Three Of California's Best Bakeries Are Experimenting With Babka

Three of California's best bakeries are experimenting with the pastry of the moment

New York City has been in the midst of a babka heat wave ever since the Israeli-based Breads bakery unleashed its Nutella-studded babka loaves on an unsuspecting populace. That single loaf managed to launch something of a babka revolution. The bakers at Arcade, a superb bakery tucked away in an office building in Tribeca, and more recently Melissa Weller at the Torrisi Jewish restaurant Sadelle's started to offer their own excellent interpretations.

Somehow a few of those loaves managed to sneak past TSA and hop a flight to California where they ended up in the hands of some of the state's best bakers who are spawning their own West Coast babka movement.

Nick Beitcher, a bread baker at Tartine in San Francisco, explains, "Chad [Robertson] went to New York and had the babka at Arcade and was really wowed by it." Meanwhile, a chef friend of the bakery managed to smuggle some loaves from Breads out of New York and into Tartine. "Babka with that attention to detail I had never had before," Beitcher says. So, he started playing around with a recipe of his own.

Babka generally fall into two camps: a more traditional brioche or the new school laminated version (a flakey croissant-ish dough). Beitcher tried out both, ending up somewhere in the middle with a fermented laminated brioche dough and a Nutella filling. "It's kind of the best of both worlds," he says. He's still testing out the recipe and says San Franciscans should keep their eyes out for the loaves at Tartine in the future.

Further south, the team at Travis Lett's Venice Beach bakery Gjusta has been making babka with leftover scraps of croissant dough for several months. "It's very much pieced together," baker Sasha Piligian says. The dough's rolled in cinnamon sugar (or sometimes laced with chocolate), spiraled and baked into a loaf that pulls apart easily. "If we don't have babka on a certain day people freak out," Piligian adds.

At Lodge Bread only a few miles away, babka is a new, once-a-week treat that the team just started offering on Saturday mornings, co-owner Alexander Phaneuf says. The 75 or so slices, which typically sell out by noon, are a riff on the team's whole grain brioche dough that they use for cinnamon rolls, tied up with Valrhona chocolate and halva.



Co-owner Or Ansalem's father came back from Tel Aviv with 60 pounds of the dough, according to Phaneuf. "All the halva and chocolate gets that layered gooeyness on the inside and the outside has an almost cinnamon roll like crust."

Now, if only some of those loaves could get past TSA and make their way to New York...