Recipes

Pumpkin Spice Babka

The spice is right in this sweet, swirled bread
1 Reviews
100% would make again
Photo: Rachel Vanni/Tasting Table
Pumpkin Spice Babka Recipe
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The late, great Seinfeld heroine Elaine Benes once said, “You can’t beat a babka.” And we couldn't agree more. As the Jewish High Holidays near, it’s time to break down how to make the perfect loaf.

For the unfamiliar, babka is a Jewish Eastern European bread made of a yeast dough that gets filled with ingredients like chocolate or cinnamon, rolled up, twisted and baked in a loaf pan. The sweet bread is known for its soft, brioche-like texture and distinct swirls of filling throughout.

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So what makes a great babka? “First and foremost, freshness,” Gadi Peleg, managing partner at Breads Bakery in NYC, tells us. “To find a great babka, you should to go to a place that sells a lot of babka. This way, you know that the babka has not been sitting on a shelf for days.”

When it comes to choosing a flavor, chocolate or cinnamon (the lesser babka) just won’t cut it. Call us basic all you want, but we’ve jumped on the pumpkin spice bandwagon in this version and will never look back. Pumpkin purée is mixed with seasonal flavors like cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice and clove for a touch of fall in every piece.

As seasoned babka consumers bakers and with the help of our babka consultant, Peleg, we’ve rounded up the tips you need to know before breaking bread.

Rise to the occasion. As with any bread, the dough is the most important part. Proofing dough takes patience and a keen eye; how long your dough needs to proof can change depending on the temperature of your kitchen. Essentially, you’re looking for the dough to double in size.

Fall means layering. Once your dough is proofed to perfection, it’s time to fill it. Although chocolate and cinnamon are the most common options, we encourage you to branch out. Just remember that when choosing your filling, you don’t want it to be too runny, or it won’t stay put when you halve and twist the babka. Pro tip: Keep the filling in the refrigerator until ready to use to avoid any melting or softening.

Be knot afraid. The braiding may seem daunting, but this is not a challah, people, so remain calm. Halve the dough lengthwise and twist the strands together (it’s really as simple as that). Just work quickly and cleanly, using a serrated knife when cutting the dough for extra security.

Now that you've mastered Babka 101 feel free to use this recipe all year round, switching up the filling to match the season. “When in doubt, spread lots and lots of Nutella!” Peleg offers as his final piece of wisdom for the first-time babka-makers out there.

  • Plenty of flour on your work surface is the key to rolling out a tacky dough-like babka.

  • After proofing, give the dough a final knead to release any air bubbles and form a smooth ball.

  • Roll out your babka dough into a 14-inch square, rotating the dough as needed since it will be elastic.

  • Spread the filling on the dough in an even layer, leaving 1 inch clean at the top.

  • Working with the edge closest to you, tightly roll the dough into a log.

  • The clean edge at the top allows you to seal the log into a clean roll without any of the filling falling out.

  • Leaving an inch attached at the end, slice the log down the middle.

  • A serrated knife works best to cleanly cut through the layers without pushing out any of the filling.

  • Once the log is separated, begin to twist the strands over each other.

  • When you get to the end, tuck the two end pieces under each other to form a sealed braid.

  • Place the babkas in loaf pans to proof again, where they will expand to fill the pans.

  • After baking, be sure to let the babkas cool for at least 20 minutes before removing from their pans.

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Pumpkin Spice Babka

Recipe from the Tasting Table Test Kitchen

Yield: 2 loaves

Prep Time: 30 minutes, plus proofing and cooling time

Cook Time: 45 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour and 15 minutes, plus proofing and cooling time

Ingredients

For the Dough:

1 cup whole milk, warmed to 115°

2¼ teaspoons active dry yeast

¼ cup, plus 1 teaspoon, granulated sugar, divided

5¼ cups flour, plus more for dusting

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ cup light brown sugar

4 eggs, divided

1 stick unsalted butter, cubed and softened, plus more for greasing

For the Filling:

One 15-ounce can pumpkin purée

½ cup brown sugar

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground ginger

½ teaspoon ground allspice

½ teaspoon ground cloves

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

Directions

1. Make the dough: In a large bowl, combine the milk, yeast and 1 teaspoon of the granulated sugar. Let it sit until it begins to foam, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk the flour, salt and cinnamon, and set aside.

2. To the foamy yeast mixture, add the remaining granulated sugar, the brown sugar and 3 eggs, and whisk to combine. Slowly stir in the flour until a dough forms, then transfer to a lightly floured surface. Using your hands, knead in the softened butter, a little at a time, until a smooth dough forms. Place in a greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

3. Meanwhile, make the filling: In a medium bowl, stir the filling ingredients together until incorporated.

4. Assemble the babkas: Preheat the oven to 350° and grease two 9-by-5-inch loaf pans. Divide the dough into 2 balls. On a lightly floured surface, roll 1 ball of dough out into a 14-inch square, about ⅛-inch thick.

5. Spread half of the filling evenly over the surface of the dough, leaving a 1-inch margin at the top of the square. Starting with the edge closest to you, roll the dough up tightly. Leaving ½-inch of dough connected, cut the roll lengthwise in two. Twist the strands together and pinch at the end to seal. Carefully place the babka in one of the prepared pans.

6. Repeat this process with the remaining dough and filling. Cover both babkas loosely with plastic wrap and place in a warm area until the dough expands to fill the pan, 45 minutes more.

7. In a small bowl, beat the remaining egg and liberally brush onto each babka. Bake, rotating halfway through, until golden and cooked through, 40 to 45 minutes.

8. Let cool slightly, then remove each bread from the pan and let cool before slicing and serving.

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