Cinnamon babka is a rich yeast bread swirled with a brown sugar cinnamon filling. In the oven, the filling melts and bubbles, creating a sticky, gooey loaf loaded with cinnamon flavor. The rich dough gets a flavor boost from a slow, overnight rise, though there is a speedier same-day option too. It’s a stunning bread that’s sure to turn any day into a celebration.
Babka is a traditional Jewish bread from Eastern Europe. It was originally a clever way to use up extra dough by layering it with sweet fillings like cinnamon or jam when making challah, a braided enriched bread.
While it’s long been a staple of Jewish delis and bakeries in New York City, babka has exploded in popularity in the last several years thanks to a new style created at Breads Bakery, a popular bakery chain. The new style, which this recipe emulates, is much richer than traditional babka, erring closer to a filled brioche than challah.
Tips for Shaping a Babka Loaf
- The most common, and classic shape for a babka is a loaf. Babka loaves look impressive and make beautiful, cinnamon swirled slices perfect for sharing. The dough is rolled and filled like cinnamon rolls, then sliced in half lengthwise and twisted back together. Here are a few tips for making the prettiest loaf.
- The dough is much easier to work with while it’s cold. As it warms up, the dough may begin to stick to your counter, making it harder to shape and slice.
- To keep the dough cold and firm enough for a clean slice, wrap the rolled-up log in plastic wrap or parchment paper and place it in the freezer for 5 to 10 minutes. This should make it firm enough to slice without tearing the layers of dough and filling.
- When slicing the rolled-up babka in half, some recipes advise you to leave one end of the log attached and to twist from there. With a loaf, I prefer to slice it all the way through so it’s easier to expose all of the gorgeous layers.
How to Make Individual Babka Buns
While a loaf is the most common shape for a babka, you can also make little individual babka buns. Smaller babka ropes are twisted and knotted together into buns that can be baked in a muffin tin or on a baking sheet. Here’s how to shape individual babka buns:
Divide the dough into 16 equal pieces. Roll one piece of dough on a floured work surface into a wide rectangle, about 4 1/2 by 7 1/2-inches, with the long edge nearest you. Spread about 2 tablespoons of the cinnamon filling onto the dough, leaving a 1/4-inch margin at the top of the rectangle.
Roll the dough tightly into a snug log and set it aside onto a parchment-lined baking tray. Repeat filling and rolling with the rest of the dough pieces. Place the tray in the freezer for 5 minutes to firm up the dough.
Remove the baking tray from the freezer. Slice a log in half lengthwise, leaving one end attached. Twirl the strands together to form a twist. Shape the twisted rope into a circle and fit the end through the center, like tying a knot.
Tidy it up by tucking the other end underneath the knot. Repeat with the rest of the dough. Transfer to two parchment-lined baking sheets, 8 buns per tray, or into two muffin tins.
Let the buns rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes at 375°F until golden brown. Once out of the oven, brush the buns liberally with syrup while they’re still warm.
Add a Twist
Cinnamon is a classic babka flavor, but you can change things up. Why not add some nuts to the filling, or add a crumbly streusel on top, or swap the filling entirely? Here are a few ways you can add a twist to your babka:
- Add some toasted chopped nuts, like walnuts or pecans to the filling. After spreading the cinnamon filling over the dough, sprinkle on 1/2 cup (60g) chopped toasted nuts per babka.
- Top the loaves with sweet and crumbly streusel. In a small bowl combine 1/2 cup (60g) all-purpose flour, 2 tablespoons (25g) granulated sugar, 2 tablespoons (27g) brown sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon. Use a fork to cut in 6 tablespoons (85g) cold butter into the flour mixture until it looks crumbly. You don’t want a cohesive dough. This makes enough streusel for both loaves.
- Cinnamon babka may be more traditional, but decadent chocolate babka is also popular. The chocolate filling can make assembly a bit messier, but it is so worth it.
This loaf is so rich that it’s just as apt for dessert as it is for breakfast. It’s especially great for brunch on special occasions, or a delicious way to turn any ordinary morning into a special occasion.
Leftover slices are even better warmed up. You can heat slices in the microwave for a few seconds or pop the whole loaf, wrapped in foil, in a 325°F oven for 10 minutes. You could even try turning leftover slices into French Toast or an extra indulgent French Toast Casserole.
Cinnamon babka is best the day it is made but can be stored airtight for up to three days on the counter. You can also freeze the babka for up to one month, which is handy since this recipe makes two loaves. Once cooled to room temperature, wrap the babka in a couple of layers of plastic wrap, then in a layer of foil. Defrost at room temperature.
If you prefer to make just one loaf, you can halve the recipe. If your mixer is larger than 5 quarts, I don’t recommend it, as the mass of dough will be too small for the mixer.
For the dough
4 3/4 cups (570g) bread flour
1/3 cup (70g) sugar
3 teaspoons instant yeast
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup (160 milliliters) whole milk, lukewarm (100°F)
3 large eggs, room temperature
10 tablespoons (150g) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for greasing loaf pans
For the filling
2 cups (426g) brown sugar
6 tablespoons (85g) unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons (15g) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
For the syrup
2 tablespoons (120 milliliters) water
2/3 cup (133g) sugar
- Stand mixer
Mix the dry ingredients:
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook attachment, whisk together the flour, sugar, yeast, and salt.
