can also use a thermometer to check the internal temperature, which will be 185º F when the loaf is finished. Let the babka cool to room temperature before slicing.

Why is my babka dry? ›

To my friend who posted on February 19: Your dough is dry because kneading for 16-20 minutes is WAY too long. Babka is delicate, not at all like regular bread dough and should not be kneaded but for maybe 30 seconds to combine the softened butter as the last step (far less than even this recipe recommends).

What does babka bread taste like? ›

Babka is a sweet, buttery yeast bread. Usually, a babka has swirls of chocolate running throughout but another popular flavor is cinnamon. Those swirls pull apart into delectable, irresistible layers.

Can you freeze babka? ›

Stale babka has a decadent second life as french toast, monkey bread or bread pudding. You can freeze your babkas for up to 30 days after they're baked. Allow them to cool completely, then wrap in both plastic wrap and aluminum foil. To defrost, take them out of the freezer and remove the foil.

Is brioche and babka the same? ›

Babka is a rich buttery bread made with brioche dough and layered with chocolate spread. Very similar to chocolate bread, just richer, butterier, chocolaty, and moist.

What is a Brooklyn babka? ›

This is like a cross between bread and a croissant, all marbled and swirled with chocolate. The top is glazed and studded with chocolate chips.

What is the difference between babka and Paska bread? ›

Rather than being broad and round, like paska, babka typically is tall and cylindrical, often baked in bundt-type pan. It frequently contains raisins, succade, or orangeat, and may be iced on top. It is much sweeter than paska. Babka usually is only made, like paska, to celebrate Easter Sunday and the rising of Christ.

Who makes Zabars babka? ›

Eli Zabar is a culinary legend on New York City's Upper East Side. He's built an empire that includes multiple markets, restaurants, and wine bars. Zabar's European-inspired food is both traditional and made with high-quality, fresh ingredients.

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