Savory Babka With Ricotta and Herbs
This cheese-filled bread has the same soft, rich dough of a traditional babka, but instead of being filled with cinnamon or chocolate, it has an herb-speckled, garlic-scented ricotta swirled throughout. Some optional chopped ham or olives give the bread an even saltier tang, but you can leave it out for something milder. Leftover babka makes excellent toast or — if you want to take it to another level of gooeyness — grilled cheese sandwiches.
- Serves: 8 persons
- ⅓cup/80 milliliters whole milk
- 1 ½teaspoons active dry or instant yeast
- Pinch of granulated sugar
- 2 ½cups/310 grams bread flour, or use all-purpose
- 1teaspoon fine sea salt
- 2large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
- ¼cup/55 grams unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more as needed
- 1cup/230 grams fresh ricotta, or use cottage cheese, soft goat cheese or cream cheese
- ¼cup/25 grams grated Parmesan, plus more for sprinkling
- 3tablespoons finely chopped herbs, such as basil, mint, parsley, thyme leaves or cilantro, or a combination
- 1scallion, finely chopped
- 1garlic clove, finely grated
- 2tablespoons chopped ham, prosciutto, salami or olives (optional)
- Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Step 1In a small saucepan on the stovetop, or in a bowl in the microwave, warm the milk until lukewarm, but not hot (about 110 degrees). Add yeast and pinch of sugar, and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes until slightly foamy.
Step 2In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook, a food processor, or using a large bowl and a wooden spoon, mix the flour and salt. Beat or process in the yeast mixture and eggs until the dough comes together in a soft mass, about 2 minutes. It’s OK if a little flour remains on the bottom of the bowl.
Step 3Add half the butter and beat until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed. Beat in the rest of the butter and continue to beat until dough is stretchy, another 5 to 7 minutes. At this point, all the flour should be worked into the dough. If not, add a teaspoon or two of water, and beat for another minute or so.
Step 4Butter a clean bowl. Form the dough into a ball and roll it around in the bowl so all sides are buttered. Cover the bowl with a plate or dish towel, and let the dough rise in a warm, draft-free place, like the inside of a turned-off oven with the oven light on, until it puffs and rises, anywhere from 1 1/2 to 3 hours. It may not double in bulk, but it should rise.
Step 5Press the dough down with your hands to expel the air, cover the bowl again and refrigerate overnight. (In a pinch, you could chill the dough for 4 hours, but it won’t develop as much flavor.)
Step 6Prepare the filling: In a medium bowl, mix all the ingredients until smooth. Taste and add more salt and black pepper, if needed. (If you used ham or olives, you probably won’t need more salt.) Filling can be prepared up to 2 hours ahead and refrigerated.
Step 7Butter a 9-inch loaf pan, then line with parchment paper, leaving 2 inches of overhang for pulling the babka out later.
Step 8Put the dough on a floured surface and roll it into a 9-by-17-inch rectangle. Spread the filling evenly onto the dough, going all the way to the edge. Starting with a long side, roll into a tightly coiled log. Bring one end of the log to meet the other, then twist the dough, pinching together the ends to seal.
Step 9Place dough into the prepared pan. Cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until puffy. (It won’t quite double.)
Step 10Heat oven to 375 degrees. Brush the top of the babka with more softened butter and sprinkle with Parmesan. Bake until the top is deeply golden brown, 35 to 45 minutes. The babka should sound hollow if you tap it on the bottom once it’s unmolded. An instant-read thermometer inserted in the center will read 185 degrees. Transfer to a wire rack. Babka is best served still a little warm.