This cinnamon babka is an indulgent loaf full of sugar and spice — what could be more perfect? A tender dough swirled with cinnamon sugar and a sweet syrup topping, it’s impossible not to love this babka.
What is Babka?
Thanks to my Jewish heritage, I was introduced to babka as soon as my first teeth came in. My mom used to make babka for special occasions – always at least four and with a variety of different fillings. Babka is made of a rich brioche dough, usually with a cinnamon or chocolate filling. Sometimes they’re topped with streusel for extra crunch. In Israel, there are so many variations of this cake, and they’re always so scrumptious and rich. I know one recipe that uses croissant dough instead of brioche, and another that’s loaded with so much white, milk, and dark chocolate that after just one piece, you feel like passing out. Except for me. I’ll take another piece, please!
Cinnamon babka is a rich yeast bread swirled with a brown sugar cinnamon filling. In the oven, the filling melts and bubbles, creating a sticky, gooey loaf loaded with cinnamon flavor. The rich dough gets a flavor boost from a slow, overnight rise, though there is a speedier same-day option too. It’s a stunning bread that’s sure to turn any day into a celebration.
Babka is a traditional Jewish bread from Eastern Europe. It was originally a clever way to use up extra dough by layering it with sweet fillings like cinnamon or jam when making challah, a braided enriched bread.
While it’s long been a staple of Jewish delis and bakeries in New York City, babka has exploded in popularity in the last several years thanks to a new style created at Breads Bakery, a popular bakery chain. The new style, which this recipe emulates, is much richer than traditional babka, erring closer to a filled brioche than challah.
Babka Tips and Tricks
Usually, when I want to follow a recipe, I end up making so many changes that it turns into a completely different recipe than the original. This time though, I had a good feeling about it, so I decided to follow the recipe as-is. The result? Perfection.
Although it’s possible to leave the dough at room temperature for the first rise, it’s highly recommended to place it in the fridge for at least 8 hours so it sets properly and is easy to work with. Mine rolled out so smoothly and beautifully after refrigeration that I wanted to keep playing with it forever!
After you roll the dough and spread the chocolate over it, it’s time to shape it into a traditional babka. Here are a few of my shooting attempts of the process to help you understand how it’s done.
Sometimes, to make things simple, I will use a chocolate spread such as Nutella instead of making the filling myself. You can do the same if you prefer.
The sugar syrup not only makes the cake shiny and beautiful, but also keeps it fresh for longer.
Speaking of freshness, as with any bread, this cake will start drying out after 24 hours, but the good news is that it freezes well.
Instead of water (in the dough), you can use milk or a combination of water and milk.
You can add a bit of cinnamon, 1/4 to 1 teaspoon, to the chocolate filling.
While some like babka because of the dough, to me it’s all about the filling, so the more chocolate, the better. You can add ⅔ cup chocolate chips or chunks or 1 cup coarsely chopped pecans or other nuts (for both loaves).
If the chocolate filling becomes firm, warm it up a bit in the microwave. Don’t use it hot, though, since it can warm the dough and cause it to melt. If, on the other hand, the filling is too soft and not in a spreadable consistency, place it in the fridge for a short while, but keep an eye on it so it won’t become too hard.
WHAT YOU NEED TO MAKE THIS RECIPE
Butter — while salt brings out the chocolate flavor in this bread, different brands of salted butter vary in their salt content, so it’s best to use unsalted butter to keep things consistent. Be sure to have your butter at room temperature as you mix it into the dough directly. Room temperature butter should make a slight indent when pressed with your finger.
Chopped dark chocolate — I recommend using chocolate bars instead of chips as chips have less cocoa butter and contain added stabilizers. The chocolate bar should melt smoother as well.
Whole milk — I use whole milk for this babka recipe due to the higher fat content. If you don’t have whole milk, then you can use 2% milk. I would not suggest using skim milk. The milk should also be between 110°-120°F to not negatively affect the yeast.
HOW TO MAKE BABKA
- Whisk together the flour, sugar, and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer.
- Add the eggs, milk, and salt and mix at low speed using the dough hook attachment until combined and a dough starts to form for about 2 minutes.
- Add the butter one tablespoon at a time. Let the butter incorporate before adding more.
- Continue to knead for 10 more minutes; the dough is ready when it feels sticky but still very stretchy.
- Transfer the dough to a large oiled bowl, and cover. Let the dough rise for 8 hours or overnight in the fridge.
- When the dough is ready, divide it in half and roll them out, one at a time, on a lightly floured surface into a 12×16-inch rectangle.
- Make the filling by combing the butter and cream in a saucepan before melting in the chocolate. Whisk in the powdered sugar and cocoa powder before letting it cool to thicken.
- Use an offset spatula to spread the chocolate filling over the rolled dough.
- Roll the dough from the short-end into a tight coil, and pinch the seam to seal. Then cut the dough in half lengthwise.
- Twist the halves together, keeping the cut sides facing up before transferring to a prepared loaf pan. Cover and let rise again before baking for 40 minutes or until golden brown.