Thursday, December 31, 2015

Attempting Babka

I recently got energized to bake, and since I am off for winter break, I decided to try my hand at something new.  I had snapped up a copy of a relatively new magazine titled Bake From Scratch while out shopping, and it has some interesting recipes inside.  I have also been a bit hooked on the show The Great British Bake Off, and I especially love that each episode centers around one type of baked good.  I kept telling my husband after finishing the most current season of the show that we should really start baking together, choosing one type of recipe to "master" before moving on.  That hasn't happened yet (and probably never will), but we did try our hand at babka a few days ago. It was extremely tasty, although there are things about it that weren't quite right for me, and I am determined to play around with it until I am completely and utterly satisfied (although I will have to wait some time between experiments as it is, of course, very rich in flavor and calories).  

Here is my first attempt.  You can certainly use the recipes listed if you wish.  I will share what I liked about them and what I plan to change for the next go 'round. Then once I have made it again, I'll let you know how it went.  In the meantime, if you want a rich, unique bread for dessert, breakfast, or just a special treat, this is a good place to start.  I am also eager to try this with a jam filling and streusel topping.  I will say that although the bread looks complicated it is actually fairly simple to make and turn out a pretty decent loaf.  It was time consuming and a little messy, but it was worth it.   

The recipe makes two loaves, so I opted to fill each with a different filling.  I used a chocolate filling for one loaf and a cinnamon pecan filling for the other.  Both were delicious.  The chocolate version allows the brioche-like dough to really shine, and we liked the subtle orange flavor of the dough. 

The cinnamon pecan version was all about the filling. It was much richer, much sweeter, and we really want to try to cut back on some of that in our next attempt. When I'm trying something new, I tend to stick fairly closely to the recipe so I know what it is like as written before I start altering it too much.  Once I've tried it, then I have no problems making changes which I will definitely be doing with this loaf.  While it was exceptionally delicious, I cannot justify eating that much butter or sugar in a single slice of bread, and I want to taste the bread rather than just the filling.  If you want a bread that tastes like an inside out sticky bun, though, this is the bread for you.  

The chocolate babka is filled with a mixture of melted semi-sweet chocolate, sugar, cocoa, and butter that was cooled before spreading over the dough.  To fill the babka, you roll the dough into a rectangle, spread the filling on top, and roll it up jelly-roll style. You then cut the roll in half lengthwise and twist the two resulting pieces together allowing the filling to remain facing up.  This allows you to see the filling from the top but also to get the swirl of filling and bread when you cut into the loaf.  I was happy with the rise on my chocolate loaf as well as the texture and appearance.  I did make a mistake though and added the entire filling recipe even though I later realized it was meant to be split between the two loaves.  What can I say, it was very late at night, and my brain was heading into sleep mode.  The result was a thicker ribbon of chocolate (maybe a little too thick if that is possible with chocolate).  Next time I will use half the chocolate filling in one loaf as I am sure the recipe intended.  I can definitely see how that would have been an appreciated mistake for chocolate lovers though. 

The cinnamon pecan babka was filled with a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, butter (lots of it), finely chopped pecans, and sugar.  I did use the correct amount of filling in this loaf, and the filling is delicious.  It keeps the babka super moist on the inside, but it has so much butter in it that the babka did not rise as much as it should have in baking.  Even though this type of dough is rich and full of butter, there is a point at which it can become too rich and the dough structure cannot support the amount of fat.  It can cause the dough to collapse in on itself, leaving gaps in between the filling and bread.  While this recipe did not have extreme issues with that, it did teeter on the edge.  I will definitely make this again, but next time, I will alter the filling by adding less butter and sugar and more nuts.  While the nuts were there, they were not as prevalent as I would have liked, and I think adding more nuts and less fat will help the structure of the dough as well as the taste. It will also allow me to more easily justify eating it.

Here are the recipes I used.  I am writing them here in their original form.  I will be making changes to them in the future.  The filling recipes are for two loaves.  If you plan to fill each loaf with a different filling, halve the filling amounts for each.  I also created a glaze for the Cinnamon-Pecan Babka.  It was made by mixing 2 tablepoons milk with 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar and 1/2 tsp vanilla.  I drizzled it on once the loaf was completely cool.  The glaze is completely optional.

Babka- Makes 2 loaves

6 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 Tbsp active dry yeast
1 Tbsp orange zest
4 large eggs
3/4 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
16 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1 Tbsp kosher salt

Egg Wash: 
1 egg and 1 tablespoon water beaten together.

Simple Syrup: 
1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water heated to boiling to dissolve sugar and then cooled slightly.

Chocolate Filling (enough to fill two loaves): 
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt

For Chocolate Filling: Heat butter and chocolate chips over medium heat in a saucepan, stirring frequently, until mixture is smooth.  Remove from heat and whisk in confectioners' sugar, cocoa, and salt.  Allow to cool completely.

Cinnamon-Pecan Filling (enough to fill two loaves): 
2 cups unsalted butter
2 cups sugar
4 tbsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp grated nutmeg
1 cup finely chopped pecans

For Cinnamon-Pecan Filling: Using the paddle attachment on a stand mixer on medium speed, mix butter and sugar until blended.  Add cinnamon, nutmeg, and mix again until incorporated. On low speed, mix in the pecans.  

For the dough: Spray two (8 inch) loaf pans with cooking spray and line each with parchment paper.  In a stand mixer with a dough hook, combine flour, sugar, yeast, and zest on low speed.  Add eggs, milk, and vanilla.  Beat until dough comes together, 2-3 minutes.  Add more milk 1 tablespoon at a time if mixture seems too dry.

With mixer on low, add butter, 1 tablespoon at a time.  Add salt, beating just to combine.  Increase speed to medium, and beat until a smooth and elastic dough forms and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.  Add more flour 1 tablespoon at a time if dough does not pull away.  

Spray a large bowl with cooking spray.  Place dough in bowl and let rise in a warm place for 1 1/2 to 2 hours until doubled in size.  You can also let the dough rise in the refrigerator overnight instead. 

Assemble Loaves: Divide dough in half.  On a floured surface, roll one half of dough into a 12 by 9 inch rectangle.  Spread dough with desired filling leaving a 1 inch border on all sides.  Brush border with egg wash, and roll dough starting at the longest side, jelly-roll style.  Press edges of dough to seal.  Using a large, sharp knife, cut dough in half lengthwise.  Twist the dough pieces around each other with cuts sides up.  Place in pan, cut sides up.  Repeat with the second half of the dough.  Cover and let stand in a warm place 1 to 1 1/2 hours until doubled in size.  

While dough is rising, preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Bake loaves 30 minutes.  Cover with foil, and bake another 30 minutes (note- I did not cover mine with foil for the second half of the baking.  They were not brown enough.)  

While babka bakes, prep the simple syrup (if you have not already).  Once a skewer can be inserted in middle of babka without dough on skewer, remove babka from oven.  Allow to cool slightly.  Pour half simple syrup over each loaf (it looks like a lot, but it needs the entire amount to stay moist).  Let cool in pans 5-10 minutes.  Remove loaves to wire rack (with parchment paper underneath) to cool completely. 


  1. Wow! you just nailed it with this great British Bake.. Even your first attempt is not bad at all.:) I am very impressed with your baking. And thanks for sharing the pictures.Cheers!

  2. wah,. that looks really good and not that hard to bake, I really want to try it out