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.
Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, is right around the corner and it’s basically a rule that you’ve gotta bake something sweet to commemorate it. Traditionally, on Rosh Hashanah you dip apples in honey, and eat a round spiral challah (braided or coiled) to symbolize the start of a new calendar cycle. This apples and honey babka combines all three of those things in one sticky, ooey-gooey, sweet dessert bread. Whether you’re kicking off the High Holy Days or just want to really wow your friends at brunch, your search for the perfect recipe ends here. Apples and honey babka is it.
I purposely kept the recipe simple (well, simple-ish) by using a store-bought apple butter instead of making your own for the filling. The trickiest part of the whole thing is the twisting and braiding. Fair warning: It will get messy. Make sure you know what plate or serving platter you want to use before you start baking, because once you take this thing out of the oven and put it down — that’s where it’s going to stay. If you’re particularly mess-averse, I did include an option in the instructions how to bake this in two loaf pans instead of as one a large spiral.
This dough has two long (2-ish hour) rising periods and needs to cool completely before you add the honey drizzle, so I recommend making the babka at least a day in advance of when you plan to serve it. Then, add the drizzle shortly before serving.
How to make apples and honey babka
Babka dough is a brioche dough, which means its enriched with butter. Before you’re ready to start baking, you’ll need 8 tablespoons of unsalted butter at room temp. Room temp butter should be soft and spreadable, but not melted. You should be able to easily press a finger into it and make an indent.
To start, you’ll combine all of the dough ingredients except for the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer outfitted with a dough hook at a medium-slow speed. Use milk that is warm-hot, but not hot-hot, to really activate the yeast. If you don’t use warm-hot milk, that yeast will be kind of sluggish and your dough might take more like 3-4 hours to rise, which is a lot!
Once the dough has almost come together but is still quite shaggy with a few dry spots, start adding the butter one or two tablespoons at a time. Up the speed of the mixer to medium and let each chunk of butter fully incorporate before adding the next one.
When the butter has fully incorporated, let the dough rest in the bowl for ten minutes. This gives the flour particles and other dry ingredients just a bit more time to absorb the liquids, and lets the yeast get to work. Then knead with the dough hook at medium speed until it’s silky, shiny, and smooth. I bolded this step because it’s the one step I know needs to happen and yet I almost always forget it because I just want to crank that mixer speed up and start kneading. Try to resist. Let your dough rest. Then knead.
Why add the butter last? Butter is a fat, and if you include it right from the start the fat molecules will begin coating the flour and other ingredients making it harder for them to absorb the milk. Adding it last and letting each tablespoon fully incorporate before adding the next one helps ensure more even distribution of the butter and won’t hinder absorption.
The first babka dough rise
Once the dough is shiny and smooth, take it off the dough hook, shape it into a ball, and put it back in the bottom of the mixing bowl. Cover the mixing bowl and let it rest until visibly puffy and doubled in size. 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, after an hour, your dough seems to not have grown much in size at all and still feels firm when you press it with a finger, 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.
When the dough has finished rising, gently punch it down to press the gasses out, and let it sit while you make the filling.
Easy apple butter filling
Like I said, I wanted to keep this recipe simple. Rolling, cutting, twisting, and shaping your babka dough can be challenging enough — there’s no point in overcomplicating it by also trying to make apple butter from scratch. You’ll start with store-bought apple butter (unsweetened if they have it) and then dress it up a bit by adding sugar, cinnamon, and lemon juice.
Peel and finely mince your apples — you’ll want 1/4″ size pieces or smaller — and toss them with lemon juice to prevent browning. Set them aside for later. If you want to add walnuts to your babka, chop them and set them aside as well.
Filling and rolling your apples and honey babka
Filling your babka: Clear off a nice big stretch of counter or table space for this step. It’s going to get sticky and messy, so don’t do it on grandma’s nice vintage dining table or anything. Lightly dust your work surface with flour, then transfer your dough from the bowl to the countertop.
Gently stretch your dough into a rough rectangle shape, and then use a rolling pin to roll it out into a 27×9″ rectangle about 1/4″ thick. If the dough fights back or starts to tear, let it relax for 10 minutes and then roll again. 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.
Note: 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 1/4″ thickness. Once you shape the babka, it still has to rise one more time, and that 1/4″ dough will almost double in size. So if you start with dough that’s 1/2″ thick… well, you get the idea.
