Raspberry Walnut Birthday Babka
It's my husband's birthday! Well, it was last week, anyway. Without him, my life would look unimaginably different. Meeting him four years ago shaped my future in ways I couldn't have imagined, and I'm forever grateful for it. He's is the only person around whom I can really by myself in all of my weird, sing-songy, long-limbed glory. And through the colossal dynamic shift in our home life that came with the birth of our son, he's been nothing but loving and supportive. So I wanted to make him something extra special for his birthday.
For weeks he had been asking for some kind of breakfast pastry, and I had been wanting to make babka for a while. So I made an especially festive birthday babka. What specifically made it a birthday babka, you ask? The timing. And sprinkles, obviously.
Having failed at babka before (I think it was an issue with the yeast), I wanted to go with what I figured would be a fool-proof recipe. I chose to use the dough recipe from Bake from Scratch Magazine's special bread edition. The BFS team goes through rigorous testing of their recipes before finally printing them, so I felt pretty confident about it. And I've had success with their recipes before. But the filling I came up with was an idea I had been playing around with for "fruit butter." No, not the kind of healthy fruit butter you get when reducing apples or pears for hours. I mean fruit + butter = fruit butter. I don't judge you; you don't judge me.
And being inspired by the broken cookies added to David Lebovitz's Chocolate Babka, I tossed in some homemade raspberry walnut streusel made with freeze-dried raspberries. I'll admit that the crunch I was hoping for was lost when the streusel was baked surrounded by a melty, buttery filling. So if you don't feel like going through the trouble of making streusel, I get it. I probably won't the next time around, either. Instead, just toss some chopped walnuts on top of your raspberry filling. But I kept the streusel recipe posted below in case you're inspired to use it for something else.
Overall, the process of making babka is pretty simple, and it can be made in one day or stretched out over several - whichever works best for you. Just start with a sweet, sticky, yeasted dough, let it rise, and then chill it so that it's easier to work with. Next, roll it out, slather it with filling, and roll it up like you would a log for cinnamon rolls. Finally, cut, twist, and proof it before baking. But the pièce de résistance is the simple syrup drizzled on top after the dough has baked. I know it doesn't sound like much, but if the crust dries out at all while baking, the syrup will revive it! And it will give it a hearty glaze that will make every imperfection look perfectly intentional. The finished bread will be moist, sweet, and RICH. So salad for lunch, right?
Right... The rest of the day was filled with fried rice, lobster rolls, and chocolate cake. Happy birthday!
Raspberry Walnut Birthday Babka
Yields one 9-inch loaf
Total Time: 4 to 20 hours (it can be left to rise overnight)
Optional: Raspberry + Walnut Streusel (See Note 1 for a simple substitution)
50 g (scant 1/2 C) all-purpose flour
50 g (1/4 C) granulated sugar
3/8 tsp salt
50 g (approx. 1/2 C) chopped walnuts
14 g (approx. 3/4 C) freeze-dried raspberries
56 g (2 oz; 1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cold & cubed
150 g (5.3 oz; approx. 11 T) unsalted butter, room temperature
150 g (approx. 2/3 C) raspberries, fresh or thawed (if frozen)
90 g (approx. 2/3 C) confectioners' sugar, sifted
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Babka Dough (Modified from Bake from Scratch Magazine - The Bread Collection 2016)
451 g (approx. 2 3/4 C) all-purpose flour
79 g (3/8 C) granulated sugar
7 g (1 1/2 tsp) active dry yeast
2 large eggs, room temperature
3.5 oz (7 T; scant 1/2 C) whole milk, warmed to approx. 105°F
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
120 g (4.25 oz; 9 T) unsalted butter, soft
9 g (1 1/2 tsp) salt
Optional: Jimmies sprinkles
53 g (1/4 C) granulated sugar
2 oz (1/4 C) water
Optional: Streusel (See Note 1 for a simple substitution)
Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, salt, chopped walnuts, and dried raspberries. Next, stir in the butter pieces and use your hands to blend them into the flour mixture. Once the mixture is fully combined and resembles clay, crumble it with your fingers onto an unlined baking sheet and bake for about 30 minutes, until mostly dried-out and toasted. Remove from the oven, allow to cool, and then break apart into large crumbs, like granola. Set aside or freeze until needed.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter on medium speed with the paddle attachment until fluffy. Add the raspberries (thawed and drained, if previously frozen), and continue to beat on medium until well combined and fluffy. It may look curdled at first, but just keep beating the mixture - it'll come together. Next, add the sifted confectioners' sugar and vanilla and beat on low speed until just combined, then increase to medium until well blended. Once smooth and creamy, scoop the filling into a bowl and keep at room temperature if using that day. Otherwise, cover and store it in the refrigerator for up to a week.