Babka, the crowned jewel of Jewish pastries, reigns supreme as a sweet, buttery delight. Whether it’s swirled with chocolate or cinnamon, served hot or at room temperature, this is a versatile treat that effortlessly transitions from a delightful breakfast dish to a luxurious dessert. But what exactly is babka, and where does it come from? How is it made, and who crafts the finest versions of this delectable creation?
The Origin Story of This Buttery Pastry
A Journey to the Origins of this buttery pastry. Originating in Eastern Europe, specifically Poland and Ukraine, in the early 1800s, babka was initially a clever way to use surplus challah dough. Local Jews would roll up the dough with cinnamon or fruit jam and bake it alongside the challah. However, it remained relatively obscure outside of Eastern Europe until the 1950s when European-style bakeries in Israel and the United States started offering it. By the 1970s, babka had firmly established itself in Jewish bakeries in New York, and it has since gained popularity across the country, particularly in and around New York City.
Baking This Delicious Pastry
The Art of Crafting This Amazing Pastry. The New York-style babka begins with a sweet, eggy, brioche-style dough reminiscent of challah dough. To achieve its distinctive braided shape, the dough is rolled out, generously spread with the chosen filling, rolled up like a jelly roll, sliced into strips, braided, and finally placed in a loaf pan to be baked. After emerging from the oven, it’s coated with sugar syrup, creating its signature sheen, and sometimes adorned with streusel. It’s typically served by the slice.
Israel has its unique style of babka, featuring laminated dough, which involves layering dough with butter repeatedly. The result is a flaky, buttery pastry, akin to a croissant or rugelach. The shape of the Israeli babka can also deviate from the standard loaf.
What Does It Taste Like?
Indulgence at Its Best: What Does Babka Taste Like? Babka is simply irresistible. It encapsulates the essence of buttery dough while embodying the flavors of its filling. The most popular filling is chocolate, in the form of melted chocolate, chocolate chips, or chocolate hazelnut spread like Nutella. Cinnamon sugar is another cherished babka filling, but the world of babka is wide and diverse, with other flavors such as apples, raisins, sweet cheese, and Mohn, a sweet poppy seed paste. The inside of a babka is tender and flaky, while the sides and bottom develop a slight crispness, and the top attains a golden-brown, crusty perfection.
Is it a Bread or a Cake?
Babka: Bread or Cake? Strictly speaking, babka is a bread, crafted from a conventional bread dough that rises with yeast. It’s this yeast that distinguishes it from cake batter, which typically rises with baking soda or powder. Although its loaf shape might deceive some into thinking it’s cake, babka is unequivocally a sweet yeast-raised bread.
For Breakfast or Dessert?
When to Enjoy This Delightful Pastry: Breakfast or Dessert? Traditionally served as dessert at family gatherings, this buttery pastry can also delight those who favor a sweet breakfast. Whether enjoyed at room temperature, warmed up with a scoop of ice cream, or even straight from the fridge the following morning, this pastry pairs perfectly with coffee or tea.
The World’s Best
Exploring the Finest Babkas in America For those eager to savor the finest babkas in the United States, several iconic bakeries have you covered. Green’s Bakery, rooted in Hungarian tradition, produces over a million babkas each year, available in flavors like chocolate and cinnamon. Breads Bakery, nestled near Union Square, is celebrated for creating New York’s most famous pastry, with a choice of chocolate or cinnamon, infused with walnuts and currants. Manhattan’s William Greenberg Bakery, known for its black & white cookies, offers babkas in chocolate and cinnamon, enhanced with sour cream and crowned with a streusel topping.
The Perfect Recipe
Whether you stumble upon a hidden gem of a bakery with extraordinary babka, swing by Trader Joe’s for their sensational pre-made Cinnamon Babka, or embark on a homemade babka adventure, there’s no wrong way to enjoy this delightful treat.
A Pastry to Call Your Own If you’re ready to embark on your babka-making adventure, indulge in the magic of crafting a classic cinnamon babka. Rich and buttery, with generous layers of cinnamon, this recipe promises the perfect swirls nestled within a soft and buttery bread, delivering a culinary satisfaction like no other.
Join us in unraveling the enigma of babka, where each bite is a journey into buttery indulgence and culinary artistry.