Just in time for Rosh Hashanah, this round, braided apples and honey babka is packed full of apple butter and drizzled with a honey icing.
Traditionally, on Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish new year) you dip apples in honey, and eat a round challah to symbolize the start of a new calendar cycle. This round coiled apples and honey babka combines all three of those things in one sticky, ooey-gooey, sweet dessert bread.
Whether you're kicking off the new year or just want to really wow your friends at brunch, your search for the perfect recipe ends here. This apples and honey round babka is it.
The filling for this apples and honey babka is super simple — a store-bought apple butter slightly dressed up with a bit of honey and cinnamon. Finely minced apples add a nice bit of sweetness and crunch.
Honestly, the trickiest part of the whole babka-making process is the twisting and coiling when it comes time to shape. Fair warning: Things will get messy. (But less messy than the original version of this recipe did!).
I do recommend knowing what plate or serving platter you want to use before you start baking, because once you take this apples and honey babka out of the oven you really don't want to have to move it too much. If you're particularly mess-averse, I did include instructions for how to bake this in a loaf pan instead of as a spiral.
The base dough for this babka is a riff on my soft brioche loaf with some added fall spices and has a few hour-long rising periods and needs to cool completely before you add the honey drizzle, so I recommend making this over a two day period.
Shape and bake the dough one day, let it cool overnight, then add the icing drizzle shortly before serving. You can rush it a bit, but if you have the time to space it out, you should.
For a dressed up brioche that can be done all in one day, check out my chocolate chip brioche bread!
Apples and honey babka ingredient notes
Here's what you'll need to make this apples and honey babka! See recipe card (at the end of the post) for quantities.
- All Purpose Flour - No fancy flour needed! I use King Arthur Baking's all-purpose flour which has a slightly higher protein content which makes it a little chewier. If you're using store brand flour, you may see better results with a bread flour. But regular all purpose should work just fine!
- Salt - I use Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt which dissolves faster and is half as salty as other brands. As long as you measure your salt by weight, it doesn't matter what brand or type of salt you use. If you measure by volume, cut the amount of salt in half.
- Honey - I used Local Hive Honey's New England honey for this. Any honey you like best is fine. The honey is used in the icing drizzle but also functions as sugar in the dough!
- Instant yeast - Also called "rapid rise," "quick rise," or "instant rise" yeast. If you only have active dry yeast, use 7 grams (2¼ teaspoons aka one packet) instead. I use SAF instant yeast.
- Cinnamon - I really like Vietnamese Cinnamon (aka Saigon Cinnamon) for its stronger flavor, but any ground cinnamon is fine.
- Nutmeg - Freshly grated on a microplane is always best. I get my whole nutmeg Spicewalla where a small tin will last you literally for years.
- Eggs - Large eggs. If you use a different size egg, you may find the dough stickier or drier than it should be. It will still work, you just may need to add more milk or flour in the initial mixing stages!
- Milk - Whole milk works best — the fat content is an important part of this enriched dough. If you use a reduced fat or skim milk, you may find the dough is too sticky to knead and shape! It will still work, you'll just need to dust in more flour in the mixing stage.
- Unsalted butter - You'll need one stick for the dough, and 1 tablespoon for the icing. Make sure the butter is at a true room temperature for both. Room temperature butter should be soft and spreadable, but not melted. You should be able to easily press a finger into it and make an indent.
- Apple butter - Look for unsweetened apple butter, but whatever you can find at your local grocery store is fine.
- Apple - A crisp, firm apple like a pink lady, Cosmic Crisp, honey crisp, green apple works best. Avoid anything soft or mealy in texture like macintosh or red delicious.
- Powdered sugar - For the honey glaze.
🍽 Mise en place (aka "the setup")
Mise en place is a French culinary term which literally translates to "putting in place."
It basically means: Measure all your ingredients and make sure you have all the right tools and equipment ready to go when you need them before you start working.
This can make a huge difference in a) how enjoyable you find the baking and cooking process and b) the success of your recipe!
Here's the mise en place you'll need for this recipe:
- Soften the butter - The best way to soften butter to room temperature is to leave it out for 1-3 hours (overnight if it’s cold in your kitchen). But if you don't remember to do that, you can microwave the wrapped stick of butter for 4-5 seconds per side.
- Warm the Milk - Microwave the milk in 10-15 second bursts in the microwave until it is warm to the touch but not hot (90°F).
- Bring the eggs to room temperature - Submerge the eggs in very hot water for 5-10 minutes.
how to make apples and honey babka
Babka dough is a brioche dough, which means it's enriched with butter, milk, and eggs. The butter is added last because it's a fat, and if you include it from the start, it will coat the flour and other ingredients and make it harder for them to absorb the milk.
