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!

comments

  1. Victoria Scott

    Beautiful! Two questions: (1) Am I correct in assuming that the braided knot uses a full batch of the dough (i.e., it makes one very large loaf vs. the two smaller loafs obtained using the simple or twist methods)? (2) What method would you use to shape smaller loaves from this recipe?

    Reply
    1. Posie Harwood, post author

      Yes! You’re correct. To make two smaller loaves, just divide the dough in half and proceed with the instructions: Everything will just be slightly smaller 🙂 -Posie

  2. TerriSue Borden

    Thank you for the instructions. I especially appreciate the braided knot. I have always enjoyed “playing” with my bread dough. I have never made a knot and am looking forward to doing one now. Your instructions are quite clear.

    Reply
  3. Tonia

    I love Babka! I usually make little ones – roll out dough, fill, roll-up like cinnamon roll, and put in muffin tins (regular size) lined with tall liners. For dough, I used to use a poor man’s brioche (for quick) or rich man’s brioche (overnight for “Wow!) but this past year I’ve started using a sweet dough using sourdough starter from an old cookbook I got used years ago. Amazing dough! And for filling I’ve used everything from melted butter heavily sprinkled with cinnamon sugar/ground chocolate/chocolate nibs, to ground chocolate/cocoa/sugar, to my latest made last Sunday: ground German’s chocolate (1 bar)/ground Mexican chocolate (1 tablet)/ground turbinado sugar (about 1/2 cup)/about 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon/vanilla powder all spread over melted butter. YUM! 😀

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins

      That filling sounds A-mazing! Thanks so much for sharing, and I just happen to have some Mexican chocolate that needs using up. Wahooo! ~ MJ

    2. Ann

      I’d love to hear about this sweet dough with Sour Dough Starter. I’ve been looking for more excuses/uses to use my starter

  4. Linda Gaffney

    My only question relates to what seems like a really short second rising time for the dough. It rises first prior to shaping into the knot, but only 20 minutes for a second rise? Is it something about this particular recipe for dough that makes it rise faster, or are we looking for something less “risen”?

    Reply
    1. Posie Harwood, post author

      Hi Linda, great question — the shorter rising time isn’t required (you can certainly let it rise for longer to match the other shapes), but I find that a shorter second rise is more than sufficient, and also helps to keep more intricate shapes from puffing up too much, which allows the filling to stay intact. Enjoy! -Posie

    2. Alexa

      I accidentally did an hour and 40 minute proof on the braided loaf because I didn’t read the directions- it grew into what my husband lovingly refers to as a “meglonculor” a kaiju of confection that far exceeds what a normal person should consume. It ended up being 12in in diameter after baking and still amazingly delicious. Next time, I would probably start with a 20 minute proof and check every 10 minutes until its a reasonable size.

    1. MaryJane Robbins

      Hi Laney,
      Try the method in this blog for stuffing the pieces of dough with chocolately filling and then baking in a bundt pan. I think it will do just the trick. ~ MJ

  5. Tiffany

    I’m interested in making the braided knot but I’m curious about the second rise. It’s much shorter in the knot recipe (20mins) than in the original recipe (1.5hrs). Why? Does it have something to do with it not being in the bread pan? Thanks!

    Reply
    1. Posie Harwood, post author

      Great question! I let mine rise for a shorter period of time because I find it tends to “puff” quite a bit in the oven, and a shorter second rise helps to keep the shape tighter and the filling more intact. It’s not an exact science by any means, just a method I’ve found I prefer over lots of baking! -Posie

  6. Marsha

    I made this. Is wonderful I’m excited about using the new way of twists and turns. Thanks for all the different way of making this wonderful loaf of bread

    Reply
  7. Kate

    I made Babka following your recipe for the first time earlier this week, using dark cocoa with the espresso in the filling mixture, and it is out of this world fabulous and beautiful. Your step by step instructions made what seem like a daunting recipe very manageable. Tomorrow some friends and I are getting together to make more and the pics in this post will be very helpful. Thank you, thank you! This weekend I’m on to making hoska (houska?)…might you have a good recipe for this, too?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We’re thrilled to know that this recipe is already making a repeat appearance in your baking schedule, Kate. We haven’t developed a recipe for houska, but we do have a number of other recipes for tasty, enriched braids and breads on the recipe page of our site. Best of luck in your houska search and happy baking! Mollie@KAF

    2. Pam

      Kate: I obtained this recipe for houska over 30 years ago from the Chicago Tribune. I made many of them over the years and have shared this recipe with more people than I can remember. Fairly easy to make….hope you enjoy it!

