Lemon Scented Pull-Apart Babka

Posted by hsimpsongrossman on May 30, 2014

Flo Braker’s Baking for all Occasions was introduced to me by the enigma of our Cooking Kosher Forum, Yeela.  While most fellow members disclose varying degrees of personal information about themselves, Yeela has chosen to cloak herself in an impenetrable veil of mystery.   No one knows where she lives, how old is she, does she have a family or what’s her occupation.

One thing about her is very clear, though-she knows everything about anything (that’s in fact the nick name Better Half knows her by: “that lady from the Forum who knows everything”).  Looking for a kosher restaurant anywhere from Spitsbergen  to Tierra del Fuego?  Want to know what to do with that latest super food you’ve read about?  Need help translating a French recipe? Give her a chance to see you question and you’ll have your answer.  Heck! She even gave me a one-on-one on-line botanical tutorial on how to grow paw-paw trees (may they rest in peace)!

Just to give you an idea of the scope of her knowledge, a couple of years ago the Israeli food community was struck by a cinnamon pull-apart cakes craze. We were all admiring this novelty, trying it at home, comparing notes and whatnot.  After letting us have our fun for a while, Yeela burst our communal bubble by nonchalantly introducing us to Flo Braker’s Lemon Scented Pull Apart Coffee Cake, which started that trend in the U.S.  (Go Ahead. Double check me.  I would do the same.  To make it easier on you, here are the facts: Joy the Baker’s famous Cinnamon Sugar Pull-Apart Bread post became an immediate frenzy.  Joy adapted the recipe from Hungry Bird Por Vida, who adapted it from Leite’s Culinaria, who brought Flo Braker’s original recipe. QED.) 

Lemon Scented Pull Apart Babka The One Who Started Them All
The One Who Started Them All

As much as I trust Joy the Baker, I prefer to use a different dough for my yeast cakes, a slightly modified version of one brought to the Forum by yet another gifted member, Yapanit (Hebrew for Japanese).  Yapanit, quite the mysterious figure herself (though we DO know she owns a balcony with the most stunning oceanic view),  is famous for her superb artisanal capabilities.  Her Pitta bread recipe is the best I’ve ever made and her sweet yeast dough, which has become my favorite, went viral long before I joined the Forum.

I gave up on cream cheese frosting ages ago, as I used to throw out countless containers which, but for the two-three tablespoons used for the occasional frosting, weren’t touched by the bunch of carnivores in our house.  A not savvy habit indeed.  Luckily for me, Bizul, a relatively new member in our Forum and the creator of an ingenious blog, Bishul Bezol (budget friendly cooking), happened to mention a sour cream frosting she uses, substituting butter and sour cream (both permanent residents in our fridge) for cream cheese.  Now I get to eat my cream cheese frosting without buying it.

Having made Flo Braker’s version verbatim the first time, subsequent trails have led to the version I present to you, in which I’ve spiced up as well as enriched the lemon filling and added a syrup to keep the cake nice and moist.  I used said sour cream frosting yet not adding  frosting works as well.

Note that the ingredients for the dough produce two loafs, yet the filling suffices for only ONE loaf.  The rationale behind this is my assumption that like me, you too have yet to decide which is your favorite babka filling, and if you have more dough than filling, you can diversify.  In this specific batch I tripled the amount of dough, filled one with the intended lemony filling and the others with either Nutella spread or a butter-cinnamon filling.

Lemon Scented Pull Apart Babka Decissions Decissions
Decisions, Decisions

Lemon Scented Pull-Apart Babka on the spot: Make dough.  Set aside. Prepare filling. Divide, fill and roll loafs.  Let rise again.  Bake. Pour hot syrup over hot babkas.  Let cool.  Drizzle frosting.  Voilà!

Lemon-Scented Pull-Apart Babka

Ingredients, for 2 9-by-3 inch loafs:

For the Dough:

3 1/2 cups (1.2 Lbs., 500 grams) all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon active dry yeast

2 large eggs, at room temperature

1/2 teaspoon of salt

1 stick (1/2 cup, 100 grams) melted butter, plus more for buttering bowl and pans

1/4 cup sugar, divided

1 teaspoon vanilla essence

3/4 cup of milk

Finely grated zest from half a lemon (about 1 scant teaspoon)

For the lemon filling:

1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar

2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest (from about 2 lemons)

1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest (from 1 medium orange)

4 tablespoons (2 ounces, 60 grams) unsalted butter, melted

1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger

1/4 teaspoon powdered nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 cup (2 tablespoons) lemon juice, from about 1 medium lemon

For the Syrup:

½ cup water

½ cup sugar

For the Sour Cream Frosting (optional though recommended):

2 tablespoons sour cream (I used 15% fat)

2 tablespoons very soft butter

1/3 cup (1 1/2 ounces, 45 grams) confectioners’ sugar

A pinch of salt

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice


For the Dough:

In a small pot, melt the butter on low heat . Transfer the melted butter to a bowl and put aside to cool down a bit.

In the same pot, warm up the milk just until warm to your touch but not hot, about 100 degrees Fahrenheit.  Remove from the heat, mix-in 1 tablespoon of the sugar and sprinkle the dry active yeast.

