A babka is like challah dressed up for a black-tie event. It is rich and glamorous with swirled layers of filling and a syrup-enhanced shine. This Jewish dessert is so decadent that it often only comes out for special occasions. Babka is commonly made with chocolate, cinnamon, fruit or nuts and sometimes a sweet cheese. This babka is filled with the flavors and gooey-ness of pecan pie just in time to start dreaming about your Thanksgiving spread. The dough itself infuses this recipe with the flavors of early Native American cooking from cornmeal and a molasses and maple syrup glaze.
In Britain, pudding is the word for dessert. A quick and easy dessert that the English brought with them to America was a hasty pudding, which is a sweetened porridge cooked down and thickened until it can hold its shape. Once in America, the Native Americans taught the English how to plant local crops and the hasty pudding became Indian Pudding sweetened with molasses and maple syrup and thickened with a coarsely ground flint corn instead of flour. Indian pudding is fairly well known in New England whereas the sweet Southern pecan pie is on just about every Thanksgiving table near and far. Indian pudding is our little New England secret. This culinary mash up takes three cultural staples that are all delicious in their own right and creates a delicate, sweet babka that can be enjoyed with ice cream for dessert or with a cup of coffee for breakfast.
When I first decided to try a babka with a nod to the heritage of this country and the annual Thanksgiving feast, I was a little nervous that it would be a complicated bread to make. It turns out that the actual forming of the babka is quite simple. I also found a few kitchen hacks that make it even easier. This bread smells exactly like pecan pie. As my mom likes to say, “This babka is very more-ish.” (Which means you always need just one more piece.)
Indian Pudding Babka with a Pecan Pie Swirl
Makes: 2 loaves
Allow dough to rise overnight in fridge.
If you have a scale, weight measurements are great for any baking but I have included cups as well. Using a stand mixer makes this much easier. My mixer is very old and has a very sturdy whisk attachment. I would recommend a dough hook or paddle if you are using a modern mixer.
Pecan Pie Filling Ingredients:
Indian Pudding Syrup Ingredients:
How to make the dough
1. In a stand mixer bowl add all purpose flour, finely ground cornmeal, granulated sugar, sea salt, and packet of instant yeast. Using a whisk, mix all the ingredients together. Then, put on the dough hook or paddle attachment to continue making the dough.
2. Add in the eggs and water. Let the mixture come together on low, slowly. The water should bring the dough together. If the dough is not coming together at all, add 1 Tbsp. of water at a time until the dough starts to form. With the mixer back on low, add in the butter and mix until you have a uniform dough.
3. Knead with the dough hook or paddle for 10 minutes. Make sure your paddle can handle the weight of the dough. If not, take the bowl off the mixer and knead by hand. The dough will be quite heavy and sticky. Put the dough into a greased bowl and turn it over once. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
How to make the pecan pie filling
1. In a large dry pan, over medium-low heat, toast the pecans. They should be in a single layer and stirred frequently so they do not burn.
2. Put the toasted pecans on a cutting board and chop them finely. You should have about 1-1 1/2 cups of finely chopped pecans.
3. In a small saucepan add the maple syrup, corn syrup, brown sugar, and molasses. Cook over medium heat until the brown sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and stir in butter and vanilla. Pour entire mixture into a bowl to cool.
4. Separate the eggs into two bowls. The yolks should go in a small bowl and the whites in a large bowl.
5. Once the sugar mixture has cooled to room temperature or slightly warmer, add in the two egg yolks, whisking quickly. Then, pour in the finely chopped pecans. Stir the mixture together and refrigerate to chill. If you are on day one, then this mixture can chill overnight until you are ready to make the babka on day two.
6. If you are on day two and the dough has risen, you can beat the two egg whites until stiff, but not dry.
7. Fold the egg whites into the chilled nut and sugar mixture.
How to make the babka:
1. Grease two 9″ x 4″ loaf pans with vegetable oil spray or with some oil on a paper towel. Cut parchment so that one piece will cover the bottom and two sides lengthwise. Put a half sheet pan or a toaster oven pan into your freezer.
2. On day two, take your babka dough out of the fridge and cut it in two. Place one of the halves back into the fridge until ready to use.
3. I like to splash a little water on my counter and then lay down some parchment paper on top so it sticks to the counter. Then, sprinkle the parchment with 1/4 cup of finely ground cornmeal. The cornmeal on top of the parchment makes the dough easy to roll out and adds a little texture and flavor to the layers of the bread. Roll the dough 12 inches wide and then as long as you can while keeping the dough not too much thinner than a 1/4 inch. Get a small dish of water and a brush.
4. If you have not done so yet, beat and fold the two egg whites into the pecan pie mixture. Spread half of the mixture on the dough leaving a 1/2 -inch seam on three sides of the dough and a 2-inch seam at the far end. You want a thin layer of the pecan pie mixture.
5. You will now make a 12-inch roll with the dough. Carefully roll the dough from the short end (12 inches wide) with a 1/2-inch seam toward the 2-inch seam. You can also use the parchment to help you with this. Brush water along the seam and pinch the dough together at the seam. It need not seal completely.
6. Freeze the rolled dough for 20-30 minutes. Repeat with the other 1/2 of the babka dough. While the dough is freezing, clean up your work surface, find a pair of kitchen scissors and lay down a new sheet of parchment.
7. Take the babka dough out of the fridge one at a time. Cut the babka dough in half horizontally, carefully turning up the cut sides so that the pecan pie mixture stays inside.Then, overlap both halves, with the cut side always facing up and repeat the overlap at least three or four times. You can gently stretch the dough as you go.
8. Place the dough into the loaf pan, making an ‘S’ shape to fit it all in. If the dough is shorter and doesn’t quite make an ‘S’ that is fine. Repeat with the other part of the dough. Cover both loaf pans with a clean kitchen towel and allow to rise for 90 minutes.
9. Preheat your oven to 375℉. Bake for 30-40 minutes, check after 30 minutes to see if the babka is golden brown. A skewer in the babka should come out clean and should not have any resistance.
10. While the babka is baking, make the Indian Pudding Syrup. Place the water, maple syrup, brown sugar and molasses into a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Cook until the sugar has dissolved. Set aside to cool.
When the babka comes out of the oven, brush each loaf with the syrup. The babka can handle a lot of syrup so continue brushing several layers until glossy. Allow the babka to cool in the pan for about 15 minutes and then transfer to a cooling rack.
Your Indian Pudding Babka with Pecan Pie Swirl can be served with a scoop of ice cream or whipped cream. It can also be served for breakfast and is delicious with a cup of coffee. The hard part is waiting for the babka to cool before cutting into it!