Cinnamon babka from Modern Jewish Baker by Shannon Sarna – book review

First off, let me admit just how excited I was to get my hands on a copy of this book – I was REALLY excited. I’ve been following Shannon Sarna’s amazing looking breads, cakes and other delicious recipes online for a while. How fabulous to have them all together in one handy book! Read on to get a taste of this terrific new recipe book and see how you can WIN a copy for yourself…

Modern Jewish Baker by Shannon Sarna

When I first opened the book and had a riffle through it, I found it was not at all as I imagined. Instead of having dozens of different recipes for umpteen kinds of cakes, cookies, breads, desserts, etc etc, the recipes in this book are divided into just seven categories of dough – challah, babka, bagels, rugelach, hamantaschen, pita bread and matzah. And that’s it – just seven types of bake… plus of course DOZENS of creative and mouthwatering variations, ideas on how to use leftovers (if there are any), what to serve alongside, fillings, toppings, tricks, techniques, and inspiration to create your own unique flavours using the book as a guide.

For instance, I decided to try and make babka (see below) and was faced with the choice of chocolate babka, cinnamon babka, s’mores babka, tropical babka, peanut butter and jelly babka, and three different savoury babkas! Oh my!

Each chapter has an introduction and guidance about ‘how the dough should feel’, notes on rising, storage, the best kinds of flour for each bake, and the essential tools that will be required for success. There are clear photographic illustrations showing how to roll, fold, braid, cut, fill and shape the various breads, cakes and cookies, and all-in-all it feels like Shannon is almost there in the kitchen holding your hand and guiding you towards perfect results. 

Never having made a babka before, I was quite nervous as the dough seemed to be extremely soft and more than a little sticky. Normally, I would probably have added more flour and tried to ‘correct’ it. However, having read Shannon’s introduction and directions carefully, I put my faith in her recipe and simply followed it to the letter. And I was rewarded with the most amazing cinnamon babka! By the time the dough had proved it was silky, smooth and beautiful, and rolled out like a dream. My cinnamon babkas looked fabulous going into the oven, smelled incredible while they baked, and came out looking divine. I can’t believe these are my first ever babkas – just look at those swirls! Thanks Shannon 😀

Sweet, delicious, gooey cinnamon babka recipe, taken from Shannon Sarna's book Modern Jewish Baker. Plus a review of this lovely recipe book.

Kipper and I taste-tested the cinnamon babka for elevenses, and blimey it’s delicious! Soft, sweet, fluffy, rich, gooey, decadently cinnamony, and incredibly moreish. I had meant to stick to one slice each but neither of us could resist a second. YUM!

If I have one niggle with the book, it’s that it is unashamedly American. (Both babka and rugelach are fairly recent additions to the British Jewish baking repertoire, whilst they have a much longer history in the USA.) The recipes give measurements only in cups, tablespoons etc, so there is an amount of conversion to do to turn them into grams and ml. (I think I found this particularly annoying as Shannon several times calls for a kitchen scale to accurately divide the dough into equal parts. If you have a scale there, why not use it to weigh the ingredients?!) No doubt my copy will be full of pencil annotations to the measurements in the fullness of time.

Overall though, this is a gorgeous book. Every photograph in it is either informative, mouthwatering, or usually, both. The recipes are clear and accessible, and the layout of the book makes it easy to use. Shannon’s fun and interesting introductions give a real flavour of her personality and background, and her journey to becoming an obsessive Jewish baker. 

If you’d also like to try out the cinnamon babka, here is the recipe, with permission. I decided to make a babka, because a) it’s not something I’ve made before (see above), and b) a stuffed loaf overflowing with rich filling seemed like a perfect Succot treat. I chose cinnamon babka because it’s one of my favourite flavours, so if you want the recipe for a chocolate babka, you’ll just have to buy the book! OR enter the rafflecopter below to be in with a chance of winning a copy – hooray!

Sweet, delicious, gooey cinnamon babka recipe, taken from Shannon Sarna's book Modern Jewish Baker. Plus a review of this lovely recipe book.

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Cinnamon babka - recipe from Modern Jewish Baker by Shannon Sarna
4.84 from 6 votes
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Cinnamon Babka

Recipe reproduced with permission from Modern Jewish Baker by Shannon Sarna, published by Countryman Press.

Course Cake
Cuisine jewish

Ingredients

For the dough

  • 1 tbsp dry active yeast
  • 1/3 cup (+ 1/2 tsp) sugar (70g + 1/2 tsp)
  • 1/2 cup lukewarm water (110ml)
  • 4 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (575g)
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup whole or 2% milk (or almond milk) (110ml)
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter or margarine, melted (170g)
  • 2 eggs

For the sugar syrup

  • 2/3 cup water (150ml)
  • 1 cup sugar (200g)
  • 1 tsp vanilla

For the filling

  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted (170g)
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar (300g)
  • 2 tbsp cinnamon
  • pinch salt

Instructions

  1. Place the yeast and 1/2 tsp sugar in a small bowl. Add the lukewarm water and stir gently to mix. Set aside until foamy, 5 to 10 minutes.

  2. In a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, mix together the flour, 1/3 cup sugar, and 2 teaspoons vanilla.

  3. 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.

  4. With mixer on low, add the water-yeast mixture, milk, and melted butter. Add eggs one at a time. 

  5. When the dough begins to come together, after 2 to 3 minutes, turn off the mixer and scrape down the sides. Raise the speed to high and mix for another 5 to 10 minutes until the dough is shiny, elastic, and smooth. It may seem like a long time to mix, but the result is worth the wait.

  6. Place dough in a greased bowl with a damp towel on top. Allow to rise 1 to 2 hours.

  7. Make sugar syrup while the dough is rising: Combine water, sugar, and vanilla in a small saucepan. Bring to a low boil until the sugar has dissolved. Set aside and cool. This syrup can be kept in the fridge for 2 to 3 months and makes enough for at least 2 batches of babka (6 medium babkas).

  8. To make the filling, combine all the filling ingredients in a bowl. 

  9. Prepare three 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-inch greased loaf pans. Note: you can also make two larger round babkas that can be baked on baking sheets.

  10. 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 filling and roll up along the shorter side (to create more swirls inside). 

  11. Once the dough is formed into a swirled log, cut it straight down the middle so the filling is exposed. Cut 1/2 inch off each end. Layer each cut piece on top of on another and twist. Place in a greased loaf pan.

  12. Repeat with the other two pieces of babka dough. Lightly drape a kitchen towel over the top of pans. Allow to rise another 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350F while the dough rises. 

  13. Bake for 20 minutes. Brush each babka with two layers of sugar syrup. Place back in the oven for approximately 15 minutes. The edges should be slightly brown and the middle should be slightly doughy.

  14. When the babkas come out of the oven, immediately brush each with another 3 light layers of sugar syrup.

  15. Allow to cool for 5 to 10 minutes. Using a butter knife, loosen sides of the babka from the pan and place on wire rack to cool.

Recipe Notes

I made the dairy-free version of the recipe and it came out beautifully. (I also substituted margarine in the filling). 

Rather than grease the tins, I lined them with greaseproof paper (see photos). This seemed to work well.

Modern Jewish Baker: Challah, Babka, Bagels & More by Shannon Sarna is published by Countryman Press, and is available from Amazon, RRP £22.99. Or enter below for your chance to win a copy!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Since babka is a traditional Jewish bake, I’m linking this up with Inheritance recipes, organised by Pebble Soup and Coffee & Vanilla.

  

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34 Comments:

  1. Once baked, I wonder how long it will be fresh for. I always have the problem that I have to go to an event in the mornings and either bake early in the morning or in the evening so the product is as fresh as it could be. Do you think i can either bake it in the evenings and wrap it good or prepare the dough, filling and syrup in the evening and use it all in the morning. Can’t wait to try it :). Thanks for sharing xxx

    • Hi Rachel, I would bake it in the evening and wrap it well. It keeps for a few days well wrapped in an airtight container. I hope you enjoy it!

      • Omg it’s so delicious. Thank you for the tip. I did bake it the day before and even two days later the family loved it. I made sure it’s wrapped tight with cling film air tight (that’s all I had). I can’t wait to buy the book and try some more recipes . Thank you so much for sharing. It’s amazing.

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  3. Gingerbread Golem

    Hey:- this is a really tasty recipe, but the twisting directions are a bit of a head scratcher:- I rolled the first one this way [—–] but I found that rolling the second this way [|||||||] brought out the really cool shape.

  4. I made a chocolate version, using chocolate spread and chocolate
    Chips plus a pinch of cinnamon.
    Sooooo good!!.

  5. I have never had Babka before, but was intrigued by the beautiful swirls shown in the pictures. I thought it turned out beautiful and tasted wonderful! Was there any nutritional information given? Also, when my dough was proofing for the second time (just before baking) a clear sweet liquid ran out of the dough. What was that? Sugars that melted from the filling? Was that supposed to happen? I baked on a cookie sheet on a silpat mat. Next time I will definitely bake in a bread pan. Thank you!

  6. Did you scald the dairy-free milk you used?
    I just can’t figure out the instructions after it’s a twisted log. 🙁
    Does twisted log mean that you twist it after it’s rolled? Or is it just rolled and flat?
    After the 2 ends are cut off and twisted, do you keep doing this with the whole roll?
    Thnx so much. Really looking forward to trying it!

    • Hi Reva,
      Yes, I did scald the dairy-free milk. The milk needs to be hot when it’s added to the mixture.
      You roll up the dough into a log/sausage, then cut it lengthwise. Discard the cut ends. Twist the two long pieces together – the filling will be exposed. This video shows how to do it: https://youtu.be/9LNz1oW0raU?t=2m16s
      I hope this helps! Enjoy your babka.
      Helen x.

  7. Just a mention about the conversion from imperial to metric – Americans have yet to master it, but it is slowly coming along. Master bakers definitely use them, as well as their scales. Love your blog!

  8. Is there supposed to be any sugar in the filling? Or just the butter and cinnamon?

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  10. Oh my god! nothing is better than Jewish cakes, this looks absolutely gorgeous. Thank you for posting this on Inheritance recipes

  11. Wow, this looks amazing! I really should explore my Jewish roots more 🙂 Babkas and all kinds of sweet breads are my personal favourite… Thanks for sharing with the Inheritance Recipes.

  12. Just wondering if this would be okay is i froze it? Thanks

    • Hi Jackie. It should be fine. Wrap tightly in foil and then in plastic wrap and it should freeze OK. You can thaw at room temperature and then warm slightly in the oven for a delicious treat!

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  14. This recipe looks great, I’m always trying to make more traditional Jewish recipes – made rugelach this week!
    Would love to win this book!

  15. Would like to try more receipes and would love to know more jewish baking than I do so the book would be handy. This receipe sounds so good.

    • Thanks Bente. This book would be a great place to start if you’re interested in Jewish baking – it covers all the key points and has some terrific recipes!

  16. I must try this pinning for later It looks stunning and we love cinnamon breads in our house

  17. Yuuum! This looks so sticky and moist. Would love to give this a try!

  18. I don’t think I’ve ever tried, let alone baked any Jewish breads, though babka and challah always look so tempting. Love to get a copy of this book and give them a go!

    • Oh you should Ceri! Babka is a gorgeous rich cake, that’s perfect with a cuppa, while challah is a fluffy, soft, slightly sweet loaf that makes the best French toast in the world 😀

  19. Mmmmm this sounds amazing and autumnal. Could devour a slice with a cup of tea right now x

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