Babka has been a kosher bakery staple for decades (at least!), and a specialty of Jewish grandmothers for even longer. But the yeast-risen sweet bread, threaded with swirls of filling, is having an undeniable heyday. Some credit "Seinfeld" not only with inserting babka into the collective pop culture consciousness, but with planting the seeds of debate regarding whether chocolate filling is superior to cinnamon. That Israeli and Ashkenazi fare are trending in upscale restaurants, cookbooks and food magazines doesn't hurt. And that a cross section of the loaf boasts undeniably photogenic swirls makes babka one sexy pastry in the age of Instagram, food blogs and cooking sites.
Today, butter-based laminated doughs are all the rage with both professional and home bakers, but according to historian Gil Marks, babka's beginnings - and ingredients - were humbler. Generally, they were made from oil-based challah dough, which was a boon for keeping the loaf pareve. Those babkas were spread with jam or nuts, while today's fillings skew more decadent. But whatever sort of dough and filling you prefer, you'll find lots of recipe options here. And while the results look complicated to achieve, with a little practice, you'll find that the technique is pretty simple, and the payoff is absolutely delicious!
01 of 09
Ribbons of pumpkin spice goodness run through the sweet yeasted dough of this beautiful babka. Studded with dried cranberries, it makes a delicious fall or winter treat with coffee or tea. Toast a slice and slather it with cream cheese for breakfast, or serve it as part of a holiday dessert spread. Bonus: you can omit the egg and use the recipe's non-dairy ingredient suggestions for a vegan babka.
02 of 09
Chocolate babka is undeniably one of the most popular iterations. Barbara Rolek's recipe calls for a canned chocolate filling, but if you can't find it (and don't feel like making a filling from scratch), take a cue from Uri Scheft, and spread the dough with Nutella, then sprinkle it with mini chocolate chips.
03 of 09
This babka, from the cookbook Bubbe and Me in the Kitchen, marries Sephardic flavors of tart apricots and pistachios with a quintessentially Ashkenazi-style pastry. The recipe is dairy-free, though you can substitute milk and butter for the soy milk and coconut oil if you'd prefer. The recipe also includes step-by-step pictures for filling and shaping the loaf.
04 of 09
For every chocolate babka devotee, there's someone else who swears that cinnamon babka is the best. Some recipes include raisins and/or chopped walnuts in the filling, though this one uses storebought cinnamon filling and whipped egg whites to achieve the bread's swirls.Continue to 5 of 9 below.
05 of 09
In the Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, the late Rabbi Gil Marks, a renowned food historian, notes that for Purim, some bakers would serve "shikkera babka (literally 'drunken grandma')–an unfilled version drizzled with a syrup laced with whiskey or rum, akin to a French savarin and baba au rhum (technically babka au rhum). While that version probably looked most like the turban-shaped Polish babka, it still inspires this question: Why not a soused chocolate cinnamon babka? The answer: this party-ready, grownups-only babka.
06 of 09
Eastern European Food Expert Barbara Rolek shares this recipe for Cheese Babka. A sweet cream cheese-based filling is swirled throughout the streusel topped pastry, which makes a perfect treat to enjoy with coffee. The recipe makes 3 loaves, but Rolek notes that they freeze very well.
07 of 09
Sweet fillings may be the norm, but that doesn't mean savory options aren't equally delicious. This babka toes the line between both, with ribbons of apricot jam and herbed goat cheese swirled throughout. Slivered almonds top the loaf, which makes a great accompaniment to a cheese platter and wine or cocktails.
08 of 09
Google "babka," or even "vegan babka" and you'll get loads of returns for the chocolate version. But if you're hunting for a truly innovative riff on the recipe, the pickings are slim. So it was thrilling to chance upon photographer and blogger Kati Boden's Savory Babka with Coriander, Basil and Sour Cashew Cream: it's vegan, and features whole grain spelt, fresh herbs, and a homemade cashew-based "sour cream." The dough, it turns out, was inspired by this water challah, which is especially nifty because babkas were originally made with oil-based challah dough (rather than the butter laminated doughs so popular now).Continue to 9 of 9 below.
09 of 09
If you can't eat gluten, the notion of slicing into a babka and taking a bite may seem like the stuff of dreams. Consider Gluten Free on a Shoestring blogger Nicole Hunn your babka fairy godmother, because she's managed to devise a gluten-free recipe that's got culinary wish fulfillment written all over it.