Spread your apple-butter filling across the surface of the dough stopping about 1/2″ from the two short edges and one of the long edges. You can bring the apple butter right to the edge of the long side of the dough nearest to you because it’ll get rolled up into the middle of the babka.
Once you’ve got an even layer of apple butter, sprinkle on your minced apples (and optional walnuts) trying to distribute them as evenly as possible.
Rolling your babka: Start with one of the bottom corners and begin rolling it up, moving across the long side of the dough from one corner to the other. Repeat until your dough rectangle is rolled into a log. This will get easier as you go.
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 down the middle of the rolled dough log. You’re slicing it length-wise, creating two long thin strips, revealing all the layers inside. Yes, you’re right, it will get messy. Look at you, being so smart.
Now, starting in the middle, cross one strip over the other to form an X shape. Do your best to rotate the strips so that the center of each one is face-up, and the layers are exposed, but honestly, at this point everything will be so sticky and messy that as long as you get that X shape it’ll be fine. 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.
I wish I had photos to show you of this, but my hands were so covered in sticky apple butter that I couldn’t risk operating my camera. Dinner With Julie has some great photos of what it should look like here.
Why start in the middle? It’s a lot easier to pick up and cross shorter pieces of dough over each other to create the twist. If you started at one end of the dough, you’d be trying to handle almost 30″ of gooey, apple-butter filled dough at once. This way you can work in smaller sections which is easier and less stressful.
Making a round, coiled babka
Line a sheet pan with a silicone mat or grease it well with PAM or oil — do NOT use parchment paper. The paper will stick to the babka and tear when you try to cut it, and no one wants to eat paper. Once you do the coil, your babka is going to be a lot harder to move so you definitely want to do this on whatever surface will go into the oven. Get the sheet pan as close to your babka rope as possible, so you don’t have to move it very far.
Pick your babka rope up, place one end in the center of the lined sheet pan, and coil the rest of it around it like it’s the golden ratio (or a snail shell). If you can, tuck the open end of the babka under the rest of the dough. If you can’t, that’s okay too.
Note: If you’d rather make two loaf-sized babkas, cut the long rope in half so that you have two equal-sized lengths of twisted dough, then place them in greased 9×5 loaf pans, with the ends tucked underneath.
The second babka rise (1-2 hours)
Let your babka rest while you scrub all the ooey-gooey apple butter filling off your hands and wipe down your counters. 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.
Again, depending on the temperature of your kitchen, the speed of this rise may change. Check on it after an hour and if the dough layers look noticeably puffy and are almost doubled in size, it’s ready to go in the oven. If not, let it sit another 30-60 minutes before baking.
IMPORTANT NOTE: There is a LOT of liquid in your babka filling, and you may notice some of it dripping out and pooling in the sheet tray while it rises. That’s OKAY. Use some folded paper towels to absorb that liquid prior to baking so that it doesn’t burn/stick to your tray in the oven. Don’t press the paper towel onto the babka itself, just onto the sheet tray to absorb the puddles.
Baking your apples and honey babka
Your apple and honey babka will bake for about 60 minutes total at a low 300F. Let it bake uncovered for the first 30 minutes, then loosely cover it with a sheet of aluminum foil for the rest of the bake to prevent the apples from burning.
If you have an instant-read thermometer, the dough will be done with the internal temperature reaches 190F. If you don’t have an instant read thermometer, err on the side of leaving it in an extra 10 minutes just to be sure. With the aluminum foil on top, you’re not in danger of the babka burning on top, so the extra 10 minutes will be fine.
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.
Let your babka cool completely before you apply the honey icing 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. I prefer to do this while the babka is still on the cooling rack (with the cooling rack on top of a sheet tray) so that any excess icing can drip off the sides of the babka and collect below the cooling rack. The icing won’t fully set or harden, but give it a few minutes before you try to move the babka again.
And oh boy, I do wish I had some tips for you for how best to move the whole babka from your cooling rack to a serving platter but honestly… you’ll know best what works for you. Be confident, move quickly, and don’t let it see the fear in your eyes. I ended up serving mine mostly right off the cooling rack. Another option is to cut it in half, in quarters, or wedges/slices, and then move it onto the serving tray.
- Electric mixer with dough hook
- Rolling pin
- Silicone baking mat
- Half sheet pan
- Metal bench scraper
- Wire whisk
Apples and Honey Round BabkaCourse: DessertDifficulty: Medium
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. Warning: You will get messy making it. But I believe in you. Embrace the mess, because it will taste and look great in the end.
