Who doesn’t love a babka? Seriously, bring me that person and I will end them.
You’ve got a yeast dough enriched with sugar. Then you roll that dough out and put whatever the hell goodness you want inside. Roll it back up, chop it almost in half, twist it around itself, toss into a baking pan, and you’ve got babka in about 45 minutes.
Me? I love apples, cinnamon, and honey. So, I make my babka with apples, cinnamon, and honey. Maybe it’s because I’m a child of the ’90s. I grew up eating Apple Jacks, Honey Nut Cheerios, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
See a trend?
But it all works out nicely apples, honey, and cinnamon are not infrequent ingredients in the Ashkenazi kitchen and the babka we know and love today comes from Jewish communities of Eastern Europe. Is it the tradition in my blood or am I still itching for the ultimate mixed bowl of cereal? I really don’t know.
Again, the babka comes to us from Eastern European Jewish communities, namely modern-day Poland and Ukraine. (“Babka” is the diminutive of “Baba” which means “grandmother ” in Polish and sounds similar to the Yiddish “bubbe.”) Early 19th century immigrants brought the braided deliciousness to the US where it remained in relative obscurity until around the mid-20th century when the chocolate babka debuted.
Even then, it wasn’t until babka premiered on an episode of Seinfeld that the treat entered the popular American lexicon. And like Jerry, I happen to agree that cinnamon takes a backseat to no babka and that it should be on tables in restaurants along with salt and pepper.
Lesser babka? I think not.
Over the past decade, babka has become a staple in bakeries around New York and Israel. It’s an obvious addition to any Jewish cookbook; nearly as reliably present as challah or hamantaschen. Even Trader Joe’s got in on the action with their own chocolate concoction in Brooklyn.
But again, you’re not here for a chocolate babka.
I’ve seen babkas made with and without milk, with and without butter. Honestly, I don’t notice the absence of butter in the dough. The cinnamon is the star and she comes through gloriously. Either way, I want to point out that this dough (butter or not) is influenced by babka recipes I’ve used from Leah Koenig in Modern Jewish Cooking and this basic challah recipe from Beth Ricanati. (The latter is what got me started on baking my own challah.)
As I continued to make babka, I noticed that the recipes I’ve found for the dough are remarkably similar to challah recipes. Turns out, babka was traditionally made with leftover dough from baking challah.
In my two-person household, it’s not always easy to get through two loaves of challah in a week. Usually that just means cooking up a huge portion of challah french toast on Thursday morning so we’re out of challah by the time I start making a new batch Friday.
If you live with a smaller headcount at home, you might consider using the same dough recipe as you would challah. That’s what I’ve done in this recipe but I’ve left the option of substituting the olive oil for butter if you want to try that.
Otherwise, you’ll notice in step four that you need to cut the dough in half. You could make two babkas or you could make one babka and one challah. Of course, you could always freeze half the dough for another time. You’ve got options.
Apple Cinnamon Honey Babka
- Loaf pan
- Stand mixer (optional)
For The Dough
- 2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast Equivalent to one packet + 1 tsp sugar + 1 cup warm water to activate the yeast
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 3 eggs
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup olive oil use only if you don't want to use butter
- 1/2 cup butter melted, use only if you don't use olive oil
- 1/2 cup honey
- 5 cups all-purpose flour More or less depending on how the dough comes together
Apple cinnamon filling
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 3 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter melted
- 1 egg white
- 1 apple Your preference but I go with Braeburn
- 1/4 cup honey
- 2 tbsp water
- 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 tbsp grated lemon zest
- Start by making the dough. Activate the yeast by stirring it together with 1 tsp sugar and warm water in a small bowl. Let it do its thing for 5 to 10 minutes. It should be foaming. If not, you've got bad yeast. Start over.
- While your yeast is activating, whisk together your 5-ish cups of flour, salt, and remaining sugar. Make a well at the center and drop in your eggs, honey, oil (or butter if that's what you're going with), and yeast mixture once it's ready. Whisky with a fork in the center of the well to combine and start combining the flour. Dive in with your hands if you want or transfer to a stand mixer at this point to knead for about 10 minutes. You want a supple, slightly sticky dough to form. Add flour as needed. Grease a large bowl with about 1 tsp oil. Coat your dough in the bowl and cover with a dish towel. Let it sit in a warm place until it's about doubled in size. That's roughly one hour. (I put mine in the oven, lower rack, with the light on, which I would've turned on at the beginning to allow it to warm up some.)
- Make your filling while the dough rises. Put your ingredients (cinnamon, brown sugar, flour, salt, butter, egg white) into a small bowl. Peel and core one apple and chop it up like you would for a strudel. Incorporate the apple pieces into the filling. Leave in the refrigerator if you still have a lot of rise time left and you're worried about the filling liquifying.
- Before your rise is over, make sure to grease your loaf pan(s). Deflate the dough by pressing the center and drop it onto a lightly floured surface. Cut the dough in half. Put one half to the side (covered with a towel) or immediately put it in an air tight bag and dump it into the freezer to use another day.
- Roll the dough you're working on into a large rectangle. Your dough should be about 1/8 in or 4 mm thick and roughly 12×10 inches or 30.5×25 centimeters. Don't hesitate to use your knife to trim as necessary. You can incorporate the scraps into your second half or make a baby treat.
- Start spreading your filling onto the dough leaving a little space along the edges. Once it's sufficiently covered, start rolling from one of the shorter ends like a log. Make sure it's tight. Once you have your log, trim a little off both ends with a knife. Then, cut vertically down the middle starting from the top (but not quite!) and working your way down until you've cut it almost entirely in half. Again, you want to leave the very top connected.
- Now you've got two strands. Carefully twist the strands together, overlapping, until you've reached the bottom again. Pinch the dough together at the bottom and please it into your greased loaf pan. Cover with a towel and let it rise for another 45 minutes. Heat up your oven 10-15 minutes before your final rise is over to 350F/180C. (Don't forget to take the babka out of the oven if that's where you're letting it rise!)
- With a pre-heated oven and your babka rise complete, toss the babka into the oven for 45 to 60 minutes. Rotate your pan(s) about 22 minutes into baking and keep a close eye on it after 45 minutes if you leave it in longer. The babka should be golden broken and cooked through. You can use a needle (or something similar) to stick inside the babka and see that it comes out cleanly.
- Make your honey syrup while the babka is baking. Mix your ingredients together in a small saucepan and bring it to a boil with medium heat. Stir constantly, especially once it reaches the boiling point, and turn the heat down to a simmer. Continue stirring. The syrup should reduce and thicken. Once that happens, remove from the heat and let it sit for about 10 minutes.
- When your babka is done (stick something thin in and see if it comes out clean), take it out of the oven and immediately brush your syrup onto the babka. Don't be shy. Get that honey on there. But don't worry if you don't use all of the syrup.
- Let the babka cool for about 20 minutes. Then, eat up.