Set aside for 10-15 minutes, until foamy.

Place flour, the rest of the sugar and the salt in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Attach the dough hook and run mixer on low for a few seconds, to combine.

Add foamy yeast mixture, eggs, melted butter, vanilla essence and lemon zest and mix on low speed for about 5 minutes.  The dough should separate from the sides and bottom of the bowl and form a ball around the hook.  It should be a bit sticky.  Only if it feels too sticky add some more flour (2-3 tablespoons at a time) and process until it separates from the bowl.  Try to avoid adding flour as the dough will firm up a bit after it rises.

Butter a large bowl and place the dough in it. Butter the surface of the dough, cover loosely with a kitchen towel and let rise for about 1 hour, until doubled in size or in the fridge overnight and up to 24 hours.

For the Lemon Filling:

Lemon Scented Pull Apart Babka Zested Sugar
Zested Sugar

While the dough is rising, in a small bowl, rub the lemon and orange zests into the sugar with your fingertips, to help release as much essence from the zests as possible.  Mix-in nutmeg, ginger and salt.  Add melted butter and lemon juice, mix and let stand until ready to use.

Lemon Scented Pull Apart Babka Spiced Up Lemony Filling
Spiced Up Lemony Filling

Assemble the Cake:

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Lightly butter or line with parchment paper two 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pans.

Divide the dough into 2 equal parts (each of mine weighed about 18 ounces).

On a lightly floured work surface, roll out one half of the dough into a rectangle, about 10-by-15-inch large.  A slightly shorter/longer rectangle is fine, just don’t let the dough tear.

Spread the lemony filling over the dough.

Lemon Scented Pull Apart Babka Smeared with Filling
Smeared with Filling

Using a pizza cutter or a sharp knife cut the dough lengthwise (top to bottom, for all of us direction dummies) into 5 equal strips, each about 15-by-2 inches.

Lemon Scented Pull Apart Babka Lengthwise Cut

Top one lemony filling smeared dough strip with a second smeared strip. I try to put the slightly thicker looking ones on the bottom, as a base. Repeat with the remaining strips, ending up with a stack of 5 strips.

Carefully slice the stack crosswise (width-wise, for the likes of us) through the 5 layers to create 6 equal parts, each about 2 1/2-by-2 inches.

Lemon Scented Pull Apart Width-Wise

Fit these layered strips into the prepared loaf pan, placing cut edges up and side by side. The spaces between the dough and the sides of the pan fill in during baking.

Lemon Scented Pull Apart Babka Stacked in the Pan
Stacked in the Pan

Here are some options with respect to the other part of the dough: you can double the amount of the lemony filing and repeat the process above.  Alternatively, roll out the remaining dough, spread the filling of your choice (Nutella; Butter, brown sugar and cinnamon; poppy seed filling and so on), and roll to form a log. Slice into rolls, twist a few times around itself or leave as a log. Place in the other prepared loaf pan.

Loosely cover the pans with a kitchen towel and let the dough rise in a warm place until puffy and almost doubled in size, 30 to 40 minutes. Press the dough gently with a fingertip.

Bake until the top is golden brown and a tester inserted in in the center comes out clean, for about 30 to 35 minutes.

Lemon Scented Pull Apart Babka Out of the Oven
Out of the Oven

For the Syrup:

While the cakes are in the oven, combine the water and sugar in a small pot.  Place over medium heat and bring to a boil.  Once the sugar dissolves remove from the heat.  As soon as the cakes are out of the oven brush the syrup over them.  You are supposed to use up all the syrup for a longer lasting moist texture.

Leave the cakes in the pans until they’re just warm and then let them continue cooling on a rack.

Lemon Scented Pull Apart Babka Sticky and Sweat
Sticky and Sweat

For the Sour Cream Glaze, if you choose to make one:

Mix the melted butter and sour cream.  Mix-in the confectioners’ sugar, salt and lemon juice.  You should get a creamy and smooth mixture.  If it’s to runny or too firm for drizzling, add some sugar or sour cream until you get the desired texture.

Lemon Scented Pull Apart Babka Sour Cream Glaze
Sour Cream Glaze

Drizzle on the cakes.

Lemon Scented Pull Apart Babka Dazzling Drizzle
Dazzling Drizzle

Serve warm or at room temperature.  They taste best the day they’re baked but will last another day in the fridge.

Tightly wrapped, they freeze very well.  Transfer to the fridge 3-4 hours before serving and to room temperature about half an hour before serving .  You can warm the cake up a bit in the oven on low heat (210 degrees Fahrenheit, 100 degrees Celsius), loosely covered.

Lemon Scented Pull Apart Babka Torn Appart
Torn Appart

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10 thoughts on “Lemon Scented Pull-Apart Babka

  1. this is ridiculous. this is amazing. this is the holy grail of babka. have never been so proud of my proximity to greatness. keep up the awesome posts, was feeling food fatigued and am now inspired.

    • Hello neighbor! Great to see you here! I’ll tell you next time I make this babka (might take a while though)..

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