In the words of Elaine from Seinfeld, “You can’t beat a babka.”
And I would have to agree. For those of you new to the babka train, babka is a buttery yeast dough baked in a loaf pan, twisted with various fillings. They have always been popular in New York, because of it’s Jewish roots, but it’s definitely become something trending all over the western world as of late. Though they traditionally contain swirls of chocolate or cinnamon with nuts and struesel, in the last two years or so, I’ve seen all kinds of more creative flavors and fillings emerge and the term babka be used more loosely, like any classic that gets reborn. They are somewhat involved as far as quick breads go, about the same amount of work as cinnamon rolls and about the same wait time for dough to rise— twice. Though involved, they really are not hard. The ingredients are basic and it will be very difficult to make this bread not taste amazing. So remember that and have some fun! Save these for a lazy weekend morning or prep the night before because you’ll need about four hours total, with only maybe 30 mins being actual hands on time.
Quite some time ago at the beginning of the year, I experimented with a babka of my own to celebrate strawberry season in Northern Thailand. I had a large jar of homemade jam and I was inspired by my one of my favorite ice cream flavors at Salt and Straw (an amazing gourmet Ice cream shop in Portland, Oregon) to use the combination of strawberry, balsamic, and black pepper for this filling. The acidity of the balsamic balances the sweetness of the strawberry so well and that hint of warmth from the black pepper is a welcome surprise. I used the dough portion of the recipe for chocolate babka from Bon Appetit as a base for my bread, winged the filling and it came out amazing. Only problem was, I didn’t write down my steps or take enough photos to publish a blog post.
But last month I got an invitation to another collaboration of bloggers featuring a seasonal ingredient— this time, Strawberries! When I saw the theme I knew instantly it would be the best excuse to recreate the babka, this time being more thorough with my process with the intent of sharing the recipe. There are close to 100 bloggers participating in this collab and we are all joined together on Instagram by the hashtag #strawberriesarethejam so make sure you hop on over there to take a look!
Here is just a small sampling of other amazing strawberry themed recipes that were contributed:
Roasted Balsamic Strawberry Pavlova by Square Meal Round Table
Strawberry Matcha Cream Cheese Tart by The Cooking of Joy
Strawberry Milk Doughnuts by Flours in Your Hair
Strawberry Salad with Goat Cheese & Grilled Chicken by Plays Well with Butter
Strawberry Basil No-Churn Ice Cream by Lemon Thyme and Ginger
Go check out all the other recipes for some amazing Spring strawberry inspo!
WHAT YOU'LL NEED
FOR THE DOUGH:
1/2 cup whole milk, warmed
2 1/4 tsp (1 envelope) active dry yeast
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
6 tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter, room temp and cut into pieces, plus more for greasing bowl
FOR THE FILLING:
1/3 cup strawberry jam
1 Tbs balsamic glaze*
1/2 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
1/4 tsp kosher or flake salt
FOR THE SUGAR SYRUP GLAZE (OPTIONAL):
2 Tbs sugar
2 Tbs water
*This is balsamic vinegar that has been cooked down with a little brown sugar and reduced to a thick, concentrated syrup. I used a storebought version from Trader Joes but there are a variety of brands widely available, or you can make your own.
WHAT YOU'LL DO
Pour warm milk into a pyrex or small bowl; sprinkle the yeast over milk. Let it stand until foamy (bloomed), around 5 minutes.
Whisk the egg, egg yolk, and 1/3 cup granulated sugar in a medium bowl until smooth. Then whisk in yeasty milk mixture.
Combine the 1/2 tsp kosher salt and 2 cups flour in the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment. Add the egg/milk mixture and beat on low until nearly incorporated. Switch to the dough hook and add in the pats of butter; beat on medium-low until butter is completely incorporated. Keep mixing until the dough is smooth, shiny and just barely sticky, almost 10 minutes.
Butter/ grease a large mixing bowl and transfer dough to it. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 1.5 to 2 hours. Once it has doubled in size, transfer to the fridge to chill for another 30 minutes (this may seem like an annoying extra step but it makes your dough so much easier to work with).
FILLING AND ASSEMBLY
Generously butter a 9x5 loaf pan, or lightly grease and line with parchment with the paper extending out two sides, to make it easy to lift out the babka later.
Turn out the chilled dough onto a large, lightly floured surface. Roll out into a rectangle (about 12 x 18-20 inches). Using a spatula or back side of a spoon, spread the strawberry jam evenly across the surface. Then drizzle the balsamic glaze on top of the jam. Sprinkle the black pepper and salt evenly. Roll up dough in the direction of the long side (starting with the shorter 12 inch end), pulling lightly on it as you roll to maintain thickness.
Cut the log in half lengthwise. Maneuver the halves side by side, cut side up, so they are touching. (Your hands will get sticky with jam and this will be a terrible mess but just try to keep the filling in the dough). Place one half over the other to make an X, then twist the two ends on each side of the X once or even twice if you can. (You should have a minimum of 3 twists.) Transfer the bread as best as you can to the prepared loaf pan, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise another 30 minutes at room temp.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit while your dough rises a second time.
Bake babka in the preheated oven, rotating pan halfway through, until golden brown, about 50 minutes, one hour at most.
Optional: for that classic shiny babka glaze, while the babka is baking, you can combine 2 Tbs of sugar with 2 Tbs of boiling water. Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Let cool and as soon as the babka comes out of the oven, brush the sugar syrup over the top and corners to give it a gorgeous sheen and the perfect finish.
Transfer the pan to a wire cooling rack and then after 15 minutes turn out onto rack, running a knife around edges to help loosen if needed.
Let cool completely before slicing. It will keep fresh for two days at room temp, although I doubt it will last that long.
And I would definitely not recommend you make day-two french toast with it. I mean who would suggest such a ridiculous idea.