- Mix the dough - Whisk the dry ingredients together, then whisk the wet ingredients together (except for the butter) and pour them into the dry ingredients. Mix everything together on low speed with a dough hook until you have a shaggy, messy ball in the bowl and there aren't any dry bits of flour left in the bottom.
- Knead the dough - Increase the speed and mix on medium (speed 4 on KitchenAid) until the dough passes the "windowpane test" (see gifs below). You may need to slowly drizzle in an additional 1-2 teaspoons milk or dust in some flour to get the dough to be soft, smooth, and stretchy. If the dough hasn't reached windowpane after about 7 minutes, drizzle in an additional ¼ teaspoon milk at a time while kneading, giving it time to incorporate before adding more, then cover the dough and let it rest for 5-10 minutes. Knead 2-3 minutes more. It should get there!
- Add the butter - Add the soft, room temperature butter 1 tablespoon at a time, letting it fully incorporate between each addition.
- Knead the dough - Once the butter has been added, knead the dough again on medium speed until it passes the "windowpane test" a second time.
What to expect when adding butter: Each time you add a new piece of butter, your dough will fall apart a little bit, it might slide around in the bowl or fall off the dough hook, but just let the mixer keep running and it will come back together. You're asking the gluten network to incorporate quite a lot of fat at this stage — be patient!
At the end of each mixing stage, the dough will be slightly sticky, but should clear the sides of the bowl. After all the butter has been added, if the dough is clinging to the walls of the bowl, you can, dust in more flour 1 teaspoon at a time.
Passing the windowpane test
The "windowpane test" is a way of checking how well developed the gluten network in your dough is. Tear off a tiny piece of dough, about the size of a grape.
Coat it with flour and use your thumbs and fingers to gently press it into a flat shape from the center out. When you can stretch it quite thin in the center without it tearing, you've passed the windowpane test.
Even dough that passes the windowpane test will tear eventually if you keep stretching it. As long as you get the center thin enough to almost see through before it tears, you're fine.
The first babka dough rise
Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover it, let it rise at room temperature for one hour. It should just about double in size at this stage. Depending on how cold or warm your kitchen is, and the temperature of the milk you used, this may happen quickly or may take a bit longer.
Pro-tip: If your kitchen is quite cool, you may want to move the bowl into your oven (turned off) but with the oven light on. This will give the yeast a nice, warm environment to get to work.
Once it has doubled in size, place it in the fridge for another 2 hours or even overnight.
Don't take it out of the fridge until you're ready to start rolling and shaping your apples and honey babka. You want all that soft butter you added to the dough to be firm (and not sticky!) when you roll the dough out.
Easy apple butter filling
Rolling, cutting, twisting, and shaping your babka dough is challenging enough — there's no point in overcomplicating it by also trying to make apple butter from scratch. Store bought apple butter with a bit of cinnamon and honey is all you need for a great babka filling.
You can even make the apple butter filling a few days in advance and store it in the fridge until you're ready to use it..
Important: Make sure you have the apples, walnuts, and apple butter filling for your apples and honey babka ready before you start rolling out your dough. You don't want the dough to warm up and start rising again while you prep the filling!
Assembling and shaping your apples and honey babka
Clear off a nice big stretch of counter or table space for this step. It's going to get messy, so don't do this on grandma's nice vintage dining table or whatever. Lightly dust your work surface with flour, then transfer the dough from the bowl to the countertop. Dust the top of the dough lightly with flour as well.
Deflate the chilled dough to knock any air out of it. Then gently stretch it dough into a rough rectangle shape, and use a rolling pin to roll it out into a 20" long rectangle about ¼" thick.
Tips for rolling dough:
- If the dough fights back or starts to tear, let it relax for 30 seconds and then keep going.
- Start with your rolling pin in the center of the dough and roll outwards, rather than trying to roll the pin across the entire length of dough with each pass.
- Use a bench scraper to square off the dough as you roll to help keep the rectangle shape.
- Dust on more flour or rotate and flip the dough as needed to prevent it from sticking and keep an even thickness.
It's okay if you don't have a perfect rectangle or if you end up with something a little bigger or are slightly off in your dimensions. The important measurement to achieve is that ¼" thickness. Once you shape the babka, it still has to rise one more time, and the dough will almost double in size. So if you start with dough that's ½" thick... well, you get the idea.
Spread your apple-butter filling across the surface of the dough leaving one long edge bare. Once you've got a thin, even layer of apple butter, sprinkle on your minced apples (and optional walnuts) trying to distribute them as evenly as possible.
To roll the babka: Start with one of the bottom corners and begin rolling it up, moving across the long side of the dough from one side to the other. Roll tightly, trying not to trap any air bubbles inside. Repeat until your dough rectangle is rolled into a log. This will get easier as you go.