- Babka Dough
3/4-1 cup (170-212g) warm-hot milk
4.5 cups (563g) flour
1 whole egg + 1 egg yolk
1.5 TBSP yeast
1/3 cup (75g) granulated sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp (12g) kosher salt
3/4 tsp vanilla
zest of one whole orange (optional)
8 TBSP unsalted butter, at room temp
- Babka Filling
1 1/4 cup apple butter (unsweetened preferred)
3 TBSP honey
3 TBSP granulated sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1.5 tsp lemon juice
2-3 small apples (3 oz each), minced into 1/4″ pieces (about 1 cups chopped)
1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts (optional)
- Honey Icing Drizzle
1 TBSP unsalted butter, softened
1/8 cup honey
1/3 cup powdered sugar
3/4 tsp milk
- Combine all of the dough ingredients except for butter in the bowl of an electric mixer. Start with the lesser amount of milk. If the dough seems dry, add more milk 1 TSBP at a time.
- When the dough has just barely come together but there are still some visible dry patches, begin adding the softened butter a tablespoon or two at a time, letting it fully incorporate between additions.
- Let the dough rest in the bowl for 10 minutes. Then, increase the speed of the mixer to medium and knead the dough until it’s shiny, smooth, and elastic. Shape the dough into a ball and let it rise in the mixing bowl, covered, for 1.5-2 hours until doubled in size.
- NOTE: If you check the dough at 1 hour and it feels firm to the touch and has not visibly increased in size, move the bowl into an off oven, with the oven light turned on, to finish rising.
- Gently deflate the dough and leave it in the bowl while you prep the filling.
- Mix the apple butter, sugar, honey, cinnamon, and lemon juice 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 here too.
- On a lightly floured surface, stretch your dough into a rectangle shape and use a rolling pin to roll it out to a 9×27″ rectangle that’s 1/4″ thick. The long side of the dough should face you. If the dough resists rolling at any point, let it rest for 10 minutes and then roll again.
- Spread your apple butter filling across the surface of the dough leaving a 1/2″ border on the two short sides and the long side at the top. Evenly sprinkle your minced apples (and optional walnuts) across the apple butter.
- Starting with the bottom corner of the long edge closest to you, roll the dough up. This is easiest if you start on one side and move across to the other, instead of trying to roll up the whole edge at once. Repeat until the whole dough rectangle is rolled up like a log. Try to get the roll as tight as possible.
- Use a metal bench scraper or a sharp knife to split the log of dough lengthwise, revealing the gooey inner layers. Cross one strand over the other to form an X shape. Keep crossing the two sides over each other, then repeat with the other half of the X, to form a long twist of dough.
- Prep a sheet tray with a silicone mat or grease it well. 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 twist facing up. Tuck the end of the twist under the dough to hold it in place, if you can.
- Let the dough rest for another 1-2 hours. The dough layers should double in size, and the babka will be visibly puffy. If syrupy liquid drips out of the babka (and it will!), use paper towels or a dish cloth to absorb it off the sheet tray before baking.
- Near the end of the rising time, pre-heat the oven to 300F. 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 30-40 minutes. The babka will bake for 60-70 minutes total. To be absolutely sure it’s done, a thermometer inserted into the dough will read 190F. But if you don’t have a thermometer, err on the side of the longer bake.
- When the babka is done, take it out of the oven and let it cool on the sheet tray for 10-15 minutes before transferring it to a cooling rack OR directly to the serving tray you plan to use. Let the babka cool completely before icing it.
Note: Getting it from a cooling rack to a serving tray can be a little tricky, so if you know what you plan to serve it on, it’s best to just get it there right away.
- 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 1/3 cup powdered sugar, and whisk vigorously until incorporated, then beat in 1 tsp milk. Add the other 1/3 cup powdered sugar and 1/2 tsp milk and continue beating vigorously with a whisk until no lumps remain.
- Use the whisk or a fork to drizzle the icing in a large zig-zag shape across the cooled babka. If the babka is warm, the icing will slide off and pool in all the creases.
- If you’d rather make two loaf-sized babkas, after Step 8, cut the long twisted rope in half so that you have two equal-sized lengths of twisted dough, then place them in greased 9×5 loaf pans, with the ends tucked underneath, and follow the rest of the recipe as instructed.
- Prep time does not include rising time.