How to shape babka: From simple to intricate

Babka is a captivating bread: Try it once and it’s difficult to stop at just a slice. The flavor is deliciously indulgent (dough baked into a golden brioche-like bread with a delicate crumb), but it’s how you shape babka dough that makes it so distinctive. With the right method, a rich ribbon of chocolate, cinnamon, and nuts runs through the loaf, making each bite decadent and dessert-like.

Traditionally this bread, hailing from Eastern Europe, is shaped in a twist, which creates the signature ribbons of filling throughout the loaf. But babka can take many forms, from a wreath to a loaf to a boule-like knot.

Learn three techniques, from simple to fancy, for shaping babka. Click To Tweet

Start with the basic formula of egg-enriched dough and chocolate filling, and the possibilities are endless. Babka dough, like brioche, is particularly easy to work with. It’s a perfect canvas for practicing more elaborate shaping techniques. The best part? Every shape tastes delicious, shot through with chocolate filling, so you can go simple or intricate.

Shaping Babka via @kingarthurflour

The most important lesson to shaping babka is that practice makes perfect. The more you try your hand at shaping, the more confident you will get. But keep in mind that mastering the proper dough consistency will have the biggest impact on flavor, so start by following PJ’s excellent step-by-step blog on mixing babka dough. Learning pretty ways to shape it is just icing on the cake, so to speak.

Today I’ll show you three ways to shape your babka dough, from simple to advanced.

I’m using our April Bakealong recipe: Chocolate Babka. The recipe makes two loaves, so you can try your hand at multiple shapes! For the purpose of today’s tutorial, your dough should be prepped to just after its first rise.

Let’s begin!

Shaping Babka via @kingarthurflour

How to shape babka: The classic twist

Divide the dough in half (each half will make one loaf). Roll half of your dough out to roughly a 9″ x 18″, 1/4″-thick rectangle (as the recipe instructs: Don’t be fussy about this; 19″ or 20″ is as good as 18″).

Shaping Babka via @kingarthurflour

Spread half of the filling over the dough, leaving about an inch bare around the border.

Shaping Babka via @kingarthurflour

Shaping Babka via @kingarthurflour

Starting on the long side closest to you, roll the dough into a long log and pinch it closed, sealing the seam and the ends. You can also roll up starting on a short side, but I find that it’s easier to work with a longer, skinnier log. Try both and see which you prefer!

Shaping Babka via @kingarthurflour

Shaping Babka via @kingarthurflour

With one hand on each end of the log, twist the dough in opposite directions with both hands. With your hands holding the twist in place, fold the log over onto itself, so both ends line up.

Shaping Babka via @kingarthurflour

Now give the folded-over log one or two final twists. Place it into a greased 9″ x 5″ loaf pan.

Shaping Babka via @kingarthurflour

Let it rise until puffy. Top with streusel, if desired (follow our recipe for ingredients) and bake as directed.

Shaping Babka via @kingarthurflour

Shaping Babka via @kingarthurflour

Shaping Babka via @kingarthurflour

How to shape babka: The sliced braid

A traditional slice of babka has a gorgeous cross-section shot through with layers of nutty chocolate filling. To achieve this look, you’ll roll your dough as you did for the first shape, then slice and braid your logs.

First, roll half of your dough out to roughly a 9″ x 18″, 1/4″-thick rectangle.

Shaping Babka via @kingarthurflour

Again, spread half of the filling over the dough, leaving about an inch bare around the border. Starting on the long side closest to you, roll the dough into a long log and pinch it closed, sealing the seam and the ends.

Shaping Babka via @kingarthurflour

Shaping Babka via @kingarthurflour

Using scissors or a sharp serrated knife, cut the log in half lengthwise. Don’t worry if the filling begins to fall out, just hold the dough together as best you can. Messy is still delicious!

Shaping Babka via @kingarthurflour

Shaping Babka via @kingarthurflour

You’ll end up with two strips of dough. Take those two pieces and pinch two ends together. Twist the logs around each other two or three times; pinch together the other two ends. Place the braid, cut side up, in a greased 9″ x 5″ loaf pan.

Let it rise until puffy, then bake as directed.