PRO-TIP: Once you roll the dough into a log, place it on a sheet pan and chill it in the fridge for an hour or two before shaping. The dough warms up quite a bit while you're rolling it and the next step is MUCH easier and less messy if the dough is chilled. (The recipe will still work if you skip this step, but do so at your peril!)
twisting your apples and honey babka
Okay. This is the hard part. This is the part where you will definitely curse at least once and wonder if you've made a huge mistake (you haven't). Bear with me, because I promise it will all work out in the end.
Take a knife or a metal bench scraper with a sharp edge and cut lengthwise down the middle of the rolled dough log. You're creating two long thin strips, revealing all the layers inside. Yes, you're right, it will get messy. How'd you guess?
Turn the two strips so that the inside layers are facing up. Starting in the middle, cross one strip over the other to form an X shape. Continue crossing the two strips of dough over each other until one half of the dough is twisted. Repeat this process with the other half of the dough strips so you have a fully twisted rope of babka.
Why start twisting from the middle? It's a lot easier to pick up and cross shorter pieces of dough over each other. If you started at one end of the dough, you'd be trying to handle almost 20" of gooey, apple-butter filled dough at once. This way you can work in smaller sections which is easier, less stressful, and gives you a more uniform twist.
How to make a round spiral babka
Bend one end of the babka in toward itself, tucking the end under. Then wrap the other end of the twisted babka rope around the folded bit to create the spiral. Again, tuck the end under. The babka will seem lopsided at this point, but that's okay — it'll settle down during the final rise.
The final round babka rise
Cover the coiled babka loosely with plastic wrap and let it rest while you scrub all the ooey-gooey apple butter filling off your hands and wipe down your counters. Let the babka rest at room temperature for 1-1½ hours.
During this time, the babka should nearly double in size — it will grow outwards as well as upwards as it rests. If you've gone the loaf-pan route, the dough should crown slightly over the top of the pan.
During the last 15 minutes of this resting period, begin preheating your oven to 375F. If your oven takes longer than 15 minutes to preheat, don't sweat it — the babka can continue rising until the oven is ready.
Baking your apples and honey babka
Your apple and honey babka will bake for about 30-40 minutes total. Let it bake uncovered for the first 25-30 minutes, then loosely cover it with a sheet of aluminum foil for the rest of the bake to prevent the sides and edges from getting too dark.
When your babka is done, take it out of the oven and let it cool slightly on the sheet pan. Then, carefully use your hands or the largest spatula you have to lift the babka onto a wire cooling rack.
The honey icing drizzle
This is a simple mixture of soft butter, honey, and powdered sugar. Make sure the butter is super soft here or your icing will be lumpy.
Let your babka cool completely before you do the drizzle. If the dough is hot or warm, the icing will melt and slide off the dough. To drizzle it, use a fork or even the whisk you used to mix the icing to drag long ropes of it across the babka in a zig-zag shape.
To move the babka off the cooling rack and onto your serving platter be confident, move quickly, and don't let it see the fear in your eyes. Another option is to cut it in half, in quarters, or wedges/slices, and then move it onto the serving tray.
Apples and honey babka FAQ
Once you've twisted the babka into a long rope, place it in greased 9x5" loaf pans, with the ends tucked underneath. Bake at 350F for 40-45 minutes.
Microwave in the paper wrapper 4 seconds per side. Or, fill a bowl with very very very hot water, empty the bowl, and invert it over the stick of butter for 10 minutes.
Up to two days! Wait to do the honey icing drizzle until right before you serve it. Keep it wrapped in plastic until you're ready to serve.
Butter is slippery and when you're trying to add a lot of it into a well-kneaded dough with a strong gluten network, the first thing it does is coat the entire outside of the dough. This makes it quite slippery and the dough hook might have trouble picking it up. Usually if you just let it go it will snag the dough again on its own, but if it's really having trouble you can pause the mixer and use a spatula or your hands to fold the dough around the hook again.
I'd estimate 8-10, but you could probably serve up to 12 if needed.
I am…unqualified to answer that because there are so many different levels of kashrut and I don’t personally keep kosher. It does have dairy in it, so just be aware of that if you’re also serving meat.
Yep, that's fine! If your fridge runs particularly cold you can do the room temperature rise for 2 hours and then 1+ hours in the fridge for the remaining rise. Yeast moves slower at colder temperatures so you likely won't see a dramatic rise in the fridge unless you let it sit overnight.
Up to 24 hours, but no more than 48 hours. This is a very resilient dough. If you need to leave it for 48 hours, I recommend taking it out at least once and kneading it gently to redistribute the yeast and starches, and then placing it back in the fridge.
