This apple-stuffed babka is sweetened only with honey & boiled apple cider. Have it for breakfast or brunch, or serve it after your festive Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) meal!
Bread by another name
Recently we talked about how challah can be braided and shaped in so many different ways. Challah, an egg-enriched bread, brings its own qualities to the table. Another egg-enriched bread is brioche…it’s bread that has copious amounts of egg and butter that really elevate it to another level. Babka is bread that falls in between challah and brioche…it’s egg and butter enriched, but not so much as to overpower the filling. Babka is also shaped (like a challah) with its filling rolled up inside double spirals twisted together (think DNA...science in the kitchen!). The upshot is when you slice into a babka, you see the veins of filling swirling about, complemented by the bread itself (my Cranberry Wine Babka being an example).
Apples & Honey as symbols
I told you last week about my Maple Walnut Scones that I entered into the King Arthur Flour Fall Festival baking contest, and I mentioned the Apples & Honey Babka that was my second entry. I was aiming for a babka that would feature apples as the fall flavor for the contest, using my homemade boiled apple cider as a key ingredient. Since apples & honey are important symbols of Rosh Hashanah (they represent the wish to have a sweet New Year), I thought I’d create a babka recipe that would also showcase honey to honor the holiday (Honey Cake is a traditional Rosh Hashanah dessert). Substituting honey for the sugar in my challah recipe was easy. And so, I started tinkering with how the babka was going to be filled…
My first attempt at filling was just mixing the boiled apple cider with creamed honey and butter...I thought the thick spread would be a great base for chopped apples. I spread that mixture onto the rolled out babka dough, topped it with those chopped apples, then went ahead with the rest of the shaping and baking procedure. The results were decidedly mediocre…there was not enough filling for the amount of dough present. The spread had melted out and pooled at the bottom of the pan (creating a sticky syrup when cooled), and the chunks of baked apple, while tasty, were overshadowed by the bread dough. Blah.
When at first you don’t succeed…go a different route
Ok, trying again, we definitely needed a spread that wouldn’t melt away, and apples that had a powerful enough presence to stand up to the dough. I went a different way, softening the apples in butter and amping up their flavor with honey, boiled cider, and vanilla. That created a spread that was thick enough to stay inside the filled babka and flavorful enough to counter the bread. Oh, and I topped the baked babka with a glaze featuring the boiled apple cider (similar to the maple glaze used on the Maple Walnut Scones (we're sensing a theme here...). Apples & honey for the win!
Making work go quickly
Peeling and slicing the apples can be a chore. Some people have an Apple Peeler/Corer/Slicer...I used to have one, but it's in storage after our move from Los Angeles to Boston, so I improvised. I used a serrated peeler to peel the apples, a melon baller to core them, and a mandolin slicer to thinly slice them. I definitely used the food guard on the mandolin...I want to keep all my fingers!
Doing the twist...
The trickiest part of making babka is shaping it. The first step is filling the dough like you're making cinnamon rolls. The next step is to cut the roll into two pieces lengthwise, twist them both individually in one direction, then twist the twisted ropes together in the opposite direction. Tuck the ends under and put it into a standard loaf pan. It's messy, and you'll have to tuck in any escaping apples. Be firm!
Miss with the contest, hit with the flavor
Well, not quite a win…this recipe didn’t win the King Arthur Flour baking contest either. It was, however, incredibly tasty…think apple pie filling stuffed into challah. The glaze didn’t set like the maple glaze did (I’m not sure why), so it’s best to put that on right before you serve the babka.
I hope you make this Apples & Honey Babka, regardless if you celebrate Rosh Hashanah…you won’t be disappointed. And if you do celebrate the holiday, I wish you a sweet and prosperous New Year!
Slainté! L’chaim! Cheers!
