Babka is known as a Jewish cake, but frankly I never knew it as that. I grew up with this cake in Israel and it is known there simply as Yeast Cake.
Babka was developed in the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe in the early 19th century. It is a sweet twisted cake with a filling marbled through it.
Every house in Israel would have this on hand should a guest pop in on any afternoon. Some were home made and some would be from the local bakery. The host would always claim that the bakery he/she bought it from was "the best one anywhere in Israel".
I think it is called a yeast cake in Israel because the flavor does resemble a sweet bread and of course unlike other cakes it does contain yeast. The taste is similar to challah or brioche bread, just sweeter.
In Israel it is commonly found filled with chocolate, poppyseeds, sugar and cinnamon, a sweet cheese cake filling and nowadays even Biscoff (cookie butter spread) filling.
When I moved to the US I started to hear about a cake called Babka. It took me a while to realize that this babka was simply a yeast cake I know very well.
It can be made in so many different shapes and each time it looks like a different cake, but it is the same dough that is used every time.
This recipe is for the traditional loaf style babka which I normally fill with home made chocolate spread or ganache. I will be sharing a different shape and filling for a different babka too.
For some reason baking a Babka intimidates many people and it is often shied away from. It is actually a simple cake to make with just a few steps to follow.
This cake freezes beautifully. Freeze one for unexpected guests and you will always have something to serve.
Ingredients you will need for the basic dough: You can use this basic dough for all yeast cakes. The amount given here will be enough for 2 cakes.
500 grams of all purpose (plain) flour
1 tablespoon dry active yeast
A pinch of salt
½ cup sugar
2 teaspoons of vanilla sugar - I like using this in certain cakes for a soft vanilla flavor. It comes in small packets or a container. You can use a teaspoon of vanilla extract instead
½ cup canola oil
1 cup tap water (this varies according to flour used etc and you need to judge, start with less as you may need to add a little more if your dough is too dry or a little less if your flour is too sticky) add a little more flour if your dough is too sticky
150 grams semi sweet chocolate chips or broken up chocolate
150 heavy whipping cream (double cream in the UK)
(You can used a ready made chocolate spread like Nutella too)
Cinnamon mix (This is optional)
½ cup of sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa or cinnamon
1 packet of vanilla sugar
1 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Egg wash for brushing on before baking
1 tablespoon tap water
Before starting to bake it is always a good idea to read the recipe through when it is a detailed one
Measure your flour on a scale for accuracy.
Always sieve flour first into mixer bowl.
Add all dry ingredients and stir on the low setting of your mixer for a couple of minutes.
Add oil, eggs and water.
Mix with a dough hook for about 8 minutes on low - medium low setting until all the dough is separated from the sides. It should be very slightly sticky, adjust with flour or water if needed.
Take out your dough and fold it a couple of times by hand. In a large bowl, spray a little oil from a spray can, (or rub oil with your hands) place dough and also spray the top of the dough with oil. Cover with saran wrap. Let rise for 2 hours or until the dough has doubled in size. The time this takes will depend on the temperature in the room.
In the meanwhile make ganache.
In a bowl pour heavy whipping cream. Add chocolate chips and put in the microwave for 30 seconds to a minute.
Let stand for a couple of minutes and mix with a whisk until all the chocolate thickens a little, melts in the cream and has become a little shiny. If chocolate hasn't melted completely put back in microwave for a few seconds longer. Leave aside to set on the counter.
Make your syrup by putting the water, sugar and vanilla extract in a small pan and bring it to a boil stirring continually. Simmer for about 3 minutes to thicken a little while stirring. Let syrup cool off completely. You will pour this at the end on a hot babka.
After dough has risen take out from bowl and place on a slightly floured surface. Fold it a couple of times to release the air from the dough
Cut your dough in half to 2 equal sizes. Place one piece aside.
Roll out dough to an oval shape sheet
Add cooled ganache on to rolled out dough
Spread evenly to about a ¼ of an inch away from the edge
Mix cinnamon and sugar and spread it over your ganache. this helps the ganache from oozing out during baking (optional)
Start folding your dough from one edge to the other
Cut in half the center lengthwise.
You don't have to do this but it allows the dough to cook more evenly and creates a nice appearance. If you are not slicing it in the center cut the roll in half in the middle and stretch it out a little lengthwise to twist two pieces together. I strongly recommend slicing it in the middle though for more even and less doughy results.
Twist the two sections of the dough together like a two piece braid to shape the babka keeping the filling side on top. Repeat with the other dough you put aside. You should have two cakes to put in the lined cake pan.
Line 2 loaf pans with parchment paper. Place each babka in a loaf pan and cover with saran wrap to let rise for 30 minutes the second time
I like using the disposable loaf pans I get from Israel and they are available on line now. They are the perfect size and the cake comes out so evenly. You do not have to line these as they are coated with a non stick finish. They are also a great way to gift the cake. I will add the link for them at the bottom of the page.
Shown below is a babka unsliced in the center in a regular loaf pan
Turn oven on to 350 degrees
To make the egg wash whisk the eggs and water together. After dough has risen the second time brush the egg mixture on the babka covering all sides.
Place in oven for 25 -30 minutes checking to see when the babka turns golden. Do not let it get too dark or it will be burned. The bottom of the cake should be a little hard when you lift it to check. This means it is done.
Take out the babka from the oven and immediately pour your cold syrup over it while it is in the loaf pan. After two minutes take the cake out of the pan and let it cool completely on a rack before serving
Serve this delicious Babka and you will impress any guest for sure. Enjoy!