Make the dough:
Pour in the warm milk and the eggs and mix on low speed until everything is incorporated and the dough comes together into a rough ball, about 5 minutes.
Increase the speed to medium and continue kneading until the dough is elastic and no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl. This should take about 5 minutes, but keep kneading until the dough gathers around the dough hook.
Let the dough rest, uncovered, for 10 minutes. This gives the gluten a chance to relax, making it easier to incorporate the butter.
Add the butter:
Return the mixer to medium speed and add the softened butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, waiting until it’s fully incorporated before adding the next tablespoon. Take your time and allow the dough to absorb the butter. It should take 5 to 8 minutes to add all of the butter.
Knead the dough:
Continue kneading the dough on medium speed until the dough is smooth and no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl, about 10 minutes. The sides of the bowl should be clean, and the dough may make a slapping sound against the bowl as it mixes; these are good signs that the dough is ready for the first rise.
Let the dough rise at room temperature then transfer to the refrigerator:
Scrape the dough out onto a clean surface and shape it into a ball. Lightly grease the bowl with butter. Transfer the dough back into the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise at room temperature for 1 1/2 hours.
Once the dough has risen at room temperature, the dough should be puffy and have risen noticeably, but it wouldn’t have doubled. Transfer the covered bowl to the refrigerator, where the dough will continue to rise a bit and develop flavor. Chill overnight or up to 2 days.
Same-day option: While an overnight rise is preferable for developing the best flavor, you can finish the babka the same day as long as you chill the dough in the refrigerator for a minimum of 1 hour. The dough will need this time to continue rising, and to chill. Cold dough is easier to roll out and shape.
Make the cinnamon filling:
When you’re ready to bake the babka, make the cinnamon filling. In a medium mixing bowl combine the brown sugar, butter, flour, and cinnamon with a rubber spatula until smooth.
Divide the dough in half:
Lightly flour a clean work surface and scrape the chilled dough onto it. Use a sharp knife or a dough scraper to divide the dough in half. Work with one piece of dough at a time, reserving the other, covered, in the refrigerator.
Roll out the dough:
Lightly dust the top of the dough with flour. Use a rolling pin to roll out the dough to a rectangle, about 10 inches by 15 inches with the short edge nearest you.
If the dough is cold, it shouldn’t stick much. While rolling pause to move the dough regularly, lifting it off the work surface and adding a little extra flour if it starts to stick.
Spread the cinnamon filling:
Use an offset spatula or your hands to spread half of the cinnamon filling onto the dough, covering the entire surface except for a 1/2-inch margin at the top of the rectangle.
Roll the dough:
Roll the dough into a snug spiral, starting with the short edge closest to you. Wrap the rolled dough with plastic wrap and place it in the freezer for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, roll and fill the second piece of dough following the same method. Transfer the second piece of dough to the freezer while you prepare the pans.
Prepare the pans:
Grease two loaf pans generously with butter. Line the pans with a piece of parchment paper, leaving a couple of inches of overhang on the long sides. Don’t worry about the short sides, the parchment helps you to be able to easily lift out the loaves later. You can use either 9x5-inch or 8 1/2 x4 1/2-inch loaf pans.
Twist the babkas:
Remove the dough from the freezer and slice the log in half lengthwise with a sharp knife or dough scraper. Pinch the ends together and twist the halves over each other a few times, twisting them together into a helix. The cut-side of the dough with the cinnamon layers will be exposed.
Gently transfer the babka into one of the prepared pans and cover with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel. Repeat with the second piece of dough.
Proof at room temperature:
Let the dough rise at room temperature until almost doubled in size, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. The dough should be puffy and will have risen to roughly 1/2-inch below the rim of the pan.
Preheat the oven:
When the loaves are almost ready to bake, arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350°F.
Bake the babkas:
Remove the plastic wrap or kitchen towel and bake the loaves for 35 to 40 minutes, or until golden brown on top. A toothpick inserted into the loaf should come out without any doughy bits sticking to it. Or you can check for doneness with an instant thermometer, which should read 190°F.
Make the syrup:
While the babkas are baking, prepare the syrup. In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the sugar and water to a simmer. Cook until the sugar has completely dissolved. Turn off the heat and set it aside.
Brush the babkas with syrup:
As soon as the babkas are done baking, use a sharp knife or a skewer to pierce the tops of the babkas in several places.
Use a pastry brush to brush them generously with the syrup. Add as much syrup to each loaf as you like. It sweetens and keeps the bread moist and adds an attractive shine to the top.
Cool and serve:
Let the babkas rest in their pans for 10 minutes to cool slightly and absorb the syrup. Don’t leave them in the pans for longer than 10 minutes, or they may stick.
Use the parchment paper to lift out the loaves and set them on a wire rack to finish cooling. Allow the babkas to cool completely before slicing and serving. It’s difficult to wait, but the structure of the bread won’t set until it’s close to room temperature.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 16 to 20|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 11g||14%|
|Saturated Fat 6g||32%|
|Total Carbohydrate 54g||19%|
|Dietary Fiber 1g||5%|
|Total Sugars 31g|
|Vitamin C 0mg||0%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|