If you’ve attempted to bake bread at least once during quarantine, your next project needs to be babka. Much like my recipe for yeast-leavened Moravian sugar cake, babka is one of those breads that is appropriate to eat at any time of day, from your morning coffee to your midnight snack. Babka is kinda a massive pain in the ass to make (see also: my brown butter cinnamon buns), because the ever messy steps of rolling, splitting, and twisting the dough are enough to shake even the most competent of bakers—I’ve been baking for over 25 years, and babka will occasionally coax a string of four-letter words out of my mouth. If you’ve ever seen pictures of a beautiful, perfect babka, it’s very easy to get in your own head while twisting the dough, fretting that it’ll end up looking less like something from Pinterest and more like something from hell.
Maybe you’ll take to babka like a fish to water, or maybe you’ll be the kind of person whose babka behaves like a wild stallion, furiously resisting any attempts to be tamed. I’m here to tell you that nobody cares what your babka looks like. If it’s a choice between eating ugly babka or no babka at all, well, you know what the correct decision is. Take your time, go easy on yourself, and give yourself permission to learn as you go. Besides, if your babka ends up looking too good, you’ll just feel bad about slicing into it, right?
This babka is based off a recent craving I had for blueberry coffee cake. First I made a brown sugar streusel, baking it on its own so it could be crumbled up and used as filling with frozen blueberries. If you’re not feeling the blueberry filling, feel free to change it up! There are many things you can shove into a babka: chocolate chips, toasted nuts, dried fruits, quality jam, dulce de leche, Nutella—experiment with what you have. What’s important is following the rules for making the dough, and using an instant-read thermometer to determine when it’s done.
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
- 4 Tbsp. (1/2 stick) butter, melted
- 1/2 cup all purpose flour
- 4 cups all purpose flour
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1/2 cup milk, room temperature
- 1 packet (2 1/4 tsp.) yeast
- 2 eggs
- 8 Tbsp. (1 stick) butter, cut into small pieces and refrigerated until cold
- 1 1/2 cup frozen blueberries
- Zest of one lemon
- Coffee cake crumble
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a sheet pan with a piece of parchment paper. Stir the brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt together in a bowl, then stir in the melted butter, and then the flour. Spread out on the parchment and bake for 10 minutes, then allow to cool completely. Using a food processor or rolling pin, break up the crumble into pebble-sized pieces and set aside.
Mix the yeast and milk together; set aside.
Add the flour, sugar, and salt to the bowl of a stand mixer affixed with the paddle attachment and set to medium-low speed. Add the eggs and sour cream, then add the milk. Once combined, stop the mixer and scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl to make sure nothing has gotten stuck, then turn the mixer to medium speed for about 2 minutes until the dough forms a solid mass around the paddle attachment. Begin adding the cold butter a few pieces at a time, waiting for them to disappear before adding more. Continue beating the dough until smooth and glossy—about 5 minutes—then remove the bowl from the mixer, cover with plastic, and put somewhere warm to proof for two hours until doubled. (I like stashing the bowl into a cold oven with the light on, which warms the oven just enough to be ideal for proofing dough.)
Plop the doubled dough onto a lightly floured surface and smoosh into a rectangular shape, then roll out with a rolling pin until the dough is about 1/2-inch thick and its dimensions are roughly 24" by 14" (it doesn’t have to be perfect).
Toss the frozen blueberries, coffee cake crumble, and lemon zest together, then spread out over the dough right up to the edges, gently pressing down a bit. Starting from the edge closest to you, roll up the babka like a jelly roll, smooshing it just a bit as you go to ensure there are no air pockets trapped inside. This will probably get messy, which is totally normal. Once it’s all rolled up, wrap the babka in plastic, then pop it in the freezer for about 30 minutes to firm up.
Lightly grease a bundt or angel food cake pan. Unwrap the babka, then split it in half lengthwise. Keeping the cut sides facing up, twist the two babka halves around each other, then move to the pan, stretching out as needed, pinching the edges together firmly to create and unbroken circle. Scatter any filling that may have wandered out of the babka on top, cover with plastic wrap, and put in a warm place for two hours to rise.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake the babka on the center rack of the oven for 45 minutes, then begin monitoring it by sticking a digital thermometer into the fattest part of the babka. When the temperature reaches 185 degrees, remove the babka from the oven and allow to cool completely before unmolding—at least 30 minutes.