I’m writing this post from my friend Maggie‘s home in Chattanooga, listening to Christmas music while she makes thumbprint cookies. I arrived here Friday afternoon, and have been having a great time seeing the city and meeting new folks, snuggling with her pets, and doing lots of relaxing in her home chatting, baking, and just generally being introverts. Tomorrow I head out to meet the boyfriend in Vegas (sounds wild but we’re actually going to meet up with some of his family members that live there), and then I head back to Vermont on the 23rd, get in to Burlington at 11:00pm, and leave for my parents’ place in upstate NY early the next morning. Clearly I’m a little bit of a travel masochist. Fingers crossed for good weather and on-time flights!
Two days before I left, I became obsessed with the idea of making a cinnamon babka ring. I’d been planning on making a gingerbread bundt cake (after impulse buying several Nordicware bundt pans weeks earlier); I’d even bought all the ingredients for it. But I couldn’t shake a craving for something different—something doughy and swirly and cinnamony.
This is a bit of a babka-bundt hybrid, being that I shaped it into a ring and covered it with a delicious, boozy glaze. The babka dough recipe comes from Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem, which is pretty much perfect, in my opinion. You’ll most commonly see his chocolate version of this recipe, though he does give notes for a cinnamon variation as well. When I first got this cookbook, I made both versions side-by-side (I was raised on Seinfeld, what can I say—I had to know which was the lesser babka), and greatly preferred the cinnamon version. Maybe it’s because I have a thing for cinnamon bread, cinnamon rolls, and all things cinnamony and swirly. Regardless, for me, cinnamon takes a backseat to no babka.
I’ve altered Ottolenghi’s suggested cinnamon filling a bit, adding in nutmeg and also using a mixture of brown sugar and maple granulated sugar. The glaze is a really great mixture of boozy and creamy, thanks to the rum and mascarpone cheese. Babkas are kind of a showstopper as it is, but adding a glaze really takes it to the next level. But my favorite thing of all is that they double as a justifiable breakfast (bread, amirite?). Eat it for dessert, and then wake up and eat it for breakfast too.
Cinnamon Babka Ring with Rum-Mascarpone Glaze
(adapted from Jerusalem)
Note: You can bake this either in a round baking dish or on a flat sheet. The round baking dish will maintain the structure of the sides more, but it may also take longer to bake. Be sure to choose a dish that is at least 12″ in diameter. Your ring may not completely fill it when you first place it in there, but it will grow quite a bit as it bakes. Also, if you can’t find maple granulated sugar for the filling, regular sugar or light brown sugar will work fine.
4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
grated zest of 1 orange
1/2 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup Vermont Creamery Cultured Unsalted Butter, softened, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
neutral flavored oil (like canola or sunflower), for greasing
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup maple granulated sugar
3/4 cup (12 tablespoons) Vermont Creamery Cultured Unsalted Butter
2 1/2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/3 cup water
6 tablespoons sugar
For the dough, combine the flour, sugar, yeast, and orange zest in a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Mix on low speed for 1 minute. Add the eggs and water, then increase the speed to medium and mix for 3 minutes, until the dough just starts to come together and look a little bit crumbly. Add the salt, then begin adding the butter, a few cubes at a time, mixing until incorporated. Continue mixing for 10 minutes on medium speed, until the dough is very elastic and smooth.
Place the dough in a large bowl brushed with oil and cover with plastic wrap. Leave in the fridge for at least half a day, preferably overnight.
Grease a 12″ diameter baking dish or a flat baking sheet.
Mix together the sugar and spices for the filling. Melt the butter, then let it sit and cool a little as you work with the dough. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface into a rectangle measuring 11″ wide by 28″ long. Position the dough so that a long side is closest to you and trim any uneven sides. Spread the melted butter over the surface of the dough (leaving about half an inch of room at the edges), then sprinkle the sugar-spice mixture evenly over it.
Brush a little water along the long end of the dough farthest away from you. Use both hands to gently roll up the rectangle like a roulade, starting from the edge that is closest to you and ending at the other. Press to seal the dampened end, and then use both hands to even out the roll. Let it rest with the dough seam at the bottom.
Trim about 3/4 of an inch off both ends with a serrated knife. Use the knife to gently cut the roll into half lengthwise, starting at the top and finishing at the seam. (You’re basically dividing the log into two long halves, with the layers of dough and filling exposed along the length of both halves.) Gently turn the two halves so the cut sides are facing up and side-by-side. Lift the right half over the left half, then the left half over the right. Repeat until the entire length of the two halves has been twisted together. (For a good visual tutorial of this, see David Lebovitz’s post.) Gently maneuver the one end around to meet the other and create a ring. Meet up the two intersecting ends, pinching together the corresponding halves. (Do your best to adjust the twist so this meeting point doesn’t look completely wonky by comparison. It’s ok if it doesn’t look totally perfect. It’ll be covered in glaze anyway!) Carefully lift the cake into your baking dish or onto your sheet. Cover with a wet tea towel and leave to rise in a warm place for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. The cake will rise by 10 to 20 percent.
Preheat oven to 375°F. Remove the tea towel, place the cakes on the middle rack of the oven, and bake for about 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. (See note above recipe about baking times for dish vs. a sheet.) If your cake is done, you should feel pretty much zero resistance on the toothpick. If it feels at all gooey or gummy, pop it back in the oven and check again after 5 minutes.
While the cakes are in the oven, make the syrup. Combine the water and sugar in a saucepan and place over medium heat. Stir until sugar dissolves, then remove from the heat and leave to cool down. As soon as the cakes come out of the oven, brush all of the syrup over them. (Be sure to use up all the syrup!) Let the cakes cool for a bit, then remove them from the pan. Let them cool completely before adding the glaze (recipe below).
4 ounces Vermont Creamery Mascarpone, at room temperature
1 cup confectionery sugar
3 tablespoons rum
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Stir together all ingredients until smooth. You’re aiming for a glaze that drizzles nicely but isn’t too thin, about the consistency of honey. If it’s too thick, add a little more rum. If it’s too thin, add some more powdered sugar.
Drizzle glaze over top of the babka until it’s well coated. Reserve any extra glaze for serving. (You may need to add a splash of water or rum to it if it has thickened.)