There’s an intuitive reason babka somehow invokes nostalgic attachment even the first time it’s eaten. Not only does babka mean grandmother in many Central and Eastern European countries, but babka lore tells us that European Jewish grandmothers turned scraps of challah and whatever spices and nuts they had on hand into sweet breakfast breads.
There’s also a reason the word plum can indicate something is excellent, desirable or superior. In Europe plums, with their highly concentrated sugar content, were a special treat at a time in history when fruit was not abundantly available. Prune plums are the variety that existed back then. In Atlanta small quantities of these unassuming yet flavorful iconic fruits appear in September and disappear in October. I buy 5 pounds every time I see them and go plumb crazy making cakes, muffins, jam, chutney, and challah. (interestingly, the term plumb crazy has nothing to do with plums!)
This year it I was inspired by all the inviting babkas in Uri Scheft’s irresistible Breaking Breads cookbook to merge both babka and prune plums to add a plum babka to my recipe stockpile. To make treats to share with friends and prevent myself from eating an entire loaf of babka, I made individual baby babkas using my oversized popover pans to make them worth the splurge.
The recipe has many inspirations including Breaking Bread’s babka dough, my holiday plum challah recipe filling (inspired by Marcy Goldman), and streusel from my almond plum kuchen streusel muffin recipe. The result is similar, richer and sweeter than the sweetest of challah recipe. It’s a plum babka (get it?) with ingenuity a bubbe would be proud of.
Plum Baby Babka Recipe
Read through recipe before beginning. Makes ~12 baby babkas using oversized ¾-cup well muffin or popover pans,~16 baby babkas using standard sized muffin pans, or two babka loaves using 9X5 loaf pans.
½ cup whole milk at room temperature
2 tsp active dry yeast (Red Star is my favorite)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
6 Tbs unsalted butter broken into 24 pieces and at room temperature
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
¼ tsp kosher salt
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 ¼ cups all purpose flour (King Arthur)
2 cups cake flour
- In large mixing bowl, add milk, yeast, sugar, butter, egg, yolks, salt, and vanilla.
- Add all purpose and cake flour and mix on low speed until combined. With dough hook knead on medium speed and continue kneading until smooth and elastic, about 5-7 minutes (if kneading by hand this will take 8-10 minutes)
- Place dough on lightly floured surface. Stretch dough away from you until it tears. Fold the bottom third up towards the center and the top third down over the bottom fold. Give the dough a quarter turn. Repeat stretching, tearing, folding and turning six more times. (The size of the folds is not important as it will get increasingly more difficult to manipulate the dough.)
- Round the dough into a ball place in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover in plastic wrap and place dough in refrigerator overnight.
4 cups ripe but firm plums (~1 ½ lbs) cut into ½“ dice. (Italian prune plums are preferred)
¼ cup white granulated sugar
¼ cup water
½ tsp cinnamon
2 tsp lemon juice
pinch kosher salt
- In medium saucepan cook all ingredients 6 minutes over medium low heat until plums are broken down, syrupy and garnet red.
- Remove from heat and let cool. Plum Compote can be made and refrigerated for 3-4 days before using.
- Makes about 1 1/3 cup compote.
1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten
1 Tbs water
- Mix egg yolk and water.
¼ cup light brown sugar
2 Tbs white granulated sugar
1 tsp lemon zest
1/3 cup all purpose flour (White Lily is the best for this!)
2 Tbs melted unsalted butter
- Mix all ingredients together until crumbly. Streusel can be made and refrigerated for up to 1 week and frozen for up to 1 month.
1 cup white granulated sugar
¾ cup water
- In small saucepan over low heat cook, stirring to mix sugar and water until sugar melts. The sugar glaze is best made while babka’s are baking.
Baby Plum Babka Recipe
- Before making babka make and set aside plum compote, egg wash, and streusel. (Make sugar glaze while babka is baking)
- Grease pans with shortening.
- Remove dough from refrigerator and divide in half. One at a time, roll halves into a 6 by 12 inch rectangle. Place half of plum filling on dough, leaving at least a 1” border along the bottom of a 12 inch edge. Gently roll the dough into a cylinder towards the edge with border. As you roll, tuck plum mixture in and pull dough gently to tighten cylinder. Repeat with second piece of dough and remaining plum compote. It’s okay if some plum compote falls out. You can tuck it into the top of the dough when it’s put in the pan.
- Cut each roll in half and carefully twist together, stretching the twisted roll as much as possible without breaking to make it as long as you can. The dough roll will be messy! Cut roll evenly into rounds to fill pans you are using.
- Cover pans with plastic wrap and let proof until dough is almost double in size, about 1 to 2 hours depending on the temperature and humidity in your home. Dough will be soft and bounce back ever so slightly when touched.
- Brush baby babkas gently with egg wash and sprinkle streusel evenly over them.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- Bake baby babkas for about 20 -25 minutes until set, golden brown and cooked through.
- When babka is removed from oven brush half of sugar syrup over babkas.
- Cool in pan about 20 minutes before removing from pan. Brush remaining sugar syrup over sides of each babka. Let sit until completely cool before eating. These treats taste best the day they are made. They can be wrapped tightly in plastic then foil and frozen for two weeks. Let defrost at room temperature. Don’t ever microwave the babkas!
Note: the sugar syrup can be optional. It gives the baby babkas a glossy bakery finish.