Cranberry-Orange Babka: an American twist on an Old World classic

Do you usually shy away from complicated baking projects? Yes or no, stick with me here; I’m going to walk you through Cranberry-Orange Babka, a bread that looks fancy but actually requires no more skill than simply twisting together two strands of dough. I call it fancy without the fuss.

While most familiar to us Americans in its chocolate version, babka is a time-honored Slavic yeast “cake” made from a rich brioche-type dough studded with raisins. The cake (we’d call it sweet bread) is traditionally baked in a tall cylinder. It’s often flavored with rum, and usually gilded with icing.

Cranberry-Orange Babka combines a simple Old World technique with favorite American flavors. Click To Tweet

Our version of this classic lays the babka on its side in a loaf pan; and substitutes cranberry and orange for raisins and rum. The result is part coffeecake, part sweet bread, and 100% “Save this recipe, I’m making it again.”

How to make Cranberry-Orange Babka via kingarthurflour

Cranberry-Orange Babka: Let’s get started!

The dough

Let’s start with the dough. Enriched with egg and butter plus dry milk, it’s a smooth, malleable dough, eager to please as you knead and shape it.

Combine the following:

1/2 cup lukewarm water
1 large egg
3 tablespoons softened butter
1/2 teaspoon Buttery Sweet Dough Flavor, or vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon Fiori di Sicilia, optional; for enhanced flavor
2 1/4 cups (9 1/2 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons Baker’s Special Dry Milk or nonfat dry milk
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast or active dry yeast

Mix and knead by your usual method — hands, bread machine on the dough cycle, mixer — to make a smooth, supple dough. It may be sticky at first, but keep at it; it’ll eventually come around (and become a round).

The first rise

Put the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover the bowl, and let the dough rise until it’s just about doubled. This took 90 minutes in my moderately cool kitchen; your dough may be quicker or need more time.

How to make Cranberry-Orange Babka via kingarthurflour

The filling

While the dough is rising, make the filling. Combine the following in a saucepan:

1/4 cup orange juice
1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Cook the mixture over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until it begins to thicken to a jam-like consistency. This will take about 10 to 15 minutes once it comes to a simmer.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in 1 tablespoon melted butter, 1/8 teaspoon orange oil or 1 teaspoon grated orange rind, and 1 teaspoon Yuletide Cheer Spice or cinnamon. Set the filling aside to cool to lukewarm.

How to make Cranberry-Orange Babka via kingarthurflour

Take your nicely risen dough and gently deflate it.

How to make Cranberry-Orange Babka via kingarthurflour

Assembly

Transfer the dough to a lightly greased work surface (or silicone rolling mat, as I’m using here), and roll/pat it into a 12″ x 14″ rectangle. As I mentioned earlier, this dough is nice to work with; it won’t fight back as you stretch it out, thanks to the egg and butter tempering the gluten.

How to make Cranberry-Orange Babka via kingarthurflour

Spread the cranberry filling over the surface of the dough, leaving a 1/2″ border along the edge of one of the short sides. Starting with the filling-covered short side, roll the dough up jelly-roll style, sealing the edge.

How to make Cranberry-Orange Babka via kingarthurflour

Cut the log in half lengthwise to expose the filling.

How to make Cranberry-Orange Babka via kingarthurflour

Place each half side by side, filled sides up.Yes, this becomes a bit messy; keep a wet dishcloth close by.

How to make Cranberry-Orange Babka via kingarthurflour

Lay one strand over the other to make an X shape.

How to make Cranberry-Orange Babka via kingarthurflour

Twist the two logs together, working from the center to each end.

How to make Cranberry-Orange Babka via kingarthurflour

Pinch the ends together, and place the twisted log in a lightly greased 9″ x 5″ loaf pan.

How to make Cranberry-Orange Babka via kingarthurflour

The second rise

Cover the loaf and allow it to rise for 1 to 2 hours, until it’s crowned 1/2″ to 1″ over the rim of the pan.

Hint: If you know anyone who stays in hotels regularly, get them to bring you home some of the courtesy plastic shower caps available to guests. PERFECT dough rising covers!

Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F.

How to make Cranberry-Orange Babka via kingarthurflour

Admittedly my kitchen is usually chilly, but it took the loaf a full 2 hours to rise to the desired 1″ over the rim of the pan. That’s why you need to take suggested rising times with a grain of salt: your dough in your kitchen in your climate will react differently than your sister’s in Phoenix — or our dough here in Vermont.

