This weekend I was inspired to make a twisted cinnamon babka by my Jewish girlfriend and her family. She often shares our baking adventures with them, and I’m already known within her family as an avid baker. When she mentioned a craving for babka, I knew it would be the perfect chance to bake something new and impress her family even more.
Before this bake, I had never eaten or even seen a babka in real life. I have seen a few made on baking shows. The Great British Bake Off had a particularly enjoyable debate about if some bakes were babkas or another variety of twisted loaf. Apparently the world of twisted loafs has some issues with definition.
I am going into this one with only an academic knowledge of what I’m making. Personally, I will have no comparison for how this turns out. I know that I’m going for a spiral pattern of cinnamon throughout the loaf, but that’s just about all I know!
I won’t be totally blind though. I will have my girlfriend’s assistance in the bake (as I often do) and I’ll be able to get her perspective on the resulting loaf, which will be invaluable to knowing how close I came to hitting the mark.
I chose a recipe from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s website that looked like a good first step into twisted loafs. In the recipe she mentions that this is one variation on a babka that she has put together, the other appearing in her book The Bread Bible.
Rolling and Twisting
The shaping of a babka is what produces the spirals of cinnamon that we are going for here. I’ll be stretching out my dough, spreading it with a mixture of sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, and egg. Then I’ll be rolling it up tight, folding it in half, and twisting it twice. This is a totally new technique for me in terms of shaping. I typically bake big, round loaves that don’t require such technical shaping.
A Different Kind of Sweet Bread
While the Monkey Bread was a full-on brioche, the dough in this bake isn’t quite that sweet or buttery. You make up for that lack of sweetness in the dough with whatever you choose to add to it. I went with cinnamon, but another popular variation swaps that out for chocolate.
What did I learn?
The Twist is King
I really needed to twist the bread more consistently. The recipe calls for you to fold the rolled up spiral of doug in half, then twist twice. While I thought I had given the dough a vigorous two twists, one end of the babka was barely twisted at all! By chance I cut into that side of the loaf first and was quite disappointed with the spiral I saw. I expected so many more swirls of cinnamon and dough from the pictures I had seen online!
In addition to the look of the loaf, the taste of the babka was also affected by the lack of a good twist. The loaf needed to have lots of those swirls to get the filling into each slice.
However, all was not lost! As I cut through the loaf each piece progressively got better swirls and had more of the cinnamon and sugar flavor. I hadn’t completely messed up the twist! Just partly. By the end of the loaf I was quite pleased with the look and flavor I was getting in each slice.
How’d it eat?
My early slices of the loaf were (as belabored above) not nearly as flavorful as the later slices. Once I got past the first third of the loaf, the slices were so full of cinnamon swirls and delicious. I found that lightly toasting the slice and covering it in butter was my preferred way of eating the babka. A close runner-up was toasting, and then eating with overeasy eggs and bacon for a sweet n’ savory babka experience.