A Holiday Babka for Rosh Hashanah

Full of flavor, these yeasted rose cakes can be prepared in advance and frozen until the Jewish new year.

Vered Guttman
Vered Guttman
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Rosh Hashana babka: The finished cake.
Rosh Hashana babka: The finished cake.Credit: Vered Guttman
Vered Guttman
Vered Guttman

Israeli cuisine has always had yeast cakes. Until a couple of decades ago they were usually either simple Russian-style roulade-shaped cakes, or German-Austrian kugelhopf style pastries. Braided babkas, considered a staple of North American Jewish baking, arrived only later.

Another very popular version of yeast cake consists of several flower-shaped rolls arranged in a circle in a round pan, lending it the name “oogat shoshanim” - rose cake.

The great thing about baking a babka this way is that you get more of the soft, delicious inner part (my kids always snatch the center) and less of the harder outside crust. And, the cake is bigger.

You can double any babka loaf recipe to fit to a 10” round pan for a rose babka, which is what I did here.

The fillings of the two recipes below are inspired by the symbols of the High Holidays. You can make the babka ahead of time and freeze it for the holiday, which can save some hassle later.

Rosh Hashana babka: Filling the dough. Credit: Vered Guttman

Honey, orange and hazelnut babka

Honey, orange and hazelnut babka (as well as the bitter orange, marzipan and date babka recipe that follows) are perfect for serving on Rosh Hashanah. The best part is that you can prepare the babka now and freeze it in the pan before baking (wrap multiple times with plastic wrap). When you’re ready to bake, thaw the unbaked babka in the fridge overnight, then let it stand at room temperature for an hour and bake as instructed below.

Roasted hazelnuts are available at Trader Joe’s but you can easily roast them yourself. Place in a pan in a 350-degree Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius) oven for about 20 minutes until golden-brown, shaking the pan occasionally.

Candied orange peel or orange slices are available, again, at Trader Joe’s, at Middle Eastern and some kosher markets, and online. It’s a great ingredient to have on the dried fruit shelf in your pantry, and can be chopped into cakes, used to top yogurt and substituted for raisins or cranberries in any recipe. Candied orange peel adds a recognizable bittersweet taste to any of these dishes.

For two 9-by-5-inch babkas (23-by-13 centimeter), or one round 10-inch (25-centimeter) babka

Rosh Hashana babka: Slicing up the coil. Credit: Vered Guttman

For the dough:
1 lb. (440 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling the dough
1 tablespoons instant yeast (or 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon active dry yeast)
1/2 cup sugar plus more for the pan
2 large eggs at room temperature, lightly beaten
2/3 cups warm milk
12 tablespoons soft butter plus more for greasing the pan
Grated zest of one lemon
1 teaspoon kosher salt

For honey filling:
16 tablespoons soft butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup honey
3/4 cup roasted hazelnuts (see note above), chopped
1/2 cup chopped candied orange (see note above)

For brushing:
1 egg, beaten

1. To make the dough, use a stand mixer with the dough hook. Put flour and yeast in the mixer bowl and mix with a fork. Add sugar, then turn mixer on medium-low speed and mix for a minute. Add eggs and milk and continue to mix for about 2 minutes, until well incorporated. Stop the mixer as needed to scrape the flour from the sides using a spatula, and continue to mix. Add butter, a tablespoon at a time, then add lemon zest and salt. Turn speed to medium and mix for 8 minutes. Stop the mixer to scrape the sides as needed. The dough will be very soft, but don’t be tempted to add more flour.
2. Remove bowl from stand mixer. Using a spatula, transfer dough into a lightly floured large bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature, preferably in a warm space (near the oven, for example) until dough is almost double in volume, about 2 hours.
3. Check the dough: On a hot day it may be too soft at this point, and therefore hard to work with. Put it in the fridge for 30 minutes before rolling.
4. In the meantime, make the filling. In a large bowl, mix butter, sugar and salt and set aside.
5. Liberally butter two 9” x 5” loaf pans or one 10” cake pan, and sprinkle sugar at the bottom.
6. Lightly flour a work surface and a rolling pin.

Rosh Hashana babka: Arranging the pieces in the pan.Credit: Vered Guttman

7. If you’re making two loaf-size babkas, divide dough into two (the dough weighs about 2 pounds, so divide it into two 1-pound portions). Sprinkle dough with a little flour and roll into an approximately 10-inch by 15-inch rectangle. Spread with half the sugar-butter filling, drizzle with half the honey, then sprinkle with half the hazelnuts and half the candied orange. Roll up dough jelly-roll style, starting from the short side. Gently cut the log in half lengthwise, leaving the top connected. Twist both halves together, making sure the cut side is on top, and carefully transfer into the loaf pan. Repeat with the other half of the dough.

8. If you’re making one 10” babka, roll the dough into a 28” x 15” rectangle. Spread with the sugar-butter filling, drizzle honey on top, sprinkle with hazelnuts and candied orange and roll up into a long log, starting from the long side. Gently cut log into 7 to 9 short logs (about 3 inches each) and transfer them, cut side up, into a 10” round spring form.

9. Cover with towel and leave to rise in a warm place in your kitchen for about 1 hour.
10. Heat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius). Brush babkas with beaten egg. Bake babka loafs for 45-50 minutes, and round babka cake for 55-60 minutes, until golden brown on top. It’s important not to over bake the babkas, as they will dry out on the inside. Touch the center of the top of the babka to make sure it’s almost stable, but not completely firm. Remove to a cooling rack and let cool for 30 minutes before serving.

Rosh Hashana babka: The finished cake.Credit: Vered Guttman

Alternative babka filling: Bitter orange, marzipan and dates

Mix 12 tablespoons soft butter with 1 cup bitter orange jam and 1/2 cup ground almonds. Spread over dough. Crumble 4 oz. marzipan on top and sprinkle with 6 chopped dates. Continue with the recipe as instructed above.

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