Baking

Bake the babka for 45 to 50 minutes, tenting it with aluminum foil about halfway through to prevent over-browning.

How to make Cranberry-Orange Babka via kingarthurflour

The top of the finished loaf will be golden brown, and a digital thermometer inserted into the center of the loaf will read 190°F or above.

Remove the loaf from the oven.

How to make Cranberry-Orange Babka via kingarthurflour

Final touches

After 10 minutes, remove the babka from the pan and transfer it to a rack. For a softer crust, brush the top of the warm loaf with melted butter, if desired.

Cool the loaf completely before slicing and serving.

Cranberry-Orange Babka via kingarthurflourWant to gild the lily? Mix 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar with about 1 tablespoon milk or cream, enough to make a pourable icing. Drizzle over the cooled babka.

Cranberry-Orange Babka via kingarthurflour

Enjoy.

Serve it soft and fresh, or toast it with butter. Make it into French toast, or even sweet/salty grilled cheese (try an assertive cheddar). Any way you slice (or twist) it, Cranberry-Orange Babka is a recipe you’ll definitely want to keep in your virtual hip pocket.

Please read, bake, and review our recipe for Cranberry-Orange Babka.

Print just the recipe.

Interested in other European-style sweet breads? Check out these recipes:
Hefefranz
St. Lucia Buns
Czech Kolaches
Chocolate-Cherry Brioche
Overnight Panettone
Tuscan Coffeecake
Polish Babka
Greek Tsoureki
Shortcut Russenzopf

 

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. Regina

    Looks delicious PJ! Great instructions and pictures. Any chance this could be made gluten free? I would suppose it couldn’t due to the fact it is a yeast bread…

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      While this recipe can’t be converted to gluten-free, we do have a delicious recipe for Gluten-Free Filled Bread, which you can make sweet by using the cranberry orange filling recipe given here. If you decide to try it, let us know how it turns out! Kye@KAF

  2. Cynthia

    Yay for me! I made this babka this morning before I found your blog post and mine looks just like yours! Great recipe and I love your blog.

    Reply
  3. Kathryn

    Hi PJ, this is great instruction! I made two loaves this past Tuesday for Thanksgiving gifts. I baked the two loaves together in the oven, but followed all other instructions. I found my final loaves to be quite dry when the giftees cut into them on Thursday and Friday — the taste was still wonderful, and the presentation earned a few WOWs too. Is there anything I could do next time to preserve the softness of the baked dough? Thanks in advance, appreciate any suggestions!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Thanks for giving this recipe a try, Kathryn! Oftentimes enriching ingredients will help to preserve the freshness of a homemade loaf (because of the additional fat and sugar), but this recipe already has a number of such ingredients (egg, butter, sugar and non-fat dry milk), so it’s unlikely any more would change the shelf life. The unfortunate reality of homemade baked goods is that they do tend to stale much more quickly than store bought versions, so it may be more helpful to focus on storage. If time requires baking gifts ahead of time, you may want to consider freezing your well-wrapped loaves as soon as they are fully cooled — wrapping in plastic wrap, then in a ziplock tends to do the trick. Then you can pull them out of the freezer, unwrap, more loosely cover and defrost for 3-4 hrs just before gifting. Hope this helps! Mollie@KAF

  4. Galia Hutchinson

    I have made 3 of these, one for home and 2 for friends. This is a great Babka, I also added Orange Marmalade to the cooked mixture and a few Pecans. The dough was ideal, rich but not so soft that you couldn’t handle it. It gets an A➕ from me.

    Reply
  5. Luisa

    Haven’t made this yet, waiting for Christmas Morning.
    But you can get those shower caps at a Dollar Store for 6-8 for $1.
    Be sure to spray the inside with pan release spray. You can reuse Lots of times, just store the sprayed part to the inside, pinch the center and smooth it down like a folded umbrella, then roll up from the top. Secure loosely with a rubber band if you need to.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      If you prefer that very slight bit of tang, Sarah, that should be just fine. If it’s just a matter of having non-fat dry milk on hand, you can also substitute lukewarm milk for the lukewarm water and dry milk. Happy baking! Mollie@KAF

  6. Jodie

    I make a tasty cranberry sauce made with orange zest, the juice from the orange and spiced Apple cider for liquid each Thanksgiving and Christmas. It is the consistency of jam. Could I substitute this for the cranberrys in this recipe?

