This cinnamon babka is an indulgent loaf full of sugar and spice — what could be more perfect? A tender dough swirled with cinnamon sugar and a sweet syrup topping, it’s impossible not to love this babka.
I grew up with babka, not cinnamon rolls, for a decadent weekend brunch or sweet treat. What is babka you might ask? This in-depth explainer by Food52 is a great place to dive into its origins. For a shorter answer, it’s a traditional Jewish cake made with a rich brioche dough and filled with either cinnamon or chocolate. It’s an indulgent treat that makes me feel right at home.
I’ve spent many years perfecting my babka recipe, finding the perfect balance of a tender crumb, plenty of filling, and a crunchy topping. It’s been a while since I’ve shared my chocolate babka, and I’ve slightly tweaked it for this cinnamon babka recipe (I’ll be updating the chocolate one soon).
After many practice loafs, I’ve found the best cinnamon babka. It’s tender and soft, full of sweet cinnamon-sugar filling, and slightly crunchy from the syrup topping. You can try to stop at just one slice, but nobody in my family can resist going back for seconds!
The dough for this cinnamon babka is something between a challah and a brioche. It gets its richness from the melted butter, plus some sweetness from sugar and honey. The final bread is light and fluffy, which perfectly compliments the denser cinnamon sugar filling.
If you’re new to making babka or using enriched doughs (this is simply a dough made with a higher concentration of fats, sugar and dairy), then I recommend letting your dough chill in the fridge during the first rise. The dough itself is quite sticky, which you want, but that makes it difficult to work with. If you let it chill, the dough is easier to roll out and shape into a babka.
I used to always refrigerate my dough, but now that I’m quite familiar with making babka I let it rise at room temperature for about 1.5 hours, until doubled in size. Again, you can do this in the fridge but it will take longer to rise (at least half a day or overnight) and you will need to let it rest at room temperature 30-60 minutes before shaping.
How to make cinnamon babka
To begin, you’ll need to make your enriched dough. Using a mixer fitted with the dough hook, mix together the flour, sugar, yeast, and salt until combined. Add the eggs, water, and melted butter, and mix on low-medium speed for 10-12 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. The dough will look very soft and not pull away from the bottom of the bowl, which is perfectly fine.
Transfer the dough, using floured hands, to a large bowl coated with oil and cover with plastic wrap. You can either leave the dough at room temperature for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or in the fridge for at least half a day or overnight. If you go the fridge route, the dough may not look like it has risen much, that’s ok whether it has or hasn’t. Also, if the dough is hard to handle, leave it at room temperature to soften for 30-60 minutes before rolling and shaping.
Rolling and shaping babka
Once your dough has risen, it’s time to make the cinnamon babka. Start by greasing two loaf pans and lining them with parchment paper.
You will also want to mix up your cinnamon babka filling. The ingredient amounts are flexible, and you an always add more or less sugar, or cinnamon, to your liking (1 cup of sugar for extra sweetness; up to 4 tablespoons cinnamon for extra spice). This cinnamon babka recipe is also great with 2 cups/200 grams of toasted and chopped pecans that you can sprinkle on top of the cinnamon filling.
To get lots of layers of cinnamon babka filling, you’ll need to roll and shape the babka in a certain way. To make things as easy as possible, I’ve created a guide with a video and photos to walk you through each step of the process.
You will need to work with half the dough at a time, since this cinnamon babka recipe makes two loaves. With each half of the dough, roll it out on a lightly floured surface into a rectangle measuring roughly 16×12 inches (40×30 cm), with the long side facing you. Using an offset spatula, spread half of the cinnamon filling over the rectangle.
Roll up the rectangle like a roulade, starting with the long side closest to you and ending at the other side. Press slightly to seal the dampened end onto the log. Using both hands, gently roll the dough into a perfect thick cigar shape and rest it on its seam.
Using a serrated knife, gently cut the roll in half lengthwise, essentially dividing the log into two long even halves. Lay each half next to each other, cut side up with the layers of dough and filling visible. Pinch the top ends together, and then carefully lift one side over the other, repeating the process to form a twist or two-pronged plait. Squeeze together the bottom ends so that you are left with two intertwined halves showing the filling on top.
Final rise and bake
Gently transfer the twisted dough into the loaf pan. Don’t worry if it gets messy or if there are gaps in the pan. As the babka rests for its second rise it will fill in all the spaces and bake up beautifully. Cover the pan loosely with plastic wrap and leave to rise on the counter for 1 to 1 1/2 hours until almost doubled in size. Repeat this filling and shaping process with the second half of the dough.
