If it’s your first time making babka, I pass on to you my pearls of wisdom as someone who has persevered after slicing into dry loaves many times, as well as loaves that were still raw in the middle! You need to respect the dough. This ain’t a no- knead baking project. Since you’re going to have a softer dough than you might be used to, you want to make sure you mix it enough to build up a proper gluten structure. Then, don’t skimp on the proof. If you want a fluffy babka, make sure you give it the time to rise; how long it needs will fluctuate depending on the time of year and how warm (or cold) your kitchen gets. My visual cues are simple: double in size for the first proof and expand to fill the loaf pans for the second. Finally, fill ’em up however you want! These recipes are fun takes on ways you can step up your babka game, but with this master dough, the combinations are truly endless.
Make It Parve! If you’re looking to keep the dough parve, substitute 1 cup water for the milk and substitute ½ cup vegetable oil for the butter.
Twist and Shout! While I swear by the slice- and-twist method I use in my recipe, this is not the only way you can twist up your babka. The first variation I learned from Jared Plaxe, a former classmate who was working at Sadelle’s in NYC, baking up babka on the daily under Melissa Weller’s incredible bread program. After you roll each piece of dough into a log, instead of slicing it lengthwise, slice it crosswise for two equal- size rolls. Use your hands to gently stretch each slightly, then twist the two together and place in the prepared pan.
Then, of course, there is the method preferred by the equally iconic and Jewish Melissa, Melissa Clark. I absolutely adore her double twist, where you slice lengthwise and twist like I do, but then bring the two ends of the twist together to fold and then twist them again! If that didn’t make any sense, just go watch the video of her making it for NYT Cooking.