I had planned on making a quick bread yesterday after work. I wrote out a recipe, bought all of the ingredients and was looking forward to it. Until I found myself with more time that I had planned on having for baking. So I decided to take advantage of that time and instead of making a quick bread, make a yeasted bread. I did some research and browsing online of different versions of apple breads and apple braids and apple strudels and when all was said and done, decided to turn back to my Aunt Judy’s babka dough recipe for the base. Babka is a sweet dough and has been used in my family for coffee cakes and cinnamon buns for as long as I can remember. So why wouldn’t this make a stellar bread to use for an apple braid?
I wouldn’t really call this a strudel because it’s not made with a pastry dough. This dough is not a flaky dough like that. It is rich and soft and tender and oh so delicious. The apple filling is cooked in a mixture of apple cider, cinnamon and brown sugar to soften the apples up a bit. The apples are then removed from their cooking liquid and combined with more brown sugar, some flour and seasoning to create a delicious filling. The liquid in which they were cooked is reduced to a syrup and is then combined with a touch of heavy cream to create a glaze that I swear you will want to drink with a straw (or pour over pancakes!!!).
The babka dough is rolled out into a rectangle, the apples arranged in a line down the center and then strips of the dough are braided over the filling to create a really beautiful presentation. Butter is brushed over the loaf, streusel is sprinkled and once the baking is complete that addictive apple cider glaze is drizzled all over the whole thing. You will stop and think to yourself, I really made this? It really is a beautiful thing when it’s finished. I know it would catch my eye at the market.
The babka recipe here is enough to make two braids, or, do what I did: make one braid and a batch of cinnamon buns (stay tuned for this post)! The babka dough recipe I have included as a separate link for easy reference in the future because it is so versatile. You better believe there will be a coffee cake recipe using it come the holiday season! Christmas morning would not be the same to me without it.
But in the meantime, don’t be intimidated by this recipe. It takes a little bit of time, but only because of the rising. The steps are really quite easy and I promise there is a lot of “wow” factor with this one when you serve it at a brunch, holiday or weekend breakfast!
Babka (Polish Sweet Bread)
Recipe adapted from Aunt Judy’s Babka
Ingredients (enough for two recipes in most cases):
- ¼ C lukewarm water (~100°) (may use cider or juice depending upon what you’re making)
- ¾ tbsp. instant yeast (if using dry active use 1 tbsp. and be sure to bloom in the warm water/cider)
- 1 ½ tsp. fine kosher or sea salt
- 1 cup milk or half and half
- 4- 4 ½ cups flour, plus extra for dusting
- 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
- 2 eggs
- ½ cup granulated white sugar
- 1 ½ tbsp. vegetable or canola oil plus extra for greasing
- If using dry active yeast: In a large mixing bowl measure water and sprinkle yeast over the top; sprinkle 1 T sugar over all – do not stir – set aside until foamy/softened. Do not proceed if this does not occur – the yeast may be dead. Discard and try again with fresher yeast.
- If using instant, add yeast to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, add the flour and salt and mix briefly to combine
- Bring milk (and water or cider if NOT blooming your yeast) to a soft boil; add butter, sugar, salt and oil. Stir to melt the butter and dissolve the sugar (this can be done in microwave at half power with occasionally stirring) Set aside to cool.
- Beat eggs, combine eggs with milk mixture.
- Pour all over softened yeast and add flour and salt gradually (if using active bloomed yeast) OR add to the bowl of the stand mixer with the dry mixer (if using instant yeast).
- Mix until the dough comes together
- Dust counter-top with flour – pour batter onto floured surface and knead until a tacky consistency. If you can handle the dough without it sticking to your fingers – it begins to stick but pulls loose – perfect amount of flour. Sticky = if you hold the dough and in your hand for more than a few seconds and dough sticks to your fingers – needs more flour – you do not want this to be dry. Knead in more flour if necessary
- Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a towel
- Set aside approx.. 1 hour, until double in size
- Punch down – Push on it to remove all the air bubbles – knead it just a little. Divide into 2 pieces.
- Shape into balls.
