I am a massive fan of mince pies! I am all here for the boozy, sugary, dried fruit of Christmas time. This babka makes a very festive and extremely delicious alternative to mince pies and because it is a ‘bread’ you could definitely get away with having it for breakfast! A babka is an enriched, yeasted bread dough which is rolled out and then spread with a filling, before being rolled back up and twisted into a loaf. It was developed by the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe; traditional fillings include chocolate, poppy seeds and cinnamon. I’ve used a mix of butter and mincemeat.
I make my own mincemeat but you could buy some, though I always think if you buy it then it’s worth stirring a couple of tablespoons of extra brandy/whiskey/tipple of choice into the jar. If you make it then there are lots of good recipes online, don’t be afraid to substitute in different dried fruit depending on what you have in the cupboard or what you like to eat. I really like including dried figs.
I find the size and volume of ‘2lb’ loaf tins, confusingly, varies a lot – the one I used is 18.5cm x 11.5cm x 8.75cm with slightly sloped sides. You don’t want a massive 2lb loaf tin for this bake. I do find this loaf takes quite a while to rise, because of all the extra butter and dried fruit in there so it’s important to find somewhere warm-ish for it to rise in these cold days. Inside an oven that has been turned on for 30 seconds and then turned off works well for me.
Makes one 2lb loaf
For the dough:
300g plain flour
1 teaspoon fast action yeast (5g)
25g caster sugar (see above)
½ teaspoon salt
1 small orange or ½ large orange (zest only)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
6 cardamom pods, crushed and husks removed and seeds ground to a powder
2 eggs, lightly beaten
100ml whole milk
75g butter, at room temperature and cut into small cubes
For the filling:
100g butter at room temperature
For the syrup:
For the icing:
30g icing sugar
1-2 teaspoons orange juice
Grease a 900g loaf tin and line it with greaseproof paper, both up the sides and along the bottom. Leave a little overhang of paper on the long sides to help you take the loaf out of the tin.
Put the flour in the bowl of your stand mixer with the dough hook attachment. Add the salt, yeast and caster sugar, being careful that the yeast and salt don’t touch. Add the orange zest, cinnamon and ground cardamom. Then add the beaten eggs and milk and mix on the low setting for two minutes until a rough dough has formed. Then turn the machine up to medium and add the butter cube by cube, making sure the first cube is fully incorporated before you add the next. Once all the butter is added continue to knead the dough in the machine for another 5 minutes until it is smooth, glossy and not too sticky. You can do this by hand, but it will take quite a bit longer. If you are doing it by hand try to knead it somewhere cool on a cold surface as otherwise you risk the butter melting and running out due to the heat of your hands. If the dough feels quite warm put it in the fridge for 15 minutes to firm up, but it is usually fine to roll it straight away.
Make the filling by putting the butter in the stand mixer with the beater attachment and beating until soft. Add in the mincemeat and mix for another minute or two until incorporated. You can also do this by hand in a large bowl with a wooden spoon.
Lightly flour a work surface and roll the dough out into a rectangle, approximately 30 x 40cm with the long side facing you. Spread the butter and mincemeat mixture over the dough leaving a little gap of 1cm around the edge of the dough. Roll up the dough from the long side (closest to you) into a tight Swiss roll spiral, ending with the seam tucked underneath. You will now have a 40cm long rolled up sausage of dough. Cut a little bit off each end of the dough to neaten up the edges.
Now rotate the dough 90 degrees so the short side is now facing you. Using a sharp knife cut vertically down the middle of the dough, so you now have two long pieces of dough with the filling showing. Place the end furthest away from you of one piece of dough on top of the other piece of dough and push together gently to seal. Then, without stretching the dough make a simple two-strand plait or twist by lifting one piece of dough over the other, keep plaiting until the dough runs out then secure the two ends closest to you by pushing together. Tuck both ends of the dough underneath the loaf. The loaf should be about the length of your loaf tin. Gently lift the babka into your loaf tin. Cover the loaf, I use a really large freezer bag and put the whole loaf and tin into the bag and then seal it up, it creates a nice warm, moist place for the loaf to rise, but you could also use a tea towel over the top of the loaf tin. Leave the loaf somewhere warm to rise for 1½ to 2 hours, the loaf should just come up to the top of the tin but not be overflowing.
About 15 minutes before you want to bake the loaf preheat the oven to 180°C. Once the loaf is ready put it into the oven and bake for 15 minutes, then turn the oven down to 160°C and bake for another 25 minutes or until a skewer put in the middle comes out clean.
While the loaf is baking make the syrup. Put the sugar and water in a small saucepan over a low heat and stir to dissolve the sugar. Once dissolved turn up the heat to medium and bring to simmer, then take off the heat.
Once you take the loaf out of the oven immediately brush the syrup all over the loaf, it will soak in best when the loaf is warm. Then allow the loaf to cool before removing from the tin. If you like a little extra decoration mix the icing sugar and orange juice together in a small bowl and drizzle over the cooled babka.
The loaf will keep for a couple of days in an airtight container but it is best eaten fresh. We very much enjoy eating it as pudding with a side of warm custard!