Guess what? I wrote a cookbook all about Jewish carbs, and it’s called Modern Jewish Baker: Challah, Babka, Bagels and More. For those of you who may follow my ongoing food antics, then this news will come as no surprise. I love baking challah and dreaming up unique flavors like butternut squash and sage challah, coffee cake challah and even pastrami sandwich challah. But the book is so much more than challah, in fact, it is an in-depth, bake your-own adventure that walks you through not one or two but seven different kinds of dough — how to master each dough, and how to mix and match them with various fillings, flavors and toppings.
I spent the past year working on this beautiful delicious work of art, along with my sister-in-law Becca Goldberg. and am so excited to share one of my favorite recipes from the book: birthday cake babka. Forget cupcakes — you’ll be making this colorful cream-cheese filled creation for your next celebration.
The recipe below is a bit of a potchke, as we say, (like a lot of work). So here is one shortcut: After the babka has baked and cooled, combine 1 cup (approximately 6 ounces) white chocolate chips with 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 30-second intervals, mixing in between with a small spatula, until completely melted and smooth. Drizzle melted white chocolate on top of each babka and allow to set.
If you need a refresher on shaping babka, pick up a copy of the book. Or you can also watch this video to help.
For the dough:
- 1 Tbsp dry active yeast
- ⅓ cup + ½ tsp sugar
- ½ cup lukewarm water
- 4 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp vanilla
- ½ cup whole or 2 percent milk (or almond milk)
- ¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter (or margarine), melted
- 2 eggs
For the filling:
- 12 ounces cream cheese, softened
- ¾ cup confectioners’ sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
- Pinch salt
- ¼ cup colored sprinkles (it is best to use jimmies or oblong sprinkles, not round (nonpareil) sprinkles)
For the crumb topping:
- ¼ cup sugar
- ⅓ cup packed brown sugar
- ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
- 1⅓ cups unbleached all- purpose flour
- 2 Tbsp colored sprinkles
For the frosting:
- 3 cups confectioners’ sugar
- 5–6 Tbsp milk
- Pinch salt
- To Make the dough: Place the yeast and ½ teaspoon sugar in a small bowl. Add the lukewarm water and stir gently to mix. Set aside until foamy, 5 to 10 minutes.
- In a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, mix together the flour, ⅓ cup sugar, and 2 teaspoons vanilla.
- In a medium saucepan, scald the milk (bring almost to a boil, until milk is just simmering). Allow to sit for 1 minute to cool just slightly.
- With mixer on low, add the water-yeast mixture, milk and melted butter. Add eggs one at a time. When the dough begins to come together, after 2 to 3 minutes, turn off mixer and scrape down the sides. Raise the speed to high and mix for another 5 to 10 minutes, until the dough is shiny and elastic.
- Place dough in a greased bowl with a damp towel on top. Allow to rise until it has doubled, about 1 to 2 hours.
- While dough is rising, make the filling and the topping.
- To make the filling: beat the softened cream cheese, powdered sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla, baking powder, and salt. Fold in the sprinkles.
- To make the crumb topping: Combine the sugars in a small bowl. Stir in the melted butter and the flour. Add the sprinkles and combine using fingers.
- To form the babkas: Prepare three 8 ½- by- 4 ½-inch greased loaf pans.
- Cut the dough into three equal parts (use a food scale for precision). Roll out one part into a rectangle. Spread with one- third of the cream cheese filling and roll up along the shorter side (to create more swirls inside).
- Once the dough is formed into a swirled log, cut it straight down the middle so the filling is exposed. Cut ½ inch off each end. Layer each cut piece on top of one another and twist. Place in a greased loaf pan. Repeat with the other two pieces of babka dough.
- Lightly drape a kitchen towel over the top of the pans. Allow to rise another 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350°F while the dough rises.
- Before baking, sprinkle one-third of the crumb topping onto each babka. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes. The edges should be slightly brown and the middle should be slightly doughy.
- Allow to cool for 5 to 10 minutes. Using a butter knife, loosen sides of the babkas from the pans and place on top of parchment wire rack to cool. Place babkas on a platter.
- To make the frosting: Combine confectioners’ sugar, milk and salt in a bowl. Drizzle on top of each babka.