Continuing the stepping outside of our baking comfort zone goal today.
We’re traveling deep in the layers of babka. Located somewhere between bread and decadent dessert, this undeniably addictive treat is filled with Nutella and topped with buttery cinnamon crumbles. It has a rich history and was catapulted into popularity by Seinfeld (cinnamon… the lesser babka!).
And today? Babka’s all the rage in New York bakeries.
I have more step-by-step pictures than I know what to do with today. Not that babka is super complicated or anything– I just really want to show you how approachable it is. Yeast bread is the January Baking Challenge, so hopefully you’re comfortable with yeast now! If not, babka can totally be your starting point. Just wait until you see how it all comes together. You’ll be pleasantly surprised that babka is totally something you can (and should) pull off!! Nothing to fear, I promise.
We’ll focus on the traditional Jewish version of babka which begins with a brioche dough that’s twisted and baked high in a loaf pan. Baked until golden brown and best enjoyed warm when the Nutella is extra melty. Self control and babka do not coexist.
There are many ways to make babka. This is how we’re doing it today, a recipe based off of my cinnamon roll dough. This recipe will make 2 loaves. Freeze one or gift it to someone special. Trust me, someone will want this gift. 😉
Here’s what we’re doing:
- make a brioche dough – a soft, rich, puffy, and very buttery yeast dough
- let the dough rise
- punch down the dough to release the air bubbles
- divide dough into 2
- roll them out, spread with Nutella
- shape babka (how-to video below!)
- top with streusel
- bake, eat, get lost in the layers!!!
You can brush the babka with sugar syrup when it comes out of the oven, but I skipped this step. It ensures a super crisp crust, but I liked the babka without it too. You can also fill babka with a homemade chocolate filling– or really anything at all– but I reached for Nutella. I want the main focus to be on the dough and process, so let’s use a little shortcut for the filling. Bonus that it’s NUTELLA and it’s fabulous.
(By the way, have you made the Nutella glaze yet?)
Homemade dough – egg rich, butter rich, calorie rich. You’ll need yeast, milk, sugar, eggs, butter, and flour. You likely have all that in your kitchen now. You can use an instant or active dry yeast, the rise time will be a little longer if you choose the latter.
Let this dough rise in a warm environment until (roughly) doubled in size, about 90ish minutes. You might remember me showing you this a couple weeks ago, but I use my oven for the rising. This is very simple. Preheat your oven to 200°F (93°C) then turn the oven off and place the dough inside the warm-ish oven. Leave the oven door slightly cracked open. Leave it alone, watch it grow!
After it rises, punch the dough down to release all those air bubbles. You’ll be left with super soft and supple dough. Divide it in two. Don’t make the mistake I did and accidentally make 1 babka loaf with all this dough. It will spill over your loaf pan and look like a mangled, deformed, burnt bread massacre. Whoopsies.
Alrighty! Your dough is divided in two, now let’s roll it out, slap some Nutella on top, and shape the babka. This can be a little tricky, so watch me do it in this very unexciting video that Kevin filmed with my phone.
Literally just slicing the roll down the middle and twisting. You can handle it!
A little messy, but don’t all the best foods need a little clean up? Place the twists into loaf pans, cover them up and set them aside as you make a cinnamon crumble topping. This time lets the dough rest before baking. Give the babka a little brush of beaten egg white + milk (egg wash), then top with your cinnamon crumble.
I know what you’re thinking. Is the cinnamon crumble really necessary? The answer is YES. Isn’t cinnamon crumble always necessary? You’ll just need some brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, and butter. Again, simple ingredients.
By the way, the only thing better than eating babka is smelling babka as it bakes. Just wait until you experience that. And the only thing better than both is making French toast out of babka. Enough said.
Want to know why this Nutella babka is so addictive? Because each bite is different. Some bites are overflowing with gooey Nutella and others are full of soft flaky dough and cinnamon crumbles. Each twist and turn is unique, no loaf will look the same, and the whole thing stays moist for days. Good luck with it in your house!!
Do you have a favorite babka recipe? How do you usually fill yours? I’m super happy with how this babka turned out, but would love to try more variations!
