I was born only 4 days before Thanksgiving, meaning that there were years where I shared my birthday with the turkey-filled holiday. And yet, for a majority of my life, I wasn’t a huge fan of the Thanksgiving food staples, especially the traditional pumpkin pie.
However, since the beginning of fall, I’ve been unable to escape all the fun pumpkin-flavored things on my Instagram feed. So, in an attempt to find my favorite alternative to the traditional pumpkin pie, I decided to start a pumpkin series! And we’re starting it off strong with this babka variation.
I’m not sure what compelled me to make a babka. I had made a more traditional, chocolate one earlier this year and I loved the way the filling swirled throughout the entire loaf. I also knew that I wanted to use a pumpkin & cream cheese combo because they’re such classic and delicious flavors.
So… what is a babka?
A babka is a Jewish Eastern European bread, made from a yeast dough, and usually filled with chocolate or cinnamon. They’re rolled up, twisted, and baked in a loaf pan. I had zero experience with babkas (eating or baking them) before I made a traditional Brioche-based one this summer. And I get all the hype. They’re soft and slightly sweet, with decadent filling in every slice.
This babka is a little different though. For one thing, the dough itself is slightly more dense than normal. This is probably because there is much less butter in this recipe to make up for the addition of pumpkin puree. I also shaped and baked this in a round cake pan, but feel free to use the traditional loaf method (described below). It’s easier to cut into slices but a round babka is just so damn pretty.
Here’s how to assemble your babka:
The twisted babka shape might look complicated but it’s actually super simple. Believe me, you can do it.
Once your dough finishes its first rise, transfer it to a floured surface and roll it out into a 12 x 18-inch rectangle (around 1/4 inch thick). Evenly spread your cream cheese mixture, only leaving a 1/2 inch border on one of the long sides. Starting from the long side without the border, start rolling your dough into a tight log. I usually roll one half a little way up, then move to the other half, and repeat. When you get to the end, pinch and seal all the way across to form a seam.
Next, with your best and sharpest knife, slice the log vertically down the middle. With the middle fold facing outward, start to twist the two strands, bringing one under the other, repeating until you get a braided twist.
If you want to bake it in a loaf pan: Stop here. Line a loaf pan with parchment paper and try to fit your braid into it. It might take some adjustments and tucking in loose ends but just make sure it’s relatively even. Set aside for the second rise.
If you want to bake a round babka: Starting from the top or thickest end, roll the braid into a spiral. Tuck ends under. Place into a parchment-lined round cake pan. Set aside for the second rise.
And voila! It’s so easy, but make this for your next Sunday brunch and it’ll impress your friends all the same. You can pour a simple glaze over the whole thing after it comes out of the oven, or just dust with powdered sugar. My personal favorite way to eat this is to toast it and spread butter and guava jam on top.
Store your loaf in an airtight container for up to a week. Since this babka is so huge, make sure to share with family and friends!
Spiced Pumpkin Cream Cheese Babka
For the dough:
- 2/3 cups milk
- 3 tbsp butter
- 2 tsp active dry yeast
- 2 tbsp granulated sugar
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 cup pumpkin puree
- 1 tsp vanilla
For the filling:
- 8 oz cream cheese
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
Make the dough:
- Heat the milk and butter in a medium bowl in the microwave, until butter is melted and warm to the touch. Mixture should NOT be too hot, you don't want to kill your yeast!
- Stir the yeast and sugar into the milk mixture and set aside until frothy.
- In a small bowl, stir together the cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, add flour, salt, and half of your spice mixture and mix with a fork until combined.
- Add yeast mixture (it should be starting to bubble), egg yolk, pumpkin puree, and vanilla to the dry ingredients.
- Mix for 7-8 minutes with a dough hook attachment. The dough should pull away from the edges of the bowl but still stick to the bottom. After a couple of minutes, it might be easier to knead the dough on a floured surface by hand. If it is too sticky, add more flour. If it is too dry or tough, add more water, one teaspoon at a time.
- Grease a bowl with oil (you can just use the same mixing bowl). Place dough in the prepared bowl. Let rise in a warm spot for 1-2 hours, or until doubled in size.
Make the filling:
- Place the cream cheese, sugar, and rest of your spice mixture into a medium bowl. Beat with an electric mixer until combined. If it feels too thin, leave it in the refrigerator for a little while before assembly.
Assemble your babka:
- Once your dough is finished rising, transfer to a well-floured surface and roll into a 12 x 18-inch rectangle.
- Spread cream cheese mixture onto the dough in an even layer. Leave a 1/2 inch border on one of the long sides.
- Start at the long end without the border and roll into a tight log. When you reach the end, pinch across to form a seam.
- Slice the roll down the middle vertically. Move strands so the filling faces upward. Working carefully, move one strand under and over the other. Twist the entire length of the log. Starting with the thickest end as the middle, curl the braid so it forms a spiral. Tuck ends in.
- Line a 9-inch round cake pan with parchment paper. Transfer the babka to prepared pan and cover with plastic wrap or a dishtowel. Let rise for 45 minutes.
- Toward the end of the second rise, preheat your oven to 375° F.
- Once finished with the second rise, bake the babka for 45-55 minutes. It should be fully set in the middle and golden brown on the top.
- Let the babka cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Remove from pan and finish cooling on a rack.
- Dust with powdered sugar and enjoy warm!