Babka Basics

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About: Building design/consulting in SE Minnesota. Resource based problem solver... in other words, I always take a minute to peek in construction dumpsters :) ---the way some have to workout everyday... i have to...

Babka is an Eastern European semi-sweet bread. Popularly babka is most well known from the Seinfeld episode where Jerry pursues the last chocolate babka from a bakery... 'cinnamon takes a back seat to no babka!'

The Goal. To learn to make a babka that rivals the delicious Trader Joe's Brooklyn Babka. Ideally without needing to reference a recipe.

Variations. Know that there are many.... Most popular are the three C's -- chocolate, cinnamon and cheese. This version is a spiced 'mexican' chocolate with coconut!

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Step 1: Ingredients

Dough Ingredients

  • Oil - 1/4 cup (optional to add butter)
  • Water - (optional to add milk. traditionally babka is dairy free)
  • Flour - bread flour is idea... requires less kneading to build up the gluton
  • Sugar - 1 cup
  • Eggs - 2-3 eggs
  • Salt - 1/4 tsp
  • Yeast - 1-2 tsp ----easiest way to get started baking is to pickup a pack of freeze dried yeast (Saf Yeast)

For any regular mixing bowl use roughly the amounts posted for all ingredients above... for water and flour add water first and keep adding flour until the dough is the 'right' consistency... see next step.

Filling Ingredients

  • Chocolate - any chocolate works. I have some baker's chocolate but it's easy to throw in chocolate chips or candy bars... add some oil to smooth it out if too dry
  • Butter - (and/or oil)
  • Spices - Cinnamon, Cayenne, Salt
  • Coconut - a couple times a year I find shredded coconut super cheap at the grocery.. somewhere around $1/pack.

A few of the tools I use: kitchenaid mixer, cast iron pot with lid, baking pans, oversized plastic cutting board, dough scrapper

Step 2: Mixing

Hand v. Stand Mixer

Certainly it's nice to use a stand mixer... in no way is it necessary... it simply takes about 5 more minutes without one to incorporate ingredients. I do find that the stand mixer helps me to bake more frequently. Mainly because having done it by hand for so long it feels effortless with the kitchenaid.

Step by Step Guide:

  1. Oil - 1/4 cup
  2. Milk/Water - I use a 50/50 mix. first pouring in some milk (about 2 cups) than adding nearly boiled water from the kettle to make a total of 4 cups
  3. Sugar - 1 cup
  4. Eggs - 2 eggs (our ladies lay large eggs! @kutzkycoops)
  5. Salt - 1/4 tsp
  6. Flour - add the first half... roughly the amount that you've added for milk/water
  7. Yeast - 1-2 tsp... the more yeast the faster the rise. I use the sprinkle in method. I add it half way through adding the flour so that the water mixture is cool enough... you can proof your yeast if you like. it took my 5 years to realize the yeast is always active when kept cool and dry!
  8. Flour - keep adding flour. I add it with a 1/3 cup measuring cup until it is dry enough to gather around the spoon/mixing paddle. Then I pour out the mixture onto a surface and work in more flour as needed.

Step 3: Kneading Dough

Knead the slightly wet (sometimes overly wet) dough on a large cutting board or counter. See in the photos how the folds become more sturdy as flour is incorporated and the glutton strength is built up through the process.

Step 4: Proofing

Allow the dough to set for around 3 hours. It should double in size.

I simply put it in the mixing bowl let the cutting board cover it. For me, using a damp towel is never worth the hassle.

Step 5: Forming Dough

I use a dough scraper and a rolling pin to form a large sheet of dough. It's a little under 2 feet long and a little over 1 foot wide.

Step 6: Filling

Using a double boiler (a pan within a pan). Melt chocolate and add butter/oil over medium heat. It takes about 5 minutes to melt. I add a few spices to kick up the flavor.

Step 7: Spread Filling

The chocolate mixture and the coconut are spread across the dough.

The chocolate cools fast if it doesn't have much oil... add more oil or transfer small amounts at a time.

Step 8: Roll It

Simply roll from the center. Shape doesn't really mater... the goal is to get the layers formed.

The dough can stick to the work surface. Best to keep the surface well floured.

Step 9: Cut and Wrap

My cut starts a few inches from one end. After I complete the wrap I finish the cut and wrap that starting side.

The whole wrap is then laid into the greased baking pan (next step)

Step 10: Final Proof to Bake

Once in the baking pan allow for a final proof.