- 1 cup + 2 Tablespoons (270ml) whole milk, divided*
- 2 and 1/4 teaspoons active dry or instant yeast (1 standard size packet)*
- 1/2 cup (100g) granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature and cut into 4 pieces
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature and divided
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 4 and 1/4 cups (530g) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting/rolling
- 2 cups (600g) Nutella, divided
- 1/4 cup (50g) packed light or dark brown sugar
- 1/4 cup (30g) all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 cup (60g) unsalted butter, cold and cubed
- Make the dough: Heat 1 cup of milk to about 95°F (35°C). You can use the microwave or stovetop. Pour the warm milk into the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment (or you can use a handheld mixer or no mixer, but a stand mixer is ideal). Manually whisk in the yeast. Cover the bowl with a clean towel. The mixture should be frothy and foamy after 5 minutes.
- On low speed, beat in the sugar and softened butter until butter is slightly broken up. Next beat in 1 whole egg plus 1 egg yolk (reserve the egg white) and the salt. The butter won’t really be mixing in, so don’t be alarmed if it stays in pieces. On low speed, gradually add the flour. Once it is all added, beat on medium speed until a soft dough forms, about 1 minute.
- Increase speed to medium-high and beat until the dough is soft and supple and pulls away from the sides of the bowl, about 6 minutes. If you do not have a stand-mixer with a dough hook attachment, knead the dough by hand in this step.
- Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and form into a ball. Place into a large greased bowl, turning once to grease the top. (I just use the same mixing bowl that I made the dough in– remove the dough, grease it with nonstick spray or olive oil, put the dough back in.) Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place it in a warm environment to rise until doubled, about 90 minutes. For this warm environment, I preheat the oven to 200°F (93°C) then turn the oven off and place the bowl inside the warm-ish oven. Leave the oven door cracked a bit.
- Once doubled in size, punch down the dough to release any air bubbles. Remove dough from the bowl and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Punch down again to release any more air bubbles if needed. Using a sharp knife or dough scraper, cut dough in half. Work with only half of the dough at a time. Place a clean towel over the dough you aren’t working with.
- Generously grease two 9×5 inch loaf pans with butter or nonstick spray.
- Shape the babka: On slightly floured work surface, roll one dough half out into a 9×13 inch rectangle (approximately). Spread with 1 cup of Nutella, leaving a 1/2 inch border uncovered.
- Watch the video above to see exactly how I do this step. Tightly roll the dough into a 13-inch log. Place the log on its seam. Using a sharp knife, cut the log in half lengthwise. I find a serrated knife works best. Criss-cross one half, cut side down, on top of the other half– forming an X. Twist the two together. Place in prepared loaf pan and cover with a clean towel. Repeat with 2nd half of dough. This step can get a little messy!
- Allow both shaped (and covered) loaves to rest for 10-20 minutes as you prepare the crumble topping and preheat the oven.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C).
- Make the crumble topping: Mix the brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon together in a medium bowl. Using a pastry cutter, cut the cold butter into the brown sugar mixture until coarse crumbs are formed. Set aside.
- Whisk the remaining 2 Tablespoons of milk with the leftover egg white. This is your egg wash. Using a pastry brush, brush the babka loaves with egg wash. Do the best you can as some Nutella is exposed. Top each loaf with crumble topping.
- Bake for 45-50 minutes or until babka is golden brown on top. Remove from the oven, place each pan on a wire rack, and allow to cool for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.
- Cover and store leftover babka at room temperature for a couple days or in the refrigerator for 1 week. (It won’t last that long!!) You can also freeze the baked babka for up to 3 months, then thaw overnight in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before serving. Or warm it up in the oven.
Make ahead tip/overnight: After dough has risen two hours in step 4, punch down the dough inside the mixing bowl and cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight or for up to 2 days, then remove from the refrigerator and continue with step 5. OR freeze for up to 2 months, then allow to thaw overnight in the refrigerator and continue with step 5.
- Whole milk or even buttermilk is ideal for this dough. You can get away with 2% or 1%, but I do not recommend skim. You’ll need 1 cup in the dough and you’ll use the other 2 Tablespoons for the egg wash in step 12.
- Active dry or instant yeast work– if using instant yeast (such as Red Star Platinum) the 1st rise time will be a little shorter.
- Instead of Nutella you can try a homemade chocolate fudge filling. This one is excellent. But I really love how the Nutella tastes in this!
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