Apples and Honey Round Babka
- 420 grams all-purpose flour (3½ cups, loosely packed)
- 6 grams instant yeast (2 tsp)
- 5 grams diamond crystal kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoons nutmeg (freshly grated)
- ½ teaspoons cinnamon
- 168 grams whole milk (½ cup + 2 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon)
- 2 large eggs (room temperature)
- 50 grams honey
- 113 grams unsalted butter (8 tablespoons, room temp)
apple butter filling
- ¾ cup apple butter (unsweetened preferred)
- 3 tablespoon honey
- 1 teaspoons cinnamon
- ½ cup finely diced apple
- lemon juice (tossed with the apples)
- ¼ cup chopped walnuts (optional)
honey icing drizzle
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter (room temp)
- 3 tablespoon honey
- ⅓ cup powdered sugar
- 2 teaspoons milk
The babka dough
- Mix the dough. Combine flour, salt, yeast, cinnamon, and nutmeg in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Whisk milk, eggs, and honey together in a separate bowl or liquid measuring cup, then pour into the center of the dry ingredients.Mix on medium-low until the dough comes together on the dough hook, about 2-3 minutes.
- Knead the dough. Increase speed to medium and knead until the dough passes the windowpane test, about 3-4 minutes.
- Add the butter 1 tablespoon at a time. With the mixer running on medium to medium-high, begin adding butter slowly. Let each piece of butter fully incorporate before adding the next. This can take 7-10 minutes. Be patient.
- Knead the dough again. Once all of the butter has been added, increase speed to medium-high and knead until the dough is smooth, shiny, and passes the windowpane test.
- Cover and rise. Shape the dough into a ball and place it in a lightly greased bowl or container. Cover and let rise 1 hour at room temperature (72-75°F) then 2 hours or overnight in the fridge. The dough should double in size during the first hour, but may triple or quadruple in size in the fridge.
The apple butter filling
- Make the filling. Mix apple butter, honey, and cinnamon together in a small bowl. Mince your apples and set them aside in another small bowl, tossed with a bit of lemon juice to prevent browning. If you’re planning on adding walnuts, chop them and set them aside in another bowl.
Assembly and shaping
- Deflate the dough. Remove the dough from the fridge and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Use your hands or a rolling pin to deflate the dough, pushing all the air out of it.
- Roll the dough into a long rectangle. Gently stretch the dough into a rectangle shape and use a rolling pin to roll it out to a 20" long rectangle about ¼″ thick. The long side of the dough should face you. If the dough resists rolling at any point, let it rest for 30 seconds and then resume.
- Add the filling. Spread the apple butter filling across the surface of the dough in a thin layer, leaving a ½″ border along the top 20" long edge.Evenly sprinkle your minced apples (and walnuts) across the apple butter.
- Roll it up. Roll the dough up into a 20" long log. This is easiest if you start on one side folding the bottom edge up at one corner, then working your way across to the other.Repeat until the whole dough rectangle is rolled up like a log. Try to get the roll as tight as possible.
- Chill the rolled log. Transfer the dough log to a sheet pan, cover, and chill for 1-2 hours. You can skip this step, but the rest of the process will be a lot easier if you don't.
- Make the twist. Use a metal bench scraper or a sharp knife to split the log of dough lengthwise into two 20" long strips. Turn the two halves outward so the gooey inner layers face up. Cross one strand over the other to form an X shape. Work from the center out down one side, crossing the two ropes over each other, then repeat with the other half of the X, to form a long twist of dough.
- Coil the twist. Line sheet pan with a silicone mat or parchment paper. Pick up the twisted dough and quickly place one end in the center of the sheet tray. Coil the rest of the dough around it, keeping the open side of the twist facing up. Tuck the end of the twist under the dough to hold it in place. It will look lopsided, that's okay.
- Rise one last time. Cover the babka with plastic wrap and rest for another 1-1½ hours. The dough layers should double in size, and the babka will be slightly puffy.
- Bake the babka. Near the end of the rising time, pre-heat the oven to 375°F. Bake the babka for 30 minutes, uncovered, then loosely drape a sheet of aluminum foil over the top of it and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes. When it's done, a thermometer inserted into the dough will read 190°F. But if you don’t have a thermometer, err on the side of the longer bake.
- Cool completely. Let the finished babka cool on the sheet pan before transferring it to a cooling rack OR directly to the serving tray you plan to use.To store: Once completely cool, wrap well in plastic wrap until ready to serve.
The honey icing drizzle
- Whisk butter and honey in a slightly larger mixing bowl than you think you’ll need, beating vigorously until light in color.
- Add powdered sugar, and whisk vigorously until incorporated, then whisk in milk until well combined and no lumps remain.
- When the babka is completely cool, use the whisk or a fork to drizzle the icing in a large zig-zag.
UPDATED 8/2021 — I've given this recipe a fairly massive post-pastry school update. I retested the recipe and reworked the dough to make it MUCH simpler, easier, and less messy to handle, shot all new photos, simplified the filling, and added a lot more info and a more robust FAQ section. How's that for a shanah tovah?