Cheese babka like this one?
You won’t find it in any commercial bakery, let me tell you flat out. In this cheese babka, the ricotta filling is wonderful, but you might prefer to use it in combination with farmer cheese and/ or cream cheese, just as long as you use 2 cups cheese total. This cheese babka recipe will make you 2 loaves, but here’s my trick to simplify the rolling. I make one double-length roll, and cut it right down the center to make 2 loaves, or 6 mini loaves. When we have company, the larger loaves look more dramatic. But when we are serving a smaller group, I go with the minis, so I don’t need to succumb to the temptation of an extra slice. Alternatively, you can shape the cheese babka into one large ring, and place it in a tube pan. And if you get as crazy as me, triple the recipe and make a giant one, that’s what I did on a catering job: I made a giant ring-shape, as huge as my oven would fit. That was one of my greatest catering triumphs.
Full disclosure: When I cannot get around to making my own babka, I ignore all commercial babka wars (have you noticed that every single one is called The Best Babka In New York City? Come on Guys! Get real!) and I settle happily for just one brand commercial babka: BabkaliciousByLana. It is simply awesome!
No crumb topping?
That’s OK! all you will need to do is brush the top with egg wash (egg mixed with a little water). I personally love the added crunch from the streusel. Especially with finely chopped walnuts or pecans.
Hint: Be stingy with flour!
This is absolutely the only place where stinginess is highly recommended. Erring on the scant side is the single greatest secret of any good yeast dough. This is what makes my cheese babka and all my yeasted preparations (including breads) feather-light: I resist with a vengeance adding flour to the dough, unless I absolutely have to. You will find that if you knead the dough properly, by hand or by machine, the dough shapes up without any added flour and yields a light and airy pastry. Which is exactly what you’re looking for. You just gotta give a chance for the flour and the liquid to do their good team work magic. Here’s the mantra: less flour = lighter pastry, and lighter bread.
Babka freezes beautifully!
Hint hint. I like to remind myself how fresh they stay in the freezer, so it is easier to exert some self control.
- 2 tablespoons dry yeast
- 1/3 cup warm water
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 3 1/2 to 4 cups flour: all purpose, whole wheat pastry or spelt
- 2/3 cup unsalted butter (not whipped) at room temperature
- 2/3 cup milk, at room temperature
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups ricotta cheese, or a combination ricotta, cream cheese and farmer cheese
- 1/2 cup golden raisins, optional
- 2 tablespoons lemon zest
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup flour
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts or pecans, optional.
Mix the first three ingredients in a bowl, and let the mixture bubble 2-3 minutes.
Stir in the remaining dough ingredients. Transfer the mixture to your dough maker and knead 10 minutes, or knead by hand, turning the dough occasionally to make sure all sides have been worked. Soon the dough will get into shape, elastic and resilient when poked with a finger. Sprinkle the dough very lightly with flour all over, place in a large bowl (remember, it will expand to a little more than double in size)
Cover with a clean towel and let rise in a warm draft-free place one hour.
Roll out the dough on a very lightly floured counter, into a 20 x 16 inch rectangle, long side facing you.
Mix the filling ingredients in a bowl, and spread all over the dough, using it all up. Roll tightly, jelly-roll style. You will end up with a 20-inch log. Cut the log right down the middle, to get 2 10-inch logs.
You can also make about 6 mini loaves (my preferred way, best protection against pigging out). In this case roll the dough into a longer and narrower rectangle, and cur the long rolled pastry into 6.
Transfer the logs to a 2 greased loaf pans, or the mini loaves to mini loaf pans, seam side down. Mix the topping ingredients lightly, adding a drop of flour if necessary to get the texture of coarse meal. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the loaves. Let them rise about ½ hour. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven 35 to 40 minutes, or a few more minutes, until golden.