Swirled babka bread resting on white parchment paper.
Food & Drink

Beautiful Babka

Babka is a classic Eastern European and Jewish dessert that’s made from a slightly dry cake similar to bread and layered with cinnamon or chocolate. It’s also one of the foods that made The Food Network’s 2020 list of rising food trends. I wasn’t at all surprised to see this tasty treat on the list of food that’s becoming more popular, because recently my son insisted that we learn to make it after he read a humorous story where the main character ate an entire chocolate babka. We made a cinnamon version instead of chocolate, but it was fun to make and really tasty.

What goes into babka

The earliest babkas were made by rolling out leftover challah dough, which is a type of kosher yeast bread, and sprinkling it with seeds and nuts. As the dish evolved, bits of finely chopped chocolate were added to the layers. Some versions of babka were also made with layers of almond paste and cinnamon. My son and I love the taste of cinnamon and the way it smells when baking, so we decided to make cinnamon babka. While it’s jumping ahead a bit, our finished babka reminded me of my grandma’s Sunday morning cinnamon bread. I had mine with a steaming cup of coffee while my son enjoyed his with a glass of cold milk. Another newer variation of babka includes a chocolate and hazelnut spread between the layers of dough, and I’m excited to try that next time.

The basics of making babka

When I think about the basics of making a babka, I think about the steps involved with preparing the dough and the filling. Since my son and I were the first people in our family to make a babka, we found a recipe online, watched some tutorial videos together, and had some fun experimenting with the process as we worked together in the kitchen to make babka. Based on our experience, I recommend preparing the babka dough first. This is because it’s a yeast dough, and it takes a bit of time for the yeast to begin working. When we were waiting for our babka dough to rise, we prepared the baking pans and other ingredients.

Babka rolling and twisting

After the dough has doubled in size, it’s time to punch it down and begin rolling and twisting. The dough twisting technique is something my son and I picked up in one of the tutorial videos we watched. However, it was a technique that was very familiar to me. The technique for rolling and twisting babka is very similar to the technique my grandmother taught me for making ribbon candy. Ribbon candy is a family recipe for a chewy candy that’s a cross between fondant and taffy and has layers of colors. The process is basically rolling out the dough, adding a layer of the next ingredient, rolling it up, then twisting the roll.

More twisting, baking, and then serving the babka

After the first round of twisting, we folded the dough in half, brushed on some more butter and sprinkled on some  more cinnamon sugar. Our hands were getting pretty sticky and the cinnamon sugar and butter on our hands smelled incredibly delicious. The process went from being comparable to making Grandma’s ribbon candy to resembling two people having an old-fashioned taffy pull, with more twisting, folding it in half again, and one last round of twisting. I was so impressed with my son’s attention to detail as he helped with the babka dough layering and twisting, and it was such a joy to see him laughing while we were working together in the kitchen.

After all the twisting and folding, we sprinkled one last layer of butter and cinnamon sugar on the babka before baking it. A wonderful, sweet cinnamon scent filled the house as it baked, and we ate it while it was still warm.