One of the first recipes that caught my attention as I thumbed through the pages of Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s book Jerusalem, was their gorgeous looking chocolate krantz cake – also known as babka. It’s a Jewish classic – a sweet, soft twisted yeast cake that can be filled with chocolate, ricotta, cream cheese, almond paste, nuts, poppy seeds, or fruit butter. I knew this cake from Cynthia Barcomi’s German book Backen, she sprinkles the loaf with crumbles and adds marzipan to the filling. I never tried it but the pictures in both books looked so tempting that I decided to give babka a go. I didn’t even mind the overnight-preparation that Ottolenghi recommends – if you time it well, it’s not a big deal. Yotam and Sami use water for the dough, Cynthia goes for milk, which I also did. It makes it rich like a brioche.
However, I didn’t feel like dark chocolate but cream cheese, blueberries, and lemon zest. A bit of spring feeling packed in a Sunday breakfast treat. The cheese makes the yeast dough nice and juicy, the berries make it fruity and fresh. I can only imagine how wonderful this would be at an early summer picnic in May but let’s not think about that for now. I made the dough in the evening before I went to bed and gave it a good 10 minutes of kneading until the soft butter, eggs, and milk were well combined and I held a silky, smooth ball of dough in my hands. After a night in the fridge it had risen slightly by the next morning, but hadn’t doubled in size. Rolled out thinly and spread with the filling, it was a bit fiddly to roll it up into a log without loosing the blueberries. I wanted to add even more berries but it would have made it too stressful to keep them inside – so I went for less fruit and a chilled out mood instead. Twisting was next: If you have Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem book at home, you can see how he does it, his technique is too complicated to explain and impossible if you want to fill your babka with cream cheese enriched with stiff egg whites and fruit. I followed Cynthia’s method instead: I closed the roll into a ring and twisted it about seven times. When it comes to this kind of fragile kitchen projects, it’s best to transfer your piece of art quickly and with confidence to a buttered pan – insecurity and hesitance would just make it harder to succeed. When this is done, the cake has to rise for an hour once again, so if you want to enjoy it for breakfast, you should get up in time. Once it’s nice and puffy, the babka bakes in the oven for about 1 hour, but then it smells and tastes so wonderful that you don’t mind the hours of work.
Blueberry Lemon Cheese Babka
Mind that the babka has to rise twice, the first time overnight (for about 8 hours) in the fridge.
Makes 1 loaf cake.
For the dough
plain flour 260g / 2 cups
granulated sugar 50g / 1/4 cup
fast-acting yeast 1 1/2 teaspoons
fine sea salt 1/4 teaspoon
milk, lukewarm, 60ml / 1/4 cup
organic egg 1
organic egg yolk 1
butter, at room temperature, cut into small pieces, 75g / 1/3 cup
oil, for the bowl
For the filling
organic egg whites 2 plus 1 egg yolk
a pinch of fine sea salt
cream cheese 250g / 9 ounces
granulated sugar 30g / 2 tablespoons
vanilla pod, scraped, 1/4
freshly grated lemon zest 1 heaping teaspoon
fresh blueberries 150g / 5 1/4 ounces
For the glaze
organic egg yolk 1
milk 1 tablespoons
For the yeast dough, in a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, yeast, and salt. Whisk the milk, egg, and egg yolk and add along with the butter to the flour mixture. Knead for about 10 minutes, starting with the dough hooks of an electric mixer and continue kneading and punching with your hands for a few minutes until you have a soft and silky ball of dough. Transfer to a clean, oiled bowl, cover with cling film and put in the fridge overnight.
The next morning, for the filling, beat the egg whites and salt until stiff. In a large bowl, whisk the cream cheese, egg yolk, sugar, vanilla seeds, and lemon zest until creamy. Gently fold in the beaten egg whites until combined.
Butter a 11 x 24cm / 4 x 9″ loaf pan and line the bottom with a piece of parchment paper.
Punch the dough down, take it out of the bowl, and knead for about 30 seconds. On a floured counter top, roll out the dough with a rolling pin into a 28 x 40cm / 11 x 16″ rectangle. Spread the filling over the dough, leaving a 2cm / 3/4″ rim, and sprinkle with the blueberries. Brush 1 of the shorter sides with cold water. Starting from the other short side, roll up the dough tightly into a thick log. Press to seal the end onto the roll and place the seam at the bottom. Gently stretch the roll a little and close into a ring, pushing the dough of both ends together to seal the filling inside (see the 5th row of pictures). Leaving the ring lying on the counter top, push the ring gently together, and, starting from the middle, carefully twist the roll about 3-4 times on the left side and then on the other side. The more you twist it, the more layers it will have, don’t worry if it tears a bit. It should look like a thick spiral (see the 2nd row of pictures). Lift the roll with a large knife and quickly transfer to the prepared pan. Cover with a tea towel and let it rise in a warm place (I put it on the heater) for about 60-90 minutes or until puffy.
Preheat the oven to 190°C / 375°F (conventional oven). For the glaze, whisk the egg yolk and milk.
Brush the loaf with the glaze and bake in the oven for 35 minutes, then cover loosely with aluminium foil and bake for another 30 minutes or until golden brown and almost firm on top. Check with a skewer, it should come out almost clean. Take the pan out of the oven and let the cake cool for at least 10-15 minutes before you remove it from the pan. Enjoy slightly warm or cool.