Shaping Babka via @kingarthurflour

Shaping Babka via @kingarthurflour

Shaping Babka via @kingarthurflour

Shaping Babka via @kingarthurflour

How to shape babka: The braided knot

This beautiful loaf looks complicated, but is easy to twist together. It uses the same general technique as the traditional twisted loaf, but takes it a step further.

Although it’s slightly more intricate, it’s a simpler loaf in a sense because it’s freeform and can be baked right on a parchment-lined baking sheet: no pan required!

First, divide your dough in half. Roll half of the dough out to roughly a 9″ x 18″, 1/4″-thick rectangle.

Spread half of the filling over the dough, leaving about an inch bare around the border.

Note: Although I used our Chocolate Babka recipe for the dough, I modified the filling. I melted together 1/2 stick of butter with 2 ounces of chocolate, and stirred this until smooth. Then I whisked in 1/6 cup of cocoa powder and 1/6 cup of sugar. A pinch of espresso powder is a nice addition to amplify the chocolate flavor.

You could use the filling as the recipe instructs, but I prefer a smoother filling with no nuts or chocolate chips. That’s because this loaf is more intricate to shape, and it’s easy for any “chunks” in the dough to fall out while you’re twisting the dough. If you want to use nuts, try chopping them into smaller bits. If you want to use chocolate chips, use miniature ones.

Once you’ve spread your filling on the dough (plus sprinkled on any extra ingredients), start on the long side closest to you. Roll the dough into a long log and pinch it closed, sealing the seam and the ends.

Shaping Babka via @kingarthurflourRepeat with the second half of the dough, so you end up with two logs.

Shaping Babka via @kingarthurflour

Shaping Babka via @kingarthurflour

Using a serrated knife or scissors, slice lengthwise down both logs. You’ll end up with four strips of filled dough.

Shaping Babka via @kingarthurflour

Place two of the strips across each other to form a plus sign.

Shaping Babka via @kingarthurflour

Shaping Babka via @kingarthurflour

Arrange the remaining two strips to form an interlocking cross, as pictured above.

Shaping Babka via @kingarthurflour

Fold the ends of each strip over the strip to its right, moving clockwise.

Shaping Babka via @kingarthurflour

Once you’ve folded each strip over the one to the right, repeat the process with the ends of the strips, but this time fold each end over the strip to its left, moving counterclockwise. You’re repeating step 1, but in reverse.

Shaping Babka via @kingarthurflour

Once you’ve folded each strip the second time, you’ll have a few inches left on each strip.

Shaping Babka via @kingarthurflour

Shaping Babka via @kingarthurflour

Shaping Babka via @kingarthurflour

Tuck those ends underneath the loaf. Don’t worry about making this perfect! At this point, you basically want the strips of dough to be as secure as possible, so tucking and pressing them gently underneath the loaf will achieve the right effect.

Shaping Babka via @kingarthurflour

Shaping Babka via @kingarthurflourTransfer the entire braided loaf to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover the loaf lightly with plastic wrap and let it rise for about 20 minutes, or while you preheat the oven. Brush with egg wash and bake according to the recipe. If you find that the loaf is browning too quickly, just tent it with foil.

Shaping Babka via @kingarthurflour

And there you have it! A stunning, beautiful and, more importantly, delicious loaf of chocolate babka.

Once you try the braiding technique, you’ll get more comfortable with it, and you can try your hand at all sorts of different fillings, like cinnamon sugar and melted butter, plain chocolate, toasted nuts, or even a shredded coconut filling.

There are lots of other ways to shape this easy-to-handle dough, but these are our favorite places to start. Give them a try, and then let your imagination take your loaves to new heights!

About

Posie grew up on a farm in Maryland and spent her summers in Vermont. As an editor for King Arthur and Sift magazine, she feels lucky to bake every day and connect through writing. She loves homemade bread warm from the oven, raw milk cream, ...

comments

  1. Tina

    Thanks for this tutorial! I learned at a crucial moment in babka making that I only have one loaf pan! Lol. I used your braided knot tutorial for some beautiful problem-solving! Looks great!

    Reply
  2. Eliza

    What is the average weight of dough for a single Babka loaf? I’m working from an enormous batch of my fave yeast dough, rather than a specific Babka recipe.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Eliza, typically babka is about the size of any other standard loaf, about 1 1/2 pounds of dough (not including fillings). If you have a large batch of dough, set aside about 1 1/2 lbs for each loaf. Happy babka baking! Kye@KAF

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