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, stir together the flour, sugar, and yeast on low speed for a few seconds to distribute. Meanwhile, whisk together the eggs, warmed milk, and vanilla extract until combined. Pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture and stir on low until the dough forms, about 3 minutes. If the dough is still dry and crumbly, add a little more milk (one tablespoon at a time), but you should not have to do this. Next, add the butter a tablespoon at a time and continue to knead the dough on low until it starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl, 5 minutes. If the dough is too sticky to pull away from the sides of the bowl, you can add a little flour (one tablespoon at a time); but you should not need to do this. Finally, add the salt and continue to knead for another 10 minutes. Meanwhile, drizzle a little neutral oil (e.g. canola) into a mixing bowl and smear it around the inside. Once the dough is finished being kneaded, pull it out of the mixer, gently shape it into a ball, and place it into the oiled bowl. Cover the bowl with loose plastic wrap and do one of the following:
- To bake today: set it to rise in a warm place for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until doubled in size. Then place it into the refrigerator for 20-30 minutes, until slightly firm and cool to the touch, but not stiff. This way, the dough will be easier to handle than if at room temperature.
- To bake tomorrow: place it in the refrigerator to rise overnight for about 12-18 hours. The next day, remove the bowl from the fridge and let let the dough warm up until it is slightly firm and cool, but not stiff or too soft, about 1 hour.
When ready to assemble, make sure your filling is at room temperature. Grease a 9-inch loaf pan. Then cut a long sheet of parchment to be 8-inches high, and drape it over the loaf pan so that the ends hang over the pan’s sides. Set aside.
Once the dough has risen and been chilled, lay it on a floured surface. Roll it out to a 12-inch long rectangle, about 1/2-inch thick. Spread the filling on top leaving a 1/2-inch border around the edges. If you don't use all of the filling, you can save it and spread it on toast! Next, sprinkle your crumbled streusel (or simple chopped walnuts) on top of the filling. Add sprinkles, if desired. Then with the long side of the dough facing you, roll it into a log as you would for cinnamon rolls. Once rolled, seal the ends and pinch the seam along the side of the dough to close it. You can use a simple egg wash the help keep the seam shut, but I didn’t find it necessary. Next, take a sharp knife and, starting about 2 inches away from one end of the log, cut all the way through the dough lengthwise, dividing it in half. It should look like a clothespin, more or less. Take each end of the dough and twist them together to form a rope, making sure that the exposed layers face outward. Then pinch the two pieces at the end together to seal it. Don’t worry if some of the streusel or walnuts fall out; just sprinkle them back on top of the dough, along with more sprinkles (if desired). Now place the braid into the prepared pan and set it aside in a warm place to proof until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
While proofing, preheat your oven to 350°F. Once proofed, first bake the loaf on the middle rack for 30 minutes, uncovered. Then cover it loosely with foil to prevent burning, and continue to bake it for an additional 30-60 minutes, until a skewer or thermometer inserted in the center comes out clean (see Note 2). Remove the babka from the oven, and allow it to cool for 5 minutes in the pan.
While the babka is cooling, prepare your simple syrup. Just combine the sugar and water in a microwave-safe bowl or pyrex and cook until it begins to boil, about a minute or so. Remove the bowl and stir the mixture until the sugar fully dissolves. Then brush it onto the babka and allow it to soak in for 5 minutes while still in the pan. Finally, remove the babka by pulling up on the overhanging parchment paper, and let it finish cooling on a wire rack. Enjoy for up to 5 days!
- In lieu of making streusel, you can just sprinkle the dough with simple chopped walnuts. But I wanted the flavor of crumbled cookies, so I added butter, flour, and sugar. It is a birthday, after all.
- The babka should only need an additional 30 minutes once covered with foil. But I accidentally used a pan that was too small, so the bread was compressed and dense, which caused it to take much longer to bake. The extra buttery (read: wet) filling may also have been a factor. So just keep checking your dough every 5-10 minutes if it needs more than the additional 30.