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Absolutely, Jodie – substituting it for the cooked cranberry mixture in the recipe will be just fine. Sounds yummy! PJH

  7. Carol Sacks

    I baked this gorgeous loaf this afternoon. It was a huge hit. Definitely baking this again during the holiday season.

    Reply
  8. Lillian

    Wonderful, fun, tasty recipe. For the filling, I used my leftover cranberry relish with walnuts and granny smith apple chunks, adding orange juice and cinnamon. Delicious. It was difficult to wait for it to cool.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Lillian, that sounds absolutely delicious. Gives new meaning to the word “leftover!” Thanks for sharing here. PJH

  9. Jason byler

    I made this for Thanksgiving. It’s not only beautiful but it is fabulously delicious. Thanks for sharing the recipe. My wife and daughter both raved and are now asking when I’ll make it again. Great recipe.

    Reply
  10. cb

    we made this on TG and it was AMAZING. we just finished that puppy off this morning. yes, just the two of us! had no jammy bits so I chopped up some very plump dried apricots. sometimes I find that KA recipes are a little to dry for my taste, but this was perfect. and I’d also like to pay tribute to my good friend Les, a strong KA devotee, who left us a few weeks ago. I baked in memoriam. Les says: make the KA recipe for caramel popcorn!

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid

      Sure. Just use milk instead of water as the liquid in the dough. Potato flour or flakes gives a similar result, as well, and can be substituted in the same amount. Susan

    2. The Baker's Hotline

      KK, you can use 1/2 cup of lukewarm milk instead of water and omit the dry milk powder if you don’t have any on hand. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  11. Bob Crosby

    I was intrigued by the comment that “babka is traditionally baked in a tall cylinder.” I could not find photos of it on Google images. I bake a Russian Kulich each Easter in a tall cylinder, but it does resemble a babka with layers. It’s a tall loaf that really impresses. Can you point out a babka baked in a tall cylinder?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Bob, when babka was first baked in the 12th century, it was made as a tall cake, baked in a special fluted pan that seemed to have a skirt like a grandmother’s apron. (The name babka or baba comes from the word grandmother.) Traditional babkas were also often baked in a tall cylindrical pan– check out this article here if you’d like to look at one such example. Today it is more commonly prepared in a loaf pan like what you see here. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  12. Donna Trojanowski

    This bread is delicious and the filling would be great in sweet rolls. Sweet rolls using this are next on my list.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Tamia, this is more complicated with a sweet dough like this, as adding sourdough starter will change the flavor considerably. I have seen sweet bread recipes made with a sourdough starter, but it requires feeding the starter much more frequently to give you the mild flavor and rising power required. I would recommend sticking to the yeast called for in this recipe. Barb@KAF

    2. The Baker's Hotline

      Tamia, I have seen an enriched sweet dough like this that uses sourdough starter as the leavener, but it requires a much more rigorous feeding schedule to keep the sourdough starter from adding too much sour flavor to the bread. I would recommend sticking to the instant yeast in this recipe for best results. Barb@KAF

  13. Sandra

    I am just doing the second proofing in my proofed box. Since I live in a RV full time Before I bake any bread in my convection oven microwave, I use a mix of egg & cream or buttermilk. It looks right now like yours. If this one works out well, I plan to make many for family & friends. Now can this be frozen till time I need it? Icing I would apply when defrosted. Your thoughts pls.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      These loaves should freeze nicely, Sandra. Just make sure they are fully cooled before wrapping them up airtight. The night before you intend to gift one, simply leave it out at room temperature to defrost. Hope this helps! Mollie@KAF

  14. Marie

    I can’t get over how forgiving this recipe is. I got a little inventive with my rendition of this as I really wanted to try it, but didn’t have all the ingredients as written.

    Due to allergies, I replaced the dry milk and water with soy milk, Earth Balance for butter, and a flax “egg” for the egg. Instead of the sweet dough flavor and Fiori, I used rum to add a little something. To give a little more nutrition, I swapped out 1 cup of APF with whole wheat flour. Instead of fresh/cranberries, I used a cup of frozen mixed berries that included raspberries and blueberries.

    The loaf came out absolutely delicious, rich with a gorgeous swirl, and just the right crumb. Will definitely be repeating this one!

    Reply

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