Babka Buns

Stick with me here – this is a long one, but oh boy is it ever worth it.
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I like Babka.
I know what you’re thinking. “Obviously you like babka, Corey. Everyone likes babka!”

What’s there not to like? Babka is a deliciously soft, sweet bread, filled with chocolate or whatever else you feel like at the moment. There are really no rules besides that you’re going to make a mess. And trust me, you are definitely going to make a mess.

The thing is, babka is usually pretty rich. It’s dense and filled with delicious fillings, so even though it’s delicious, it can be tough to eat more than a small amount at a time. Whenever I’ve made actual babkas, the loaf kind (like Uri Scheft’s), half of it either ends up in the freezer or as french toast. And while babka french toast is amazing, something smaller, single-serving (a single large serving), was more of what I had in mind.

The dough for this is a modified version of Peter Reinhart’s recipe. If you’ve been following my baking, you’ll know that I started baking with Reinhart, and I still find his recipes to be among the best. I’ve adapted the ratios and substituted some of the ingredients.

I’ve given some ideas for fillings below, but you can really put anything in these.
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Dough:
24g instant yeast
213g whole milk at 95f
107g unsalted butter, very soft
107g light brown sugar (you can also use white sugar or maple syrup here. in equal weights)
35g canola or coconut oil
9g (1 1/4 tsp) vanilla paste or extract
107g egg yolks (about 5)
270g bread flour
270g unbleached AP flour**
12g fine sea salt
** You can also omit the bread flour and just use 540g unbleached AP flour. I like the texture with the bread flour better

Method
  1. Warm up the milk in the microwave. Whisk in the yeast until it has dissolved.
  2. If you’re using coconut oil, melt it first and let it cool slightly. Combine the oil, vanilla and egg yolks in a measuring cup and whisk just to combine and break up the yolks.
  3. Using the paddle attachment on your standmixer cream the butter and sugar together until smooth but not fluffy (about 2 minutes on medium speed).
  4. Turn the mixer to low, and add the egg mixture in 4 additions, scraping down the sides between each addition. Wait until the previous addition is incorporated before adding the next.
  5. Once all of the egg mixture is incorporated with the butter and sugar, increase the mixer speed to medium-high until the mixture is fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed to ensure the whole mixture is getting incorporated.
  6. Stop the mixer. Add the salt, then the flour and the milk mixture.
  7. Switch to the dough hook, and resume mixing on medium low (speed 2) until the dough is smooth and golden yellow, about 3 minutes.
  8. Transfer to a lightly floured surface, and knead by hand for another 2-3 minutes. The dough should be soft, stretchy and easy to work with, and should be a uniform light gold colour.
  9. Form the dough into a ball, place it in a clean, lightly oiled, covered bowl in the fridge, at least overnight and for up to 48 hours. The dough will be about doubled.

Shaping

  1. Turn out the dough onto the counter, and push into a rough rectangle.
  2. Divide the dough into 9 equal pieces. Keep the pieces that you aren’t work with under a towel.
  3. Roll one piece of dough to 4.5″ x 8″. When the dough starts springing back and won’t roll out any more, put it aside and start rolling out another piece. Come back to the first piece after it has rested for about a minute.
  4. Once you have rolled a piece of dough to size, add the filling (see below).
  5. Roll the dough tightly from the bottom long end, gently pulling back on the dough as you roll to increase the tension. When you get to the end, pinch it closed and rock gently back and forth to help seal the dough rope. Continue rocking gently to extend the filled rope to between 9 and 10″
  6. Repeat steps 3-5 for the rest of the dough pieces.
  7. Place the filled dough ropes on a baking sheet, and keep covered as you work.
  8. When all the dough pieces are filled, place the baking sheet in the fridge for 15 minutes.
  9. Grease a standard-size 12-cup muffin tin.
  10. Take out half the filled dough ropes and using a very sharp bread knife or kitchen scissors, cut down the length of one rope, from end to end, exposing the layers of filling, and leaving you with two open halves. (You will get messy).
  11. Starting at one end with the exposed sides facing up, lay the two halves over each other, and twist the dough dough together. Bring the left side over the right, and the right side over the left, repeating until you have one long braid.
  12. Bring the ends of the braid together, and pull one end to extend over and past the other. Bring the longer end under and through the circle. Trim the excess if necessary.
  13. Repeat steps 9, 10 and 11 for the remaining dough.
  14. Each dough knot should be just big enough to fit neatly into a standard size muffin tin. Place them into greased muffin tins.
  15. Lightly spray the filled pan with baking spray, and cover loosely for about 2 hours, or until the dough has got puffy, and risen to about 1.5 times its original size (because they’re fairly tight in the muffin cavities, you won’t see a lot of rise, but they’ll ‘rise’ down, and will puff out).
  16. When you can lightly poke the dough and the indent slowly fills in, the dough is ready.
  17. Bake at 350f for 15mins, then rotate the pan and bake for another 10 mins. The tops will get quite dark brown, but shouldn’t burn. Use an instant read thermometer to check them in different spots, they will be about 190f when done.
  18. While the buns are baking, make a simple syrup (heat 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water over low heat until the sugar is dissolved, remove from heat).
  19. When the babka buns come out of the oven, brush them with the simple syrup to make them shiny, and keep them moist.
  20. Cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then remove and finish cooling in the rack.
Filling
You can fill these with literally whatever you want. Check out the article I wrote for CBC Life about rugelach – all of the filling ideas I suggested there would also work for these baby babkas.

In the ones pictured, I used per piece of dough about 2 tsp pomegranate molasses, 2 tbsp tahini and 3/4 cup very finely chopped dark chocolate.

Or, keep it simple – spread nutella and sprinkle chocolate chips over the rolled out dough. That’s all you need!
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