      HOUSKA

      1 cup milk
      1 stick margarine

      1 package dry yeast
      ¼ cup warm water
      ½ teaspoon sugar

      2 whole eggs
      1 egg yolk*
      ¼ cup sugar
      1 pinch mace
      1 teaspoon salt
      ¼ teaspoon grated lemon rind
      ½ cup raisins
      ½ cup slivered almonds

      3-1/2 to 4 cups flour

      Scald milk and margarine and cool to lukewarm.

      Dissolve yeast in warm water, add sugar and let raise.

      In mixing bowl, beat eggs, add sugar, mace, salt and lemon rind. Add cooled milk mixture and risen yeast mixture. Add flour, raisins and almonds. Knead (by hand or with dough hook) until it forms a nice satin finish ball. Cover with clean towel and let raise in bowl in warm place until double in bulk, about 45 minutes.

      Divide dough on floured board into four equal parts. Knead each part to form ball, cover and let raise 10 minutes. Braid three parts and place in greased loaf pan 4-1/2 x 13 (I just place on cookie sheet). Divide last ball into three parts and braid and place on top or larger braid. *Brush with egg yolk. Bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes.

  8. J

    I loved the braided knot but am having trouble figuring out how it’s done from the pictures. Any chance you can upload a video? Thank you for this and all the other wonderful ideas!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Thanks for the suggestion! While we don’t have a video of our own, a quick internet search turned up a few results for similar braiding techniques with challah dough. Try searching for “how to braid a round challah” or “how to braid a crown-shaped challah”. Mollie@KAF

  9. Marie Heaton

    I made this recipe and it was a huge hit with everyone!! Even my sewing group. I will definitely, make again and try a different shape. Thank You!

    Reply
  10. Frank

    I have made the twisted Babka using Nutella thinly spread, Granny Smith apple diced pieces drizzled with lemon and lemon zest, small walnut pieces and sprinkled with cinnamon. After baking I have used an orange flavor glaze drizzled lightly and sprinkled lightly with cinnamon and thin sliced almonds…….MMMMMM GOOD..
    I will try the braided knot next, thanks for the pics.

    Reply
  11. Kalena

    I was wondering I have some left over dark chocolate ganache could. Use this with ground nuts as a substitute for the recipes chocolate filling. I’ve always wanted to make a babka! Mahalo!

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins

      Aloha Kalena,
      Yes, that would be just fine. The ground nuts should keep it from getting too wet and slippery when slicing. ~ MJ

  12. Marianne

    Excellent. Made the choc as posted, but made the second loaf with cream cheese. Both were a big hit. Not much leftover the next day.

    Reply
  13. waikikirie

    Good thing I just put yeast in my KAF cart!!! Better try it before the weather warms up. Thank you all for replying with your great fillers. YUMMY!!!!

    Reply
  14. Pamela

    Did you mean only use half the recipe of dough for the braided knot? I used all the dough, divided in half, added filling to each half then cut each half in half for 4 strips. My Babka is huge! Gigantic! Enormous! In addition, I had to cook it for 90 minutes. It tastes good, but is just too big. It is so big that it really couldn’t hold its knotted shape and wound up spreading out.

    Reply
    1. Posie Harwood, post author

      Pamela, I used the entire recipe for the knot. It does make a large loaf! You can certainly scale it down and use just half the recipe (or make two knots) but I found that the strips were then a bit harder to work with, being smaller. But either way works — just a matter of playing around and seeing what you like best. Enjoy! -Posie

  15. Eve

    These looks so delicious. But is there any way to have more chocolate filling oozing out? Looks like there’s more dough than chocolate.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Feel free to use our Chocolate Babka recipe and increase the amount of chocolate chips or chopped chocolate that’s added on top of the chocolate spread. We try to achieve the perfect balance between dough and filling so it doesn’t ooze out too much and burn. But hey, we understand if oozing chocolate is your goal! Feel free to add more chocolate liberally until you get a ratio you’re pleased with. Happy babka baking! Kye@KAF

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