While it is a labor of love, making Babka is not as intimidating as it may seem. If you happen to have a stand mixer, its practically easy. Sounds crazy, but this has sort of become my go-to dessert when I'm having guests. Mostly because you can make (and should make) the dough and the filling at least a day in advance, so if you've got a full time job and only a couple hours to cook each night, this one works for your schedule.
The second reason I make it all the time is because my mother, the apple dessert aficionado and a woman who drove 30 minutes in Brooklyn traffic for a good piece of babka, said it was the best babka she's ever had. My husband said it's the kind of thing people would wait in line for. My husband is a lot more generous with his compliments than my mother is, but I'm inclined to believe them both. Ok - I'll shut up now - on to the recipe!
Makes 2 loaves
For the dough:
2 packets instant yeast
4 1/4 cups all purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
zest of 1/2 an orange
1/2 cup water + 1-2 tablespoons extra, if needed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
3/4 teaspoon fine salt
2/3 cup butter (or non-dairy butter, like Earth Balance)
Neutral oil for greasing (like Refined Coconut or Vegetable)
For the filling:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature (or non-dairy butter)
1/2 cup sugar
6 Large Golden Delicious apples, diced (apples range in size, if yours are on the smaller side, double the recipe to play it safe. Don't worry, you'll find a reason to eat any leftover :))
1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste
zest and juice of 1/2 orange
1 tablespoon cinnamon
For the syrup:
1/3 cup water
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
For the Streusel topping:
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1/3 cup flour
3 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1. Make the dough: Combine flour, sugar, yeast, and zest in to a bowl, or bowl of stand mixer if using. Mix well and add in eggs and 1/2 cup water and continue to mix (either with dough hook, hand mixer, or your hands) until this comes together. If the dough doesn't come together and remains crumbly, add in water 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough forms a mass. With mixer on low, add in salt and the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, and mix until fully incorporated. If it gets too watery, add in some flour. Knead the dough for another 10 minutes, adding flour every time the dough "pushes back," or sticks to your hands. At the end of 10 minutes, the dough should be smooth enough that you can play with it without any stickiness on your hands. Coat a large bowl with oil (the bowl you used to mix works well) and round the dough in bowl to grease the dough a little as well. Place dough inside, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 12 hours, up to 2 days. The longer you let it sit, the easier it will be to roll out.
2. Make the apple filling: Wash the apples and dice. While you're dicing, heat butter in a skillet on medium heat. Once melted, add in sugar and cook until caramelized, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Add in the rest of the filling ingredients and cook until the apples begin to caramelize, stirring often. When the juice thickens and looks more caramel than liquid, and your apples are very soft, you've cooked it enough. This should take somewhere between 10-20 minutes. Cover and refrigerate until you're ready to assemble.
3. Assembly: Coat two 9x4 load pans with oil or butter, line both with parchment and grease the parchment. Take the dough out of the fridge and cut in half. Roll the first half out in to a rectangle on a well floured surface. The dough should be about 1 foot long by 1.5 feet wide (I measured.) If the dough has any uneven edges, feel free to cut them off and discard (or make teeny tiny babkas for tasting.) Spread half of the apple mixture evenly around the dough, leaving a small border all around. Roll the dough from the width side into a tight cigar shape - the tighter, the better. Cut off any excess dough with no filling. Now, cut the entire babka down the middle lengthwise to form two pieces. The filling will be exposed. Form the babka by folding one piece over the other, cut side up (with the filling showing.) Don't worry if it makes a mess and some apples fall out. Transfer the formed babka to a greased pan, and if it's too long tuck up the ends (once baked, it will look neat.) Repeat the above steps with the second dough.
4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit
5. Cover both loaf pans with a clean, damp kitchen towel and allow to rest for one hour. When finished transfer both pans to the oven and bake for about 30 minutes, checking on them starting at the 20 minute mark. Bake until a knife down the middle comes out clean, but the dough still has a bit of elasticity (elasticity = gooeyness!)
6. While the babkas bake, make the syrup and the crumble topping.
7. Syrup: Bring sugar and water to a simmer over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Once dissolved, remove from the heat and allow to cool.
8. Crumble: Mix sugar, flour and butter in a bowl with your hands until it forms a crumbly texture.
9. When the babka comes out of the oven immediately pour the syrup over the loaves, follow by patting the crumble in to the babka so it sticks.