Ultimate Guide to Making Braided Pesto Babka: Tips & Techniques

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Written By Haryana’s Restaurant

Authentic Indian Food – Classic Indian Cuisine in Terrace BC

Imagine the lush flavors of fresh basil pesto intertwined with the soft, pillowy layers of a traditional babka. That’s the magic of a braided pesto babka, a delightful twist on the classic Eastern European bread that marries savory with every bite. This recipe brings a vibrant, green streak of homemade pesto, adding a touch of Italy to this beloved Jewish pastry.

Ingredients

Here are the ingredients you’ll need to create a stunning braided pesto babka that blends the savory flavors of fresh pesto with soft, sweet babka.

  • 1 cup of whole milk, warmed to about 110°F
  • 2 teaspoons of instant dry yeast
  • 4 cups of all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1/4 cup of granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon of kosher salt
  • 10 tablespoons of unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into small pieces
  • 2 cups of fresh basil leaves, tightly packed
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/3 cup of pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup of extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Required Tools and Equipment

To make your braided pesto babka, having the right tools and equipment will facilitate a smoother cooking experience and ensure your babka turns out perfectly. Here’s what you’ll need:

Mixing and Measuring Tools:

  • Stand Mixer: An essential tool for mixing the dough to the right consistency. If you don’t have a stand mixer, a hand mixer with dough hooks can work as well.
  • Measuring Cups and Spoons: Accurate measurement is key in baking. Ensure you have a set of each to measure your ingredients.
  • Digital Scale: Optional but recommended for measuring ingredients by weight for greater accuracy, especially the flour.

Prep Tools:

  • Rolling Pin: You’ll need this to roll out your dough into a rectangle before spreading the pesto.
  • Kitchen Knife or Dough Scraper: To help slice and trim dough evenly.
  • Pastry Brush: For applying melted butter on the dough before adding the pesto.

Baking Tools:

  • Loaf Pan: A standard 9×5 inch loaf pan works best for shaping and baking the babka.
  • Parchment Paper: This will prevent the babka from sticking to the pan and make it easier to remove after baking.
  • Oven Thermometer: To check the accuracy of your oven’s temperature.
  • Cooling Rack: To allow the babka to cool evenly after baking.

Dough Preparation

Starting with the right foundation is crucial for your braided pesto babka. Here’s how to prepare the perfect dough.

Mixing the Dough

Begin by warming the whole milk slightly—just enough so it’s warm to the touch but not hot. Pour the warm milk into the bowl of your stand mixer. Sprinkle the yeast and a pinch of sugar over the milk and let it sit for about 5 minutes, or until it starts to froth, indicating that the yeast is active.

Add the remaining sugar, beaten eggs, and melted butter to the yeast mixture. Fit your mixer with the dough hook attachment, and start it on a low speed. Gradually add the flour and salt to the bowl. Once all the flour is incorporated, increase the speed to medium and knead the dough for 8-10 minutes until it’s smooth and elastic.

Resting the Dough

After kneading, shape the dough into a ball. Lightly grease a large bowl with a bit of olive oil or butter, place the dough in the bowl, and turn it so that it’s coated with the grease. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth or plastic wrap. Leave it to rise in a warm, draught-free area for about 1 to 1.5 hours, or until it has doubled in size.

This resting period allows the gluten in the dough to relax and the yeast to work its magic, making the dough rise and develop the characteristic fluffy texture necessary for a soft, delicious babka.

Pesto Preparation

Now that your dough is set to rise, it’s time to create the fresh basil pesto that will elevate this babka to new flavorful heights.

Blending the Ingredients

Start by gathering all your pesto ingredients. You’ll need:

  • 2 cups of fresh basil leaves, packed
  • 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/3 cup of pine nuts
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 3/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Place the basil, Parmesan cheese, pine nuts, and garlic cloves in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse these ingredients until they are roughly chopped. With the processor running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Continue processing until the mixture becomes smooth and creamy. Ensure you scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary to incorporate all ingredients.

Adjusting Consistency and Flavor

Check the consistency of your pesto. If it’s too thick, add more olive oil, a tablespoon at a time, until you achieve a spreadable consistency suitable for layering on dough. Taste your pesto and adjust the flavor with additional salt and pepper if needed. For a zestier kick, consider adding a squeeze of fresh lemon juice or a pinch of red pepper flakes. This step ensures your pesto is not only vibrant in color but also bursting with flavor, ready to be swirled into your babