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

Sweet, delicious, gooey cinnamon babka recipe,
taken from Shannon Sarna’s book Modern Jewish Baker. 

I was really to get my hands on a copy of this book! 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! 

Modern Jewish Baker by Shannon Sarna

Surprise and delight!

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! There are also ideas on how to use leftovers (if there are any) and what to serve alongside. Plus fillings, toppings, tricks, techniques, and inspiration to create your own unique flavours using the book as a guide.

So many choices!

I decided to try and make babka. I turned to the relevant chapter 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!

Help and guidance 

Each chapter has an introduction and guidance about ‘how the dough should feel’. It includes 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. All-in-all it feels like Shannon is almost there in the kitchen holding your hand and guiding you towards perfect results. 

Have faith!

Never having made a babka before, I was quite nervous as my 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.

Taste test

My daughter Kipper and I taste-tested the cinnamon babka for our elevenses, and blimey it was 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!

Very American

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. 

Try it yourself

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, 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

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
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4.91 from 10 votes

Cinnamon Babka

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


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


  • 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.
  • In a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, mix together the flour, 1/3 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 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.
  • Place dough in a greased bowl with a damp towel on top. Allow to rise 1 to 2 hours.
  • 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).
  • To make the filling, combine all the filling ingredients in a bowl. 
  • 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.
  • 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). 
  • 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.
  • 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. 
  • 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.
  • When the babkas come out of the oven, immediately brush each with another 3 light layers of sugar syrup.
  • 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.


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.

If you like yeasted bakes, you might also like my Chelsea Bun Babkahot Magen David buns, or vegan chocolate babka. For more bakes with cinnamon, check out cinnamon and vanilla cookies, or cinnamon buns with raisins and maple syrup glaze. 

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










  1. Is the sugar used granulated sugar or caster sugar? Thank you!

    • Hi Dana. This is the recipe as it appears in the book – it just says ‘sugar’. I always use caster sugar for baking but I imagine that granulated would work fine in this recipe too. Hope you enjoy it!

  2. Thank you for posting this, Helen! This was my first time making babka, and it turned out amazing. I made two larger ones instead of three, which required them to be baked around 15-20 minutes longer. I also put raisins in one of them by generously sprinkling a layer on top of the filling before rolling it up, and that made it even more delicious! The recipe is fantastic, I can definitely see myself making it again and adding apples next time. (:

  3. 5 stars
    This was really good! I split it in two instead of three, next time I will cook it a little longer as I didn’t take the adjusted size into account. My family all loved it as well.

  4. This was my first time making a babka and I consider it a great success! The dough seemed very wet at first and I wasn’t sure all the butter was going to incorporate. After about 6 minutes in my KitchenAid the dough became supple and beautiful.

    If I make it again I will definitely add salt to the dough, along with the flour (probably 1/2 – 1 teaspoon). Using unsalted butter makes it a little bland, and I found myself individually salting the pieces that I ate.

    The texture of the bread is fantastic though!

  5. 5 stars
    I just finished my first attempt at this recipe and want to share my experience. The directions were great (especially after viewing the video of the twisting process). I followed everything until the first rise when I tried an overnight in the fridge proofing. I put the dough in a bowl, covered it with cling wrap and left it there until morning. When I took it out it was very hard and I was concerned, but should not have been. After kneading it a bit to soften and warm it up a little, I weighed it for the 3 balls and they rolled out beautifully. I did find I didn’t have enough of the filling for all three. I must have used too much on the first two, so I made one with the leftover cinnamon and some apricot jam. They took about 2.5 hours for the second rise because the dough was so cold, but I expected that. They also took much longer to cook, something I did not expect. I ended up using a thermometer to determine whether they were done. They are absolutely beautiful and the cinnamon one is delicious. Haven’t tried the apricot yet. I wish I could post a picture but I don’t know how. LOL I will be making these again!! I want to try chocolate and Nutella varieties.

    • I’m so glad they turned out so well! Thanks for sharing your experience of rising the dough overnight in the fridge – great to know that it’s possible and the finished product turns out well. Enjoy eating them! Helen x.

  6. In the dough you list 2 tsp of vanilla. Is that vanilla extract? I wasn’t sure to add 2 tsp of liquid vanilla extract directly to the flour mixture.

  7. 5 stars
    Thank you so much for this, Helen! It’s the first time I have had babka come out right, and this came out beautifully!

  8. I didn’t notice much growth in the second rise. It makes my loaf pans look very empty. Is 30 min really enough time?

  9. 5 stars
    The loaf pans I did this in were a bit big and it sort of spread out and lost some filling, so next time I want to divide the recipe in two instead of 3. Should I lower the oven temp as well as extend the baking time? Thanks! This is delicious.

    • Hi Caroline, glad you enjoyed it! I would leave the oven temperature alone and just keep checking every few minutes after the suggested time to see if they’re done yet. I think the recipe will be quite forgiving! All the best, Helen.

  10. How would you modify this to make mini loaves? I wanted to do this for Christmas gifts.

    • Hi Pam. I’ve never tried making them any smaller than written but I’ve seen recipes elsewhere for mini babka loaves so it must be possible! I would simply shape them into smaller loaves and bake as written but keep a close eye on them as they will probably be cooked through sooner than a larger loaf. If you have a food thermometer then you can check the internal temperature of the loaves – when it reaches 200C they should be done. I hope this helps! Regards, Helen.

  11. 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!

      • 5 stars
        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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  13. 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.

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

  15. 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!

  16. 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:
      I hope this helps! Enjoy your babka.
      Helen x.

  17. 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!

  18. 4 stars
    Is there supposed to be any sugar in the filling? Or just the butter and cinnamon?

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

  21. 5 stars
    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.

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

  25. 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!

  26. Jacqui Bellefontaine

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

  27. Becca @ Amuse Your Bouche

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

  28. 5 stars
    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 😀

  29. 5 stars
    Mmmmm this sounds amazing and autumnal. Could devour a slice with a cup of tea right now x

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