I'd always seen photos of gooey, chocolatey babka on my Pinterest boards and never had the heart to make it. I'm sure I wasn't the only one thinking to myself, 'what is babka?' I assumed it was super hard and way too time-consuming. As it turns out. it's actually not that hard to make, and most of the time is spent just letting it rest. Plus, the result is absolutely delicious and definitely worth it.

So, What Is Babka?

Babka is a dense cake, although it looks a little like a bread. It's a sweet yeast dough filled with fudgy chocolate or cinnamon in layers and baked. It also sometimes has a streusel on top. You may recognize it as that beautiful piece of cake/bread on your Instagram with hundreds of swirls of chocolate.

There's also a Polish version of babka that's a sweet yeast cake with raisins or other dried fruits and citron and soaked in brandy or rum. Unlike chocolate or cinnamon babka that is baked in a loaf pan, Polish babka is made in a swirled Bundt pan. It's typically made for Easter, but can be enjoyed year-round. 

Where Did Babka Originate? 

Until recently, you could really only find babka in Jewish or Eastern European bakeries, although it has recently taken the Internet and food blogs by storm. It started when Jews on Shabbat took leftover challah and twisted it with seeds and nuts, such as poppy seeds and walnuts. The word 'babka' means grandmother, referring to the grandmothers on Shabbat who made this out of the leftover challah. 

Chocolate wasn't added to babka until Jews arrived in New York. Chocolate became more affordable and accessible, so Jews started embellishing their babkas with rich chocolate instead of cinnamon. 

How Babka Is Made

Babka is made with a sweet yeast dough (a lot like bread, but much sweeter). After a few rises, the dough is rolled out and spread with chocolate or cinnamon, then rolled lengthwise into a tight roll. Then comes the part that gives it its typical swirls.

The long cylinder of dough is cut in half along the middle of the long roll (hot-dog style, as we know it). Then, the two sides are twisted like a braid, but with only two sides. It's then folded over once and put in a loaf pan. After it's baked, it's brushed with a simple syrup to give it that glossy sheen. It's usually (but not always) topped with a streusel. 

#SpoonTip: Check out this babka recipe to make this sweet treat yourself. 

The Polish version is a bit simpler. A sweet dough is made with dried fruits soaked in wine or rum. Then the dough rises several times and is baked in a Bundt pan, which is a round cake with a hole in the middle. The baked cake can be left plain, glazed with icing, or dusted with powdered sugar.

Babka is still most popular in the Jewish culture and Eastern Europe, but now you can even find babka in Trader Joe's, so it's made quite the comeback. I have a great recipe for chocolate babka on my blog, too. Once you try it, you'll be hooked! Overall, you can find babka many places nowadays, but it's most popular in Eastern Europe and New York City.