Tuesday 29 March 2016

walnut and cinnamon babka

Babka is definitely one of the next "big things" in baking; a filled, rolled, and twisted loaf, it's been around for decades at least, even featured in Seinfeld. I was slow to catch on, a few years ago my friend Annie raved about a recipe she'd tried, it was easy to make, delicious and looked spectacular. I borrowed the recipe, yep, babka.  Turns out I already had it, in the fabulous Jerusalem by Sami Tamimi and Yotam Ottolenghi, a book I love but had never really considered for dessert; too many cook books and rash judgements. Hanging out on my "to bake" list with semla and kanelbullar, I finally made it in January, enthusiastically embracing 2016 as my year of bread.

i  •  l o v e  •  t h i s  •  r e c i p e

It's a two part process: make the dough, chill overnight; roll, fill, shape, leave to proof, bake, anoint with syrup; eat, go back for a second slice, come up with an excuse to make another. It's strangely comforting.

Tinkering with the recipe just a little, I swapped pecans for pistachios and dried sour cherries intended for an abandoned Christmas something or other.  Worked like a dream. The exterior sticky, chewy, still crisp in places; light and fluffy inside, cut with intensely chocolatey ribbons, the sour chew of cherries and fragrant bite of pistachios a wonderful contrast in texture.

There's something for me though about dough and cinnamon, enter Seinfeld's different "lesser babka" oh I loved the 90's... I used the filling from a cinnamon scroll recipe, a sprinkling of chopped walnuts, and struck babka gold. It's best still warm from the oven, but thick toasted slices slathered with butter are breakfast heaven. Happens to be my birthday today, and hand on my heart, my kids have told me they're giving me Lurpak. Happy days..


you'll need a large loaf tin, mine is 27cm (l) x 12cm (w) x 7cm (d)

355g plain flour
65g caster sugar
6g instant yeast
seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean, or 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
80 ml water
1/2 tsp fine salt (table salt)
100g butter, divided into 8 pieces, at room temperature
extra butter for greasing


100g walnuts, finely chopped
60g butter
100g brown sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon

• put the flour, sugar and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix to combine
• put the vanilla, eggs and water in a jug, whisk lightly then add to flour mixture, mix until the dough comes together
• switch to the dough hook, on low speed add the salt, then butter, a piece at a time
increase the speed to medium, mix for approximately 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic, if the dough is very sticky you may need to add a little extra flour
• grease a rectangular dish or container that is at least double the volume of your dough, tip the dough into the container, lightly press the dough to the corners, forming an even layer, cover and pop in the fridge overnight (you can use a bowl for this step, but I find it much easier to roll the dough into a rectangle if it is approximately rectangular when I start)
• to make the filling; cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, add the cinnamon and beat to combine, set aside
• lightly flour your bench, carefully remove the dough from its container, roll to form a rectangle approximately 30cmm by 40cm
• spread the filling over the dough rectangle, leaving a 1 cm border clear at the top of the 30cm edge,
strew with the chopped walnuts, keeping a tablespoon aside
• using a pastry brush, lightly bush the 1cm border with water
• starting with the 30 cm edge closest to you, carefully roll the dough away from yourself into a log shape, as if you are making a roulade or swiss roll 
• gently press along the damp edge to seal, trim the uneven ends, carefully lift onto a baking tray and put into the fridge for approximately 20mins to firm up, this will make it easier to cut and shape
• while your babka is chilling, grease your loaf tin and line with baking paper
• once firm, using a serrated knife, cut the log in half vertically to give you two long strips; turn the strips cut side up, place one over the other to form an X, then make a couple of twists with each end
• lift your babka into the loaf tin, tucking the ends under if you need to, cover with a damp tea towel and leave in a warm place to proof, you want the babka to almost double in size, mine took around an hour and half today, a lovely sunny autumn day in Sydney
• after about an hour pre-heat your oven to 180ÂșC, once the babka has almost doubled, sprinkle with the remaining chopped walnuts then bake in the centre of the oven for 30-35 minutes; test with a skewer at 30 minutes, if it comes out clean the babka is ready, if not pop it back in the oven and re- test at approximately 3-5 minute intervals. Cooking time will vary depending on your loaf tin; it's baked in 30 minutes in an aluminium pan, and 45 minutes in the ceramic pan pictured
• remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin on a wire rack

the original recipe soaks the just out of the oven babka loaf with warm sugar syrup, sometimes I do, sometimes not; stickiness on buns, while delicious, bothers me and makes a mess of my toaster! It's fabulous either way, you could replace the syrup with a drizzle of simple icing for a sugar hit with less messy fingers...


75g sugar
85ml water

• combine the sugar and water in a small pan, stir over a gentle heat until the sugar dissolves, bring to the boil, remove from heat and cool slightly
• brush your babka with the warm syrup using a pastry brush


Jess Joseph said...

I love babka! I attempted Ottolenghi's one over Easter too, but made the chocolate one. (@jessjoseph instagram).

Where did ou get your loaf tin from? It's gorgeous.

simmer and boyle said...

Jess your babka looked perfect! The loaf pan is from mudaustralia.com it's ceramic, beautiful and bakes like a dream ♡

Rati said...

Hi Sally, may i know the brand of your instant yeast? Is it just a dry yeast? Ive tried a few brands and sometimes the smell comes out too strong for my liking.. thanks!

simmer and boyle said...

Hi Rati, I've used many brands of dried instant yeast and had success. I made babka this week with Tandaco yeast, it rose beautifully. I love the smell of yeast, it's often strongest in the raw dough, but is barely perceptible once baked. Babka proofs overnight in the fridge so doesn't develop a particularly yeasty smell!