- If making “plain” babka: place in greased 9” round baking pans. If using for cinnamon rolls, etc. leave in balls and place in lightly greased bowls
- Cover with a towel and allow them to rise 20 minutes.
- Continue by following instructions for the recipe you will be using (i.e. cinnamon rolls, braided bread, coffee cake, etc).
- To continue making plain babka: preheat oven to 300
- Bake about 1 hour until dark golden brown – gentle tap with your knuckle and it should sound hollow.
Braided Apple Sweet Bread with Cider Glaze
Original Therapy Bread recipe
Ingredients for filling and Cider Glaze:
- ½ recipe BABKA DOUGH
- 3 medium sized baking apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced (I used Empires since I had them on hand for eating but they also work well for baking projects. Alternatly, use Granny Smiths, Cortlands, Crispins or Jonagolds)
- Juice of half a lemon
- ½ cup apple cider
- ¾ cup + 2 tbsp. packed brown sugar (divided)
- 1 tsp. + ½ tsp. ground cinnamon (divided)
- 2 tbsp. unsalted butter
- Pinch of nutmeg
- Pinch of fine kosher or sea salt
- 2 tsp. unbleached, all-purpose flour
- ½ cup. Walnuts (toasted if preferred. Pecans may be used)
- 1 tbsp. heavy whipping cream
- 2 tbsp. melted unsalted butter for brushing
- ¼ cup packed light brown sugar
- 1 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
- 1 tbsp. granulated sugar
- ¼ cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
- ½ tsp. pure vanilla extract
- ¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
- Pinch of fine kosher or sea salt
- While the dough is rising prepare the streusel and apple filling. Allow the dough to complete its first and second rise (first rise as one ball and the second as two balls, you will only need one ball for this recipe)
- For the streusel- combine all streusel ingredients in a small bowl and blend with your fingers until it resembles lumpy, coarse sand. Set aside for later
- To make the filling start by tossing the peeled, cored and sliced apples with the lemon juice to prevent browning
- Place apples in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat
- Add the cider, ¾ cup brown sugar, 1 tsp. cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and 2 tbsp. butter
- Cooking over medium-low heat until the apples have softened (you do NOT want to make applesauce out of them, only cook until soft, they will continue to cook in the dough later on)
- Remove the apples with a slotted spoon to a medium heat-proof bowl and set aside (you want to allow as much liquid as possible to drain off of the apples so your filling won’t be runny later)
- Continue to cook the cider mixture over medium-low heat, stirring very frequently to prevent scorching, until reduced to a syrup-like consistency (reduced by about half). Be careful NOT to let the sugar burn at all
- Remove cider mixture from the heat to a small heat-proof bowl to cool
- To the cooked apples add the remaining 2 tbsp. brown sugar, 2 tsp. flour and ½ tsp. cinnamon and walnuts. Stir to combine
- Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silpat and spray with cooking spray (or rub with oil)
- Roll out one ball of babka dough into an 8 X 12 inch rectangle on a floured surface
- Brush melted butter liberally over the dough
- Place the apple filling in a strip down the center of the dough
- At the sides of the filling, cut the dough at 1-inch intervals, perpendicular to the filling, being careful to leave about ¼ -½ inch between the end of your cut and the filling
- Fold the dough strips over the filling diagonally to wrap it, pressing the end of the dough strip lightly onto the dough at the other side of the filling. Alternating sides to make a braid. Tuck in the ends a bit so prevent any filling from leaking out (although it shouldn’t if you drained enough liquid off of the apples)
- Carefully move the filled loaf to the greased baking sheet using two large spatulas or a large bench scraper
- Brush the top with melted butter and sprinkle with the streusel topping
- Let rise another 30 minutes (it will not quite double in size).
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
- Bake the loaf on the center rack for 45-60 minutes, or until lightly golden brown
- While the bread is baking, add the whipping cream to your cooled, reduced cider mixture and blend thoroughly. Add more cream if necessary to make this glazing consistency
- Remove the bread when done and allow to cool for 20 minutes
- Drizzle the glaze over the bread
- Serve warm, room temperature or cool out of the fridge