Preheat the oven to 350ºF/175ºC, making sure it has plenty of time to heat up before the cakes have finished rising (I like to start this about 30 minutes into the rise). Remove the plastic wrap and place the cakes on the middle rack of the oven. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until golden brown on top and the internal temperature reads 200ºF/93ºC.
Making the sugar syrup
Many recipes skip this step, but I find this gives the cinnamon babka a shiny, crunchy top that is irresistible with the tender inside. A bonus is that it keeps the babka fresh for longer!
Simply bring water and sugar to a boil over medium heat, removing as soon as the sugar dissolves. Once the cakes are out of the oven brush the syrup gently over them, making sure to use all of the syrup even if it looks like a lot.
Let the babka cool until warm, then remove from the pan and cool completely on a wire rack before serving. Babka stay fresh for 24 hours, so I like to keep one out on the counter and store the other in the freezer for any future babka cravings.
Other enriched dough recipes:
- Cinnamon raisin swirl bread
- Jelly doughnuts (sufganiyot)
- Maple pecan sticky buns
- Nutella babka
- Orange chocolate rolls
- Ricotta swirl bread
- 3 3/4 cups (525g) all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
- 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon (75g) granulated sugar (optional – replace 20g of the sugar with honey, I love the texture it gives)
- 1 tablespoon (10g) instant dry yeast
- 1 1/4 teaspoons fine sea salt
- 2 large eggs , plus 1 egg yolk
- 2/3 cup (160 ml) warm water
- 3/4 stick (85g) unsalted butter, at room temperature or melted
- Neutral oil (vegetable, canola), for greasing
- 150 g unsalted butter , softened to room temperature
- 3/4 cup (150g) light brown sugar (granulated sugar is ok, too)
- 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
- 1/2 cup (120 ml) water
- 1/2 cup (100 g) granulated sugar
Place flour, sugar (if using honey add it later along with the eggs), yeast, and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook and mix on until combined. Add eggs, water, and butter, and mix on low-medium speed for 10-12 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. It would look soft and won’t pull away from the bottom of the bowl – that’s ok. During mixing, scrape down the sides of the bowl using a spatula as needed.
- With floured hands, transfer dough to a large bowl brushed with oil (the fat will keep the dough from drying out), cover with plastic wrap, and leave in the fridge for at least half a day or overnight (if placed a long time in the fridge the dough can become hard – that’s normal; leave it at room temperature to soften for 30-60 minutes or until it’s easy to work with). Alternately, place at room temperature for 1½-2 hours or until doubled in size.
- Grease two loaf pans (I usually use 9×5 inch pans but a bit smaller or larger pans would work too) with oil and line the bottom and sides of each pan with parchment paper for easy release later on. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together butter, sugar and cinnamon until well combined. It should be a thick spreadable consistency.
- Divide dough in half. Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface and shape into a rectangle measuring 16×12 inches (40×30 cm). Position dough so that the long side is closest to you. Using an offset spatula, spread half of the filling over the rectangle.
- Use both hands to roll up the rectangle like a roulade, starting from the long side closest to you and ending at the other side. Press to seal the dampened end onto the roulade, then use both hands to even out the roll into a perfect thick cigar. Rest the cigar on its seam.
- Using a serrated knife, gently cut the roll in half lengthwise, starting at the top and finishing at the seam. You should have two long, even halves with the layers of dough and filling visible along the length of both. With the cut sides facing up, gently press together one end of each half, then lift the right half over the left half. Repeat the process again, this time lifting the left half over the right to create a simple two-pronged plait. Gently squeeze together the other ends so that you are left with two intertwined halves showing the filling on top.
Carefully lift the cake into a loaf pan. Don’t worry if the cake doesn’t look great or if there are gaps in the pan since the cake will rise and look fine, even if it looks messy at this point. Cover the pan loosely with plastic wrap and leave to rise at room temperature for 1 to 1½ hours until almost doubled in size. Repeat using the remaining dough and filling to create the second cake.
Preheat oven to 350ºF/175ºC, making sure to allow plenty of time for it to heat fully before the cakes have finished rising. Remove plastic wrap and place cakes on the middle rack of the oven. Bake for about 35-40 minutes until golden brown on top. If you have a thermometer, you are looking for an internal temperature of about 200ºF/93ºC degrees.
- While the cakes are in the oven, make the syrup. In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring water and sugar to a boil. As soon as the sugar dissolves, remove from heat and set aside. Once the cakes are out of the oven, brush the syrup gently over them. Use all of the syrup even if it looks a lot. Let cakes cool until they are warm, then remove from pans and allow to cool completely on a wire rack before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Babka will stay fresh for 24 hours in an airtight container at room temperature. Do not place it in the fridge. It also freezes well for up to 2 months. To thaw, leave at room temperature for 2 hours, or overnight in the fridge.