Cinnamon babka is a sweet bread that is braided or twisted to reveal layers of chocolate or buttery cinnamon sugar. Of Ashkenazi Jewish origin, it is a scrumptious addition to any holiday table.
My past holiday bread efforts have never failed to be delicious, thank goodness, but as far as looks go, they’ve occasionally left something to be desired. Like the Russian Krendl, which rose so prodigiously that it spilled all over the pan and into the oven, emerging a flat pancake rather than the beautifully formed pretzel shape it started out as. Or the infamous Chocolate Yule Log, which still has me shaking my head with laughter at the outrageous comedy of errors that ensued. Thankfully, the Cardamom Bread was beautiful to behold with its lovely braided form and perfectly golden crust.
Back to the cinnamon babka recipe.
All was going swimmingly until I discovered that the multiple bags of flour I had on hand were whole wheat instead of white. Humph. Not one to do the sensible thing and dash to town for white flour, I decided to give the whole wheat flour its time in the spotlight.
Thankfully, it proved to be a fortuitous decision. Not only did the dough rise beautifully the first time, but -- much to my astonishment -- the second time, too. The filling came together splendidly, smooth and dark and fragrant. The walnuts remained on the chopping board while I chopped them and I did not spill the streusel-like topping whilst I vigorously worked in the butter to attain the perfect crumbliness.
I did not tear the dough while rolling it up, and the roll did not fall apart when I carefully sliced it length-wise to achieve pieces for braiding. The braid did not come undone when I shaped it, and the loaf did not topple onto the floor when I lifted it into the bread pan.
My eyebrows shot up farther and farther in astonished delight as each step of the baking process went exactly the way it was supposed to.
When I finally slid the perfectly risen loaf into the oven, pre-heated to the correct temperature, I waited on tenterhooks to see what would happen. Would it stay risen, or collapse in the middle? Would the top burn or attain a lovely golden crust? Would it be cooked properly inside, or emerge gooey and underdone?
I opened the oven door annnnnnd...
it was wonderful, and almost perfect. One side had slid down over the lip of the pan, but it was nothing a swift trim with a sharp knife couldn’t fix. I was delighted. I removed the loaf from the oven, cooked through, golden brown, and smelling of cinnamon heaven. I let it cool on the counter before realizing that the sun was almost down and I wouldn’t have a chance for pictures if I didn’t hustle.
So, with my amused hubby scurrying out of the way, I dashed outside balancing babka and teacup and teapot and camera to catch the last few minutes of daylight. Finishing up as the sun disappeared, I finally sat down with a warm slice of cinnamon babka and a cup of Brunch in Paris chocolate orange tea. Bliss.
For pure cinnamon babka bliss of your own, try brewing a pot of one of our delicious holiday tea blends like Spicy Caramel Apple Cinnamon herbal tea, Gingerbread Chai, or Chocolate Rosemary Caramel herbal tea.
Cinnamon Babka Recipe
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 cups whole wheat flour
- 2 tablespoons powdered milk
- 2 teaspoons instant yeast
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 cup white sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup water, room temperature
- 1 large egg
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
- 4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon whole wheat flour
- 4 tablespoons butter, melted
- 2 teaspoons water
- 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 2 tablespoons whole wheat flour
- 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon butter, room temperature
In medium bowl, stir together all dough ingredients until flour disappears. Cover and set aside for 20 minutes.
While dough is resting, stir together flour, cinnamon, and brown sugar for filling and set aside.
Finely chop the walnuts and set aside.
Stir together flour, sugar, and cinnamon for topping, and set aside.
Remove dough from bowl and knead until smooth and soft. Lightly grease a medium-size bowl, place dough inside, cover with a clean dish towel, and leave to rise 1.5-2 hours.
At the 1.5 hour mark, get the filling ingredients and add the water and melted butter. Stir until smooth and set aside.
Get the topping ingredients and blend in the butter until mixture resembles coarse sand. Set aside.
Remove dough from bowl and set on clean countertop. Using your hands, press it out into a rectangle about 9 inches by 18 inches.
Spread the filling evenly over the surface, leaving a 1-inch border. Sprinkle the chopped walnuts evenly over the filling.
Starting at the short side, roll the dough up like a jelly roll, then pinch the ends and seam to seal. With a sharp knife, cut the roll in half length-wise and set close together, cut sides up. Carefully twist the two lengths together, pinching the ends to keep them closed.
Place loaf in parchment-lined or lightly greased bread pan.
Brush the loaf with beaten egg and sprinkle the topping evenly over the surface. Cover with a clean dish towel and leave to rise 1.5 to 2 hours.
At the 1.5 hour mark, preheat oven to 350F. Bake for 30 minutes then cover loaf gently with a piece of aluminum foil and bake another 15-20 minutes until loaf is a dark golden brown.
Remove from oven and let cool for 10-15 minutes before turning out onto a cooling rack to cool completely.
Serve warm, room temperature, or toasted.