The sweet and creamy fruit filling that is wrapped in this gorgeous loaf is like none other! The dough is light and fluffy with an amazing texture that is enveloped in butter and made richer with eggs, milk and a hint of vanilla. Babka is one of my personal favorite desserts and I’m not picky over what filling is inside! Strawberries and cream are seemingly the perfect combination this time of year.
Babka may seem slightly intimidating to make but the process is much simpler than expected. Babka is not a bread to be made in a rush. The dough will need time to rise, twice and then it will need to bake and cool accordingly. Many babka recipes call for an egg wash however this one uses a simple syrup to coat the tops and edges of each loaf. The simple syrup adds a beautiful sheen on top, a bit of sweetness and more texture but it isn’t necessary.
Here’s what you’ll need for this recipe:
3 cups of diced fresh strawberries (one pint but grab two just to be sure since strawberries are not uniform)
1 8-ounce package of cream cheese
A strawberry jam or preserves
Strawberry extract or flavoring
When layering the filling to the babka dough I like to add the cream cheese filling and then a thin layer of strawberry jam. I always recommend Bonne Maman for it’s amazing quality and flavor. We are making fresh strawberry preserves so the jam isn’t necessary but adds a layer of sweetness and additional strawberry flavor. I’ve also used strawberry flavoring in this recipe to add even more flavor which also isn’t necessary, but it does make this babka that much better!
It’s important to note that this babka gets messy. There is a lot of filling and it is just fine if some spills out. This babka in particular will not roll as tightly as typical babkas with a chocolate or cinnamon filling because the fruit adds a bit more volume. Roll each log as tightly as possible before twisting and you’ll have a beautiful loaf with a luscious center.
Let's get baking!
Strawberries and Cream Babka
For the dough:
4 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
½ cup granulated sugar plus 1 teaspoon, divided
1 teaspoon fine salt
1 package active dry yeast (2 ¼ tsp.)
1 cup whole milk warmed to 110 degrees
2 large eggs at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon strawberry extract or flavoring
10 tablespoons (1 stick + 2tbsp) unsalted butter, softened
For the cream cheese filling:
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
½ cup granulated sugar
For the strawberry preserves:
3 cups strawberries, diced
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
¼ cup strawberry jam, reserved for layering
To make the simple syrup:
⅓ cup granulated sugar
⅓ cup water
1 teaspoon strawberry extract or flavoring (optional)
To make the cream cheese filling:
Combine sugar and softened cream cheese in a bowl and beat using a handheld mixer until cream cheese becomes light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
To make the strawberry preserves:
Combine diced strawberries, sugar, and lemon juice in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium and simmer for 15 minutes until mixture becomes thick. Refrigerate preserves while dough rises.
To make the babka:
Heat the milk until it reaches 110 degrees. Add milk and 1 teaspoon sugar to the bowl of a stand mixer fit with a dough hook attachment. Sprinkle yeast over the milk and stir to combine. Let rest for 5 minutes or just until the yeast mixture becomes foamy.
In a medium sized bowl, whisk together flour, ½ cup sugar, and salt. Add eggs, extracts and flour mixture to yeast mixture. Mix on low speed until combined and then increase speed to medium-low and mix for 5 minutes until the dough becomes smooth.
Add softened butter by the tablespoon, mixing on medium-low speed until butter is fully incorporated (about 5 minutes). The dough will be slightly sticky.
Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for 2 hours or until the dough has doubled in size. Alternatively, you may let the dough rise in the refrigerator overnight. Punch dough down and place on a lightly floured surface. Divide dough into 2 halves, shaped as rectangular as possible.
Roll each dough half onto a floured surface, shaping it into a 12 x 16 oval or rectangular shape. Using a spatula, divide cream cheese filling in half and spread evenly over both doughs. Following the cream cheese filling, spread strawberry jam evenly over on top. Next, layer strawberry preserves over jam layer. Make sure to leave an outer edge length-wise on each piece of dough (this well help the dough stick when rolling).
Beginning with the side that has the filling, roll the dough into a tightly into a log shape. Trim edges of each log (about 1/2 an inch. Gently slice down the middle lengthwise, creating two long halves in each log. The layers with filling will be exposed and some of it may drip out, that is okay. Working quickly, place the end of the first log over the top of the second log and press together lightly. Twist each log around each other and pinch the ends closed. Repeat this process for the second loaf.
Line two 9 x 5 loaf pans with parchment paper, making sure to leave an overhand on both sides. Carefully place the loaves into each pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 1 hour in a warm area.
Bake loaves at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes. Immediately after removing loaves from oven, brush each loaf generously with simple syrup. Allow to cool in pan for 15 minutes before moving loaves to a wire rack to cool completely.