Bake from Scratch

Babka

Babka is the rarest of yeast breads: a visual beauty and a sumptuous treat all in one. Twisted, layered, and fantastically rich, it has impressed legions of hungry people from age to age. Brought to the US by Ashkenazi Jews in the 19th century, babka became a staple of delis and bakeries in metropolitan hot spots, from New York City to Chicago. Wherever babka went, babka love soon followed.

Despite its legendary status and stunning appearance, the babka is delightfully easy to shape. Dough is rolled out, filled, rolled back up, cut down the middle, and then twisted back together. Our guide is similarly uncomplicated. We begin by making a forgiving enriched dough. Then we focus on one of three fillings: two sweet (traditional chocolate and unorthodox chai spice) and one savory. Then we’ll walk you through the fun part—shaping and twisting your own perfect babka. From there, you’ll be one short preheat away from your own divine bread.

A Compact History of Babka

From the Polish villages to the Manhattan block

Babka is descended from another venerable Jewish bread classic, challah. In the 19th century, Polish Ashkenazi Jews began filling leftover challah dough with jam or spices during Shabbat, twisting it up into , a Polish word for “grandmother” and a pet name for a favorite springtime bread in Poland. Soon, the bread took on the moniker of (meaning “little grandmother”) and became completely delineated from its braided ancestor challah. The babka became noted for an exposed, layered filling, a twisted yet elegant creation. What is contained in that filling became intrinsically linked to chocolate once the Jews—and their delicious babka—traveled to the United States, where chocolate became a cheaper, easier-to-come-by ingredient. By the mid-20th century, babka was a common Jewish deli and bakery item, although it was less commonly found). As we enter the modern age, babka has returned to the home kitchen, with ardent home bakers drawn to its simple yet magical shaping method and its versatility, switching from sweet to savory fillings with ease.

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