Cheese Filled Babka (Apricot- Cheese or Chocolate- Cheese)

Babka comes in so many variations it would be a hard to list them all. I usually bake non-dairy babka, and this recipe started out as my seeking a non-dairy babka-like dough that could be braided or have a braid-like effect. After several iterations, inspiration from a King Arthur flour lemon braid and feedback from friends, the recipe evolved into a delicious not-too-sweet apricot-cheese filled babka. I guess I've figured out what recipe I'll bake for Shavuot lunch this year.

This project takes about 4.5 hours from start to finish. There is an extended 90 minute first proofing and a shorter 30 minute second proof period. Otherwise, you'll be involved in prep and baking.

I sometimes pay attention to having ingredients at specific temperatures and found that in this recipe it really does matter. If you have no time to bring your eggs to room temperature, submerge them in warm tap water for 3-4 minutes. The cheeses will blend easily if brought to room temperature as well; you can do this by leaving the cheese on the counter while you gather your dough ingredients. By the time the dough is mixed and proofed the cheese will have warmed up sufficiently.

Take your time rolling out the dough. This dough rolls out well; however, if you over work it, like all gluten rich dough, it will begin to pull back. Take your time if this happens. Walk away from the dough for five minutes or so and then resume rolling out. Roll the dough out on a well flour-dusted sheet of parchment, which will allow you to shape and move the unbaked dough onto a baking sheet with almost no disturbance to the filling and desired shape.  You will have 2 long loaves supported by parchment paper on a 9x13 sheet pan.

The shine on the baked babka is created by brushing the hot baked babka with syrup. This is a step where I'll cut corners and use ready-made vanilla syrup.

a large mixing bowl
mixing spoon
flexible dough scraper
measuring spoons, cups, kitchen scale
rolling pin

Sponge (starter dough) 
6oz (3/4c) warm water
1 Tbsp instant yeast
2.5 oz (full half cup) bread flour

6 oz (3/4 c) slightly warmed almond milk
.7 oz (1/4c) ground nuts (NOT nut flour)
2 large eggs, beaten
4 oz (1/2 cup plus 1 Tbsp) sugar
2 tsp salt
2 tsp Buttery Sweet Dough flavor (from LorAnn Oils) or vanilla extract
22 oz (5 full cups) all purpose flour
additional flour for dusting the work surface

Apricot -Cheese filling:
16 oz farmer cheese *
16 oz cream cheese (full fat or low fat)
12 oz good quality apricot preserves
4 oz diced dried apricots or other dried stone fruit (peaches, mango) or a combination
3 Tbsp flour

Or Chocolate-Cheese filling:
14 oz Israeli Chocolate Spread (if you cannot find it, Nutella will work) *warm in the microwave for       20 seconds - this makes it easier to blend into the cheese
15 oz farmer cheese
16 oz cream cheese (full fat or low fat)
2 oz sliced almonds

Syrup Glaze:
1/3 cup simple syrup (1/3 cup water , 1/3 cup sugar) or a ready-made lemon or vanilla syrup

*Farmer cheese is an unripened cheese similar to a drained  drier cottage cheese. In this recipe it cannot be replaced by ricotta cheese.  If you cannot find farmer cheese (or farmers' cheese) in stores, there are instructions at: Nourished Kitchen.

1. Make the sponge by mixing the flour, yeast and water. Mix well.

Cover the bowl and let rise in a warm draft-free place for 20-30 minutes. The mixture will be very bubbly and smell yeasty.

2. Add the dough ingredients to the bowl with the bubbling sponge, adding the liquid ingredients first and the ground nuts and flour, in two additions, last. Use a flexible scraper, mixing, scraping and turning the ingredients until a dough forms. A soft dough will form as you mix the dry ingredients. Make sure everything is well blended.
3. Continue to mix and turn until the dough easily holds its shape. Add a bit of oil to the bowl, turn once or twice and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rest and proof in a draft-free place for about 90 minutes. The resulting dough will be almost doubled and feel puffy.

4. About 15 minutes before the dough finishes its proofing period make the cheese filling by mixing all of the ingredients in a bowl.  The cream cheese and farmer cheese will be easy to mix if you've allowed them to reach room temperature. If they are still cold, use a mixer and mix well. Fold in the fruit and preserves. Add the flour and mix in well. 

Prepare the baking sheet by lining it with a piece of parchment paper. If you are using a jelly-roll pan, press along the edge and fold to cover the entire surface. 

Preheat oven to 390 degrees. 

5. Gently deflate the dough and divide into two equal parts. Use a kitchen scale if you have one.


6. Use a piece of parchment to line the work surface and dust liberally with flour. Shape one piece of dough into a rectangle and proceed to roll into a rectangle that is approximately 16 x 12.

7. Using the dough scraper as a straight edge, mark a line along the length of the rectangle one quarter in from both edges. Do not pierce the dough. Then, cut vertically along the edge every inch or inch and a half, piercing the dough to create short strips emanating from the center of the dough.

 8. Spread 1/2 of the filling along the middle section of the dough. Spread so that the filling is relatively smooth.

9. Fold the edge on each end over the filling.

10. Alternating sides, fold one strip over the center and press onto the dough on the opposite side. Alternate sides as you work, pressing the edge onto the dough. Work along the entire length of the dough.
11. Gather the edges of the parchment and using the paper to support the shaped loaf, move the entire loaf onto the baking sheet.

12. Repeat with the second piece of dough. Let the loaves rest for 15-20 minutes.
13. Slide the baking sheet into the oven. Lower the heat to 375 degrees and bake for approximately
      40 minutes, until golden brown.

14. Remove from the oven and brush the hot loaves with syrup.  Cool completely before slicing.

Looking for a another recipe with cheese?  Try Veggie "Bacon" Cheese Biscuits
And don't forget the ultimate Chocolate Babka  ! 


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