It seems like everything old is new again these days where food is concerned, and that includes the recent renaissance of babka. The name of this rich, rolled yeast bread, with roots in both the Jewish and non-Semitic Eastern European communities, means "little grandmother" in Ukrainian, Russian, and Yiddish.
Traditionally, babka is filled with seeds, nuts, and sometimes even honey, but as you'll soon see—anything goes these days. Perhaps the name itself harkens to someone's tiny but fierce grandmother going to town on the dough in her rustic kitchen, making sweets for her adored grandchildren.
Today, the most popular type of babka is unquestionably chocolate. In fact, it's so popular that it was the centerpiece of a schtick on Seinfeld where Jerry and Elaine missed out on nabbing a chocolate babka to bring to a dinner party and had to settle for (to them) the "lesser" cinnamon babka. Hilarity, as it inevitably does on the show, ensues.
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Chocolate babka is exactly what it sounds like: the basic dairy-rich, yeast dough rolled around layers of melted chocolate. Bryan Libit's mother Caryn's recipe for ultimate chocolate babka takes it to the next level with the addition of nuts and cinnamon and a streusel topping that is to die for. Oh, and it makes three loaves so you don't have to worry about sacrificing your sole babka to bring to a dinner party.
A variation on the chocolate babka from Kate Gibbs adds in rum-soaked dried cherries. This boozy babka is made into smaller rolls and drizzled with sugary rum syrup when warm out of the oven.
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Though Jerry and Elaine may have scoffed at cinnamon babka, it is actually a deliciously sweet and spicy take on the tasty treat. This most basic version from the Brown Eyed Baker has no chocolate, no streusel topping, and no raisins or nuts—just tangy cinnamon and yeasty dough.
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A couple of years ago, Hanukkah came early and Thanksgiving was late... so we were treated to a delightful, hybrid holiday of Thanksgivukkah. This pumpkin cinnamon babka from the remarkable young baker/photographer Anne on her blog Sprinkle with Salt would have been a perfect addition to the multifaceted celebratory meals that evolved from the mixing of traditions.
Speaking of hybrids, Korena in the Kitchen melds sourdough bread dough with the innovative fillings of Toblerone chocolate bars and (in a separate babka) caramelized white chocolate for two tasty non-traditional babkas that are sure to satisfy everyone in your household.
So you want to add a little dried fruit to your babka? Nu, what could be bad? (I can totally hear my bubbe's voice saying this). The Bread and Babka blog has a recipe for apricot-cinnamon babka ring that will have your grandmother kvelling with pride.
As I mentioned at the onset of this article, babka is part of both the Jewish and non-Semitic culinary traditions. Polish folks serve one of its most popular iterations for Easter, and their babka ostensibly gets its name from the fact that the bundt pan in which it is baked creates a design much like the folds of a grandmother's pleated skirt. PJ Hamel shares her Easter babka recipe that includes golden raisins, dried fruit, and a rum drizzle.
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The combination of bacon and chocolate is quite possibly the most magical since… well, I honestly don't think anything quite equals bacon and chocolate.
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And though I am sure my Jewish mother is cringing as she reads this, Ashley of Baker by Nature has created a bacon, chocolate, and butterscotch babka that is a non-kosher delicacy worth catching a little hell for.
Stephanie of Girl Versus Dough bemoans the fact that her Nutella babka uses a whole jar of the beloved hazelnut-chocolate spread, though she admits it's better than just eating the contents of the jar with a spoon. I can't argue, as her streusel-topped babka makes even a Nutella skeptic like me want to dive right in.
So now that you've made babka, you don't have to settle for just eating it. Oh no. Babka can play a featured role in an assortment of composed desserts, as well.
Bon Appétit suggests that you can make this chocolate bread pudding with chocolate babka for a dessert that is as rich as it is gorgeous.
Whether your babka has chocolate or dried fruit, is rolled or made in a bundt pan, or comes from the Jewish or Gentile tradition, there's no question that this mouth-wateringly sweet yeast bread is experiencing a renewed popularity. So hop on the babka bandwagon and start baking!