  1. Final Proof is typically 20-30 minutes. Anything over 40 min is likely too long.
  2. Cover with a lid, plastic wrap or another baking tin.
  3. To Oven - I start my bake covered.
  4. High to Start - starting at 420F
  5. Temp Drop - after 10-15 min drop the temp to 370F

Temperature can really vary quite a bit. For regular bread it's best to have a consistent high temp. For sweet breads with more fat it's better to drop the temp. ---one thing to remember... never preheat for bread

--doesn't hurt to spray the bread with cooking oil a couple times through the process... helps keep it from burning on the top.

Step 11: Enjoy!

This babka came out delicious! Spicy and not too sweet.
Hope you enjoy and feel more confident baking!

Thank you! Jeff
Consider following for more @jprussack

Here are a few other recent baking instructables to help you bake confidently without a recipe:

Looking for something easier than bread? try crackers or pasta!

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    13 Discussions

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    Penolopy Bulnick

    9 months ago

    This is really neat! I've wondered about these breads since seeing them on Seinfeld :)
    So, for a cinnamon babka, do you know if you mix cinnamon with butter then for the filling?

    1 reply
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    jprussackPenolopy Bulnick

    Reply 9 months ago

    Coming soon! It all gets heated in the double boiler. I also use an apple butter or marmalade.

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    PeterP149

    10 months ago

    Hi Jeff, greetings from Eastern Europe, from Slovakia :-)
    babka = grand mother, better name for your bread is probably babovka. anyhow, does not matter how you call it looks great and with name babka I get old fashion feeling with beautiful memories to my grandmas. Merry Christmass

    1 reply
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    jprussackPeterP149

    Reply 10 months ago

    Peter - thanks so much for your message!! Merry Christmas!

    None
    jjmcgaffey

    10 months ago

    It's an interesting recipe but I find the pictures more confusing than helpful. What do you use the bench knife (dough scraper) for? It's all rolled out as one sheet, right?
    Some of the picture sets run right to left, some left to right in time order.
    And there's no clear picture of my bugaboo - what should the dough look like when you shift from mixer to kneading? I keep either adding too much flour so it's stiff or having liquid dough that's unmanageable. Yours either starts out shaggy and gets smooth or starts smooth and gets shaggy (what does "sturdy" folds mean here?)
    It's hard to cover all the steps, especially for something you've made frequently and know how it's supposed to go. But I'd really like to try this, and am really confused.

    4 replies
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    jjmcgaffeyDisasterific

    Reply 10 months ago

    In step 5 there's a picture of him using it to cut the dough. But the instructions don't say anything about cutting the dough, it's rolled out in one big sheet. Thus my confusion.

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    jprussackjjmcgaffey

    Reply 10 months ago

    Hello JJ - yes, understand the confusion related to the direction of the photos. My goal was to share the best picture first to give a sense for what is going on in the step. --formatting is different on different devices but my assumption is that it can be followed without too much effort.

    Regarding the folding process. Yes, this can be tricky and requires some practice. My suggestion is to start with mixing my hand. Keep adding flour until the dough is sturdy enough that you can fold it and the dough holds it's shape. From there knead on a floured surface. Keep adding flour and working the dough until your hands no longer feel damp as they work the dough. Yes, it's a feel thing.... The fact is you can't go wrong. If you think ithe dough is too dry coat it with oil for the first proof. If too wet knead again after the first proof. thanks, and hope this helps. Have a look at my general bread making instructables. Should be good details there to help with the feal of dough.

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    jjmcgaffeyjprussack

    Reply 10 months ago

    I'll check it out - that's always been a problem for me, it seems to go from sticky to too firm without stopping in the middle. Thanks!

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    jessyratfink

    10 months ago

    Ohhhhhh yes. Suddenly I'm REAL excited I have a Kitchenaid now :D

    1 reply
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    jprussackjessyratfink

    Reply 10 months ago

    Thank you! The KitchenAid really makes it effortless. Especially if you proof in the mixing bowl to reduce cleanup.

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    audreyobscura

    10 months ago

    Another awesomely-documented delicious-looking bread instructable from you! YES! THANK YOU! I love Babka but never been brave enough to try making it. Thanks for breaking it down!

    1 reply
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    jprussackaudreyobscura

    Reply 10 months ago

    Thank you, thank you! Yes please enjoy this one. So easy to modify and make your own!