December 21, 2015

Cinnamon Walnut Babka

My introduction to Babka began with a Seinfeld episode.  The one where Jerry and Elaine are waiting to buy a chocolate babka for a dinner party but end up with a cinnamon one.  According to Elaine the cinnamon variety was the "lesser babka", but I beg to differ.

I liken babka to a Jewish version of brioche.  The yeasted dough is laden with lots and lots of butter for extra richness and filled with brown sugar, walnuts and cinnamon.   Since I didn't have a recipe I turned to my friends at Cook's Illustrated for help.  Caution: I don't recommend attempting this babka without a stand mixer because of the amount of mixing and butter required in the dough. 

The rested and chilled dough rolled out beautifully and was super easy to shape.  After a rise at room temperature it baked in the oven for about an hour.  The smell of caramelized sugar, cinnamon and walnuts was hypnotic.  I'll be bringing these loaves to my parents to enjoy for Christmas.  I know they'll love it.

Cinnamon Walnut Babka


5 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour (27 ½ ounces), plus extra for the work surface
1 package instant or rapid-rise yeast (2 ¼ teaspoons)
1 cup sour cream
½ cup granulated sugar (3 ½ ounces)
3 large eggs
¼cup water
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons unsalted butter (2 sticks), cut into 16 pieces and softened but still cool


1 ½ cups packed light brown sugar or packed dark brown sugar (10 ½ ounces)
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), melted
1 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped coarse
1 cup raisins (optional)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Pinch salt


1 tablespoon granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 large egg
1 tablespoon water

For the dough: In a medium bowl, whisk together 4 1/2 cups of the flour and the yeast; set aside. In the bowl of a standing mixer, whisk together the sour cream, granulated sugar, eggs, water, vanilla, and salt. Add the flour mixture (do not stir in) and, using the dough hook, knead the mixture on low speed until the ingredients are evenly combined, about 3 minutes. Increase the mixer speed to medium-low and continue to knead until the dough becomes smooth, about 8 minutes longer, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl occasionally. (The dough will be very wet.)

With the mixer running on medium-low, slowly add the butter, 1 piece at a time, waiting about 15 seconds between additions. After the butter has been added, scrape down the sides of the bowl and continue to knead the dough on medium-low until the dough forms a very soft ball, about 15 minutes longer, adding the remaining 1 cup (5 ounces) flour, 2 tablespoons at a time, until the dough is no longer wet and it clears the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. (You may not need all the flour; the dough should be very soft and sticky.)
Scrape the dough into a large, lightly oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 10 to 24 hours. (Because of the high butter content, the dough will rise only slightly.)
For the filling: Mix all of the ingredients together; set aside. Spray two 9-inch loaf pans with vegetable oil spray, then line with overhanging strips of parchment paper. Spray the parchment paper with vegetable oil spray and set aside.
Turn the cold dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Use a rolling pin to roll the dough into an 18 by 24-inch rectangle, about 1/16-inch thick, with the long side facing you. Sprinkle the filling evenly over the dough into a long, taut cylinder. Pinch the seam closed to secure.
Lightly dust the roll with flour and pat into a uniform, 24-inch-long cylinder. Using a serrated knife, slice the roll into 3/4-inch thick slices (you should have about 32 slices). Arrange the slices in 2 long rows in eah of the prepared loaf pans (about 16 slices per pan). Loosely cover the pans with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until almost doubled in size, 2 to 2 1/2 hours.
For the glaze and to bake: Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 450 degrees. Mix the granulated sugar and cinnamon together. In a separate bowl, beat the egg with the water. Brush the loaves gently with the egg mixture, then sprinkle with the cinnamon-sugar mixture.

Place the loaf pans in the oven and reduce the temperature to 350 degrees. Bake the loaves until browned and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the side of the loaf reads 190 degrees, 50 to 60 minutes, rotating them halfway through the baking time. (If the tops of the loaves look like they are getting too dark, tent the pans loosely with foil.)
Transfer the loaf pans to a wire rack and let cool for 15 minutes. Using the overhanging parchment as a grip, remove the babka from the loaf pans. Let the loaves cool completely on the rack before slicing and serving. (The cooled loaves can be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and stored at room temperature for up to 3 days, or frozen for up to 1 month. If frozen, let thaw completely at room temperature, then refresh briefly in a 350-degree oven until lightly warmed before serving.)

1 comment:

  1. all of the best posts begin with a seinfeld reference. :) great loaf!


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