Apples & Honey Babka
- rolling pin
- pastry brush
- 1/2 cup milk (4 oz, 113g), warmed to 105°F
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1-1/2 tsp instant yeast (5g)
- 1 large egg
- 1/4 cup honey (3 oz, 85g)
- 1-1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 3 cups King Arthur Flour unbleached all-purpose flour (12-3/4 oz, 360g)
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 3 Tbsp butter (1-1/2 oz, 45g), unsalted
- 3 Tbsp butter (1-1/2 oz, 45g), unsalted
- 3 cups apples (12 oz, 240g, 4 medium apples),, peeled, cored, thinly sliced (about 1/8-inch thick) (see Recipe Notes)
- 1/3 cup honey (4 oz, 113g)
- 2 Tbsp boiled apple cider
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 1 Tbsp butter (1/2 oz, 15g), unsalted
- 2 Tbsp boiled apple cider
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar (2 oz, 56g), sifted
- Start the dough: Combine the milk and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer, then sprinkle the yeast over the milk and set aside to proof for about 5 minutes or until bubbles form on the surface of the milk.
- Add the egg, honey, and vanilla. Mix on low speed using the paddle attachment for about 30 seconds until combined. Add the flour, and the salt and mix on low speed until the flour is incorporated into the liquid and a sticky dough forms. Add the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, waiting until it is incorporated before each addition.
- Once all the butter is added, switch to the dough hook and knead the dough on medium-high speed until a smooth and slightly sticky dough forms, about 5 minutes. Gather the dough into a ball, stretching the dough so the top of the ball is smooth. Grease a bowl with a light coating of canola oil or butter, then place the dough back into the bowl, with the gathered rough part of the dough down and the smooth surface of the ball facing up. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for about 1 hour, or until the dough has doubled in size. Punch down dough, return to bowl, and chill for at least 1 hour (can rest overnight).
- Make the Filling: Melt butter in a large skillet over med-high heat. Cook apples in butter until starting to soften (about 5-7 minutes), then add honey, boiled apple cider, and vanilla.
- Reduce heat and simmer until sauce has thickened, 8-10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and chill for at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator. (Can be made up to 5 days ahead, just bring to room temperature before using).
- Shape and bake the babka: Coat a standard loaf pan with cooking spray and line with parchment paper, leaving an 2-inch overhand on the long sides. Set aside.
- Dust a clean surface with flour and roll the chilled dough out to a rectangle roughly 10- x 14-inches (about 1/4-inch thick with a long side facing you (landscape orientation). Using an offset spatula, spread the cooled apples over the surface of the dough, leaving a 1-inch strip bare along the long side away from you.
- Tightly roll the dough up from the long side facing you, making a 14-inch rope. Chill the rope for at least 30 minutes (chilling helps the dough hold its shape while you twist it).
- Slice the rope in half lengthwise using a bench scraper, making two 14-inch long pieces. Twist each long piece individually so the apples are trapped inside the dough, tucking in any apples that may have fallen out. Twist and wrap the two ropes of dough together. Squish the twisted dough together and transfer it to the prepared loaf pan, tucking in any stray pieces of apples and dough. This is messy business but worth it in the end!
- Brush the beaten egg over the top of the dough in the pan, then cover with a piece of greased plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes.
- Adjust the oven rack to the lower third position. Place a baking sheet on the lower rack to catch any drips. Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C).
- Once the dough has rested (it won’t have risen much, just a tiny bit), brush with beaten egg again.
- Bake for 55-65 minutes, or until the top of the dough is deep golden brown, the center is firm, and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the top (the internal temperature should be above 190°F). If you find the top of the loaf is browning too quickly as it bakes, tent it with aluminum foil...I placed foil on top after about 25 minutes.
- Let babka cool in the pan for 15 minutes on a wire cooling rack, then use the parchment paper to lift the babka out of the pan and transfer it to back to the wire cooling rack. Let cool.
- Make the glaze: Melt the butter and boiled apple cider together In a small saucepan over low heat, whisking occasionally. Once the butter has melted, remove from heat and whisk in the sifted powdered sugar.
- Drizzle the glaze over the babka just before serving, letting it set about 5 minutes (if you can wait that long!). Serve & enjoy!