One of life’s simple pleasures is to spontaneously take a jar of Nutella or peanut butter and indulge in a spoonful of the delicious, creamy treat without any remorse.
Dulce de leche, literally “milk jam,” falls into this category. Growing up, I used to sneak into the kitchen to snatch a teaspoon of the sweet confection out of my mom’s sight. It was one of my favorite pastimes; well, if you knew her temperament, then it could probably be better described as an extreme sport. Indeed, some cravings taste better when there’s adrenaline involved.
Omnipresent in every Latin American household, this smooth caramel-like confection is made by cooking down milk with added sugar for several hours. All it takes is patience and a fair amount of stirring.
The bronze sauce that’s obtained is thick, sweet and rich It’s often drizzled over toast, sandwiched between buttery shortbread cookies (alfajores) or just eaten straight from the jar.
Dulce de leche makes the perfect filling for babka; but since baking a babka is no simple task, this recipe calls for the practicality of store-bought dulce de leche. Trust me, this approach will save you some nerves and tons of time. As the filling is very sweet, this recipe uses less sugar in the dough than many classic babka recipes. The end result is a soft, intensely flavored brioche-like babka with swirls of gooey dulce de leche flowing through it.
For the dough:
- ¾ cup milk
- 2 Tbsp fresh yeast or 1 ¾ Tbsp dry yeast
- 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour, sifted
- 2 ½ cups pastry flour, sifted
- 2 large eggs
- ⅓ cup granulated sugar
- ¼ tsp kosher salt
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- 7 ½ tsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
For the filling:
- 1 ½ cups canned or jarred dulce de leche
For the sugar syrup:
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- ½ cup cold water
- In a large bowl, break up the yeast into the milk and dissolve it using a whisk or your fingertips. Add the vanilla and stir. Then, dump the flours, eggs, sugar, salt and 4 tsp butter, a few at a time.
- Using a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, mix at a low speed for 3-4 minutes. Increase the speed to medium, add the rest of the butter and mix for 4 minutes more. Don’t forget to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
- The dough won’t be smooth, but slightly sticky. Lightly dust your work surface with flour and knead the dough well for at least 3 minutes. While kneading, stretch the dough away from you and fold it onto the middle. Repeat this process until you have a tacky, smooth ball.
- Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1½- 2 hours, but up to a day.
- Grease two 8 x 4 ½-inch loaf pans with oil or nonstick baking spray, or add a baking paper lining.
- Onto a lightly floured surface, transfer the dough, and roll it out into a large rectangle of 30 x 10-inch, and a ¼ inch thick.
- With a spatula, evenly spread the dulce de leche over the dough, leaving a small ¼-inch border around the edges.
- Working from one of the short sides, roll the dough tightly into a roulade. The tighter the roll, the more layers of dulce the leche the babka will have.
- Using a sharp bread or serrated knife, cut the roll in half lengthwise. You should now have two roulades. Trim each roulade in the middle, exposing the layers of filling. Take two halves and twist the strips into a braided babka. Repeat the process with the remaining two pieces.
- Carefully transfer the babkas into the prepared loaf pans. Set them aside in a warm place for 1½ hours until the dough doubles its size. Alternatively, you can proof the dough by placing the babkas inside a regular oven with a tray or another loaf pan on the bottom rack filled with one cup of boiling water.
- Heat the oven to 350 degrees F and bake the babkas until they are dark brown or just cooked through, 25-30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, make the sugar syrup in a small saucepan by combining the water and the sugar and bringing it to a boil over medium heat. Stir the syrup and cook for 2-3 minutes until it thickens.
- Remove the babkas from the oven and immediately brush the top of each one with two coats of the sugar syrup. Allow the babkas to cool a bit in their loaf pans before turning them out onto a wire rack or cutting board.