This Babka bread is decadent. It is filled with buttery cinnamon sugar. It is light, soft, tender and uses 100% sourdough to make a really delicious loaf of sweet bread. The sourdough has a bit of a learning curve that includes making a sweet leaven, but when you open the oven door and see two beautifully risen loaves of Babka, all the time is completely worth it. If you’ve never made a Babka before, this advanced sourdough cinnamon sugar babka recipe should make your list.
What is Babka?
Babka originated in Eastern Europe and is an enriched bread dough that is usually swirled with a sweet chocolate or cinnamon sugar filling. If you’re looking for a chocolate filling, try out this one I’ve used for a swirled brioche before. It would be delicious with this recipe. Pronounced “bahb-kah,” this bread has become very popular at bakeries and in home kitchens this past year with the beautiful swirl braids and outstanding flavor. I love that this recipe gives two loaves of Babka. If I’m going to trouble with a three day sourdough recipe, I always like to share a loaf or freeze one for later (or who am I kidding…eat the day after we eat the first loaf).
Sample Sourdough Cinnamon Sugar Babka Schedule
I find it personally helpful to see a sample schedule when making sourdough because it does take longer than a traditional dough using commercial yeast. This dough is enriched with a lot of eggs, butter and sugar which takes even a bit longer to rise.
Day 1 (Make Sweet Leaven)
- 8 AM: Mix sweet leaven, let rise and bubble
- 8 PM: Take 120 grams of the sweet leaven and feed it again with the measurements in the recipe. Cover and let it rise and bubble until morning.
Day 2 (Mix Babka Dough, First Rise)
- 8 AM: Mix together Babka dough ingredients (except salt and butter), rest. Add salt, mix, rest. Add butter a Tablespoon at a time and mix using stand mixer for 10 minutes.
- 11 AM: First set of Coil Fold
- 1 PM: Second set of Coil Folds
- 2 PM: Cover dough and rest in refrigerator overnight (12-24 hours)
Day 3 (Assemble and Bake)
- 8 AM: Roll out and shape Babka
- 8:30-3PM: Let Babka rise (the rise time will vary depending on the warmth of your kitchen, but allow for at least 6-8 hours)
- 3-4PM: Bake Babka
One of the unique things about this sourdough recipe is making a sweet leaven before actually making the bread. Typically with sourdough, the longer the bread rises, the more tang you will taste from sourdough. I love the tang in this recipe in my Basic Country Artisan Loaf or my no-knead sourdough loaf but in a sweet babka, I don’t want to taste the tang. Making a sweet leaven helps temper the tang and mellows the flavors, letting the sweet cinnamon be the overpowering flavor. The addition of sugar to the leaven also helps temper the sour flavor. The taste of the Babka is sweet, light and delicious when using a sweet leaven. You can create this leaven directly from your current sourdough starter and through a series of power feeds (feeding it twice in a 24 hour period before using it), have it ready to mix your Babka in just 24 hours. Sweet leaven is also fairly stiff compared to a regular 100% hydration leaven. Due to the low water content, this stiff leaven ferments slowly and helps the bread keep its texture and maintain the gluten structure. This helps the bread rise slowly to keep the sweet flavor expected from a Babka.
Babka is made with an enriched dough. Lots of milk, butter, eggs and sugar go into this beautiful loaf. One of the keys to making a great Babka is the process of incorporating the butter. Once the leaven, flour, milk, eggs, sugar and salt have been mixed together to form a dough, it is time to add the butter. This takes a somewhat thick dough and turns it into a silky, smooth and a little bit sticky enriched dough. Cut the softened butter into chunks and add it to the center of the dough hook as the dough is mixing. Plan to knead the dough for about 10 minutes. I like to set a timer and let my dough get to work developing the gluten and incorporating the butter. I highly recommend using a stand mixer for this process. It can get very sticky and is difficult to knead for the length of time required with cold hands (so the butter doesn’t melt and leak everywhere).
The coil fold is a technique of picking up the dough from the middle and letting the dough fall down onto and under itself, resulting in a coil. Wet your hands with water. Place your hands under the middle of the dough and pull up. The dough will stretch up (but should not tear) and release from the bottom of the bowl. Once the dough releases, let the dough fall back under itself. Repeat the process for both sides of dough. Then turn the container and repeat the coil fold. This process of folding the dough increases tension and strengthens the strands of gluten in the dough. If you skip this step, the dough can bake up flat because it lacks structure. Watch the coil fold process below to help visualize the process.
Refrigerating the sourdough cinnamon sugar babka dough overnight or 12-24 hours (not much longer than that) chills the butter, enhances the sweet Babka flavor and makes the dough easy to work with when you pull it out in the morning to shape your Babka. The dough will not double in size and may not even look like it did much rising. Don’t worry! Once it comes back to room temperature it will rise again. When you pull the dough out of the refrigerator to roll out, it will be a little stiff and hard because it is cold. This chill actually makes it easier to work with the Babka dough. Add a little bit of flour on the bottom and on top of the Babka to help roll it out.
Babka can be filled with any kind of sweet (or sometimes savory) filling. When mixing the filling, use softened, room temperature butter to mix with the dough. If the butter is too cold, it will not incorporate fully into a paste. If it is melted, it will leak all over the dough and make the Babka difficult to shape. I also love the addition of a bit of flour to the filling. This keeps the filling sticking to the dough and not falling all over your pastry mat. Mix the ingredients together to form a thick paste and set it aside. I have also made this Babka into a strawberry flavored version, using white sugar and crushed up freeze dried strawberries, that was insanely delicious. Check the recipe notes for the full substitution.
How to Shape Babka
Flour a countertop or pastry mat and roll out the dough into a large rectangle, about 14 by 18 inches. Spread half of the cinnamon sugar mixture on the dough and roll up cinnamon-roll style. Take a sharp knife and slice the Babka in half, length-wise. This will leave you with two long, open-faced pieces. Pinch together the ends and twist the dough around each other to form a swirled and braided loaf. Place into a parchment-lined loaf pan and let rise.
A Long Final Rise
I have made the mistake before with this recipe of being a bit impatient and baking the Babka too quickly. This results in a dense, gummy bread that is just not good. It can be hard to be patient with sourdough, but I promise the results are worth it. Wait until the bread has puffed up and mostly filled out the loaf tin which will take 6-8 hours. You can also lightly press the top of the Babka dough and watch as the dough springs back. If it springs back without any indentation, it needs to rise longer. If it springs back just a little and has been at least six hours, then you should be good to bake. The time will vary based on the warmth of your kitchen so it could rise faster or slower. My experience has been six to eight hours generally.
What better way to finish off a decadent bread than with some simple syrup, am I right?! To help keep the Babka fresh and moist, whip up this simple syrup while the Babka is baking. I make mine in the microwave, but you could use a pot on the stovetop as well. Mix together the sugar and water. Microwave on high in 1 minute increments until the sugar is dissolved and liquid is boiling. Stir together and let sit while waiting for the Babka to bake. The mixture will thicken as it cools. Pull the Babka out of the oven and let rest for 5-10 minutes in the pan. Then remove to a baking rack and brush the simple syrup over the top of the Babka. Use all of the simple syrup, even if it looks like it doesn’t need more.
It is hard to let the Babka cool and truthfully, I don’t always wait because it is so tempting! This Babka does slice best when it has cooled and even makes great french toast a day or two later if it lasts that long. Sourdough cinnamon sugar Babka is a showstopper recipe and it tastes even better than it looks! Enjoy!
Sourdough Cinnamon Sugar Babka
Sweet Leaven (feed at least twice before making the Babka dough)
- 120 grams sourdough starter 100% hydration see recipe notes
- 100 grams all purpose flour
- 25 grams granulated sugar
- 40 grams water
- all of the leaven about 300 grams
- 620 grams all purpose flour
- 200 grams whole milk see recipe notes
- 4 large eggs about 200 grams
- 50 grams granulated sugar
- 16 grams salt
- 200 grams unsalted butter, softened about 14 Tablespoons
- 160 grams unsalted butter, softened 3/4 cup
- 2 Tablespoons ground cinnamon
- 160 grams brown sugar 2/3 cup
- 2 teaspoons all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon water
Simple Syrup for Babka
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup water
Sweet Leaven (24 hours)
- Mix together ripe sourdough starter, flour, granulated sugar and water. Cover and let sit for about 8-12 hours.
- Take 120 grams of this new leaven and feed it with flour, sugar and water. Cover and let sit for 8-12 hours until bubbly, about doubled in size and passes the float test.
Babka Dough Day 1
- Set the bowl of a stand mixer on a kitchen scale. Tare the scale and add all of the sweet leaven, flour, whole milk, sugar and eggs. Mix together with a spoon or dough whisk. Let rest for 10 minutes.
- Add the dough hook to the bowl, sprinkle in the salt and mix for 6 minutes. Let the dough rest for 10-20 minutes.
- Cut the butter into Tablespoon sized chunks. With the dough hook running, add the butter to the center of the dough. The butter will begin to incorporate into the dough. Continue adding chunks of butter until all the butter is added.
- Knead for a total of ten minutes until the dough is smooth, sticky and silky.
- Turn the dough out into a rectangular container (I use this 9 by 13 pan, affiliate link). The dough will be sticky. It can help to wet your hands before turning the dough out if it sticks to your fingers. Cover the dough and let rest at room temperature for 2 hours.
- After another 2 hours, perform a second set of coil folds on the dough. Cover and let rest another hour.
- Transfer the dough to a container, cover tightly and set in the fridge to chill overnight or 12-24 hours.
Babka Dough Day 2
- The next morning, make the Babka filling. Mix together the softened butter, brown sugar, cinnamon and flour to make a thick paste. Set aside. See recipe notes for strawberry version.
- Pull the dough out of the refrigerator. Lightly flour a pastry mat or silpat liner (affiliate link). Turn the dough out onto the mat and cut in half.
- Lightly flour one piece of dough and roll into a 14 by 18 inch rectangle.
- Divide the Babka paste in two. Use your fingers to spread half the cinnamon sugar mixture over the rectangle of dough. Once the dough is covered, roll the dough up cinnamon-roll style.
- Using a sharp knife, cut the roll in half; straight down the middle of the roll the long way. This will leave two long ropes of dough. Beginning on one end, squish the ends of the dough together and then twist the dough around each other forming the Babka loaf. Push the ends of the dough together and place the Babka in the prepared loaf pan. Repeat this process with the second loaf.
- Cover the loaves and let rise 6-8 hours, depending on the warmth of your kitchen. This bread is made with 100% sourdough and will take much longer than a traditional loaf of bread to rise. Let it rise until it has mostly filled the loaf pan and gets light and puffy.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Whisk together the egg and a teaspoon of water. Lightly brush the egg wash on top of the bread until covered.
- Bake Babka for 50-55 minutes until baked all the way through.
- While the Babka is baking, prepare the simple syrup for the top of the Babka. Mix together the granulated sugar and water in a microwave safe liquid measuring cup. Microwave on high a minute at a time until boiling and all the sugar is dissolved. Mix together with a spoon and let cool until the Babka is out of the oven. The simple syrup can also be made on the stovetop. Boil the sugar and water together for about 1 minute until the sugar is completely dissolved. Cool a bit while the Babka bakes.
- Pull Babka out of the oven and let rest in the pan for about 5-10 minutes. Remove the loaves from the pans using the parchment paper and place on a cooling rack. Pour half of the simple syrup on one loaf and half on the other loaf, using a pastry brush as needed. Let it soak into the warm bread.
- Let the bread cool before slicing and enjoy!
Please share this recipe if you enjoyed it! Post a photo and tag me @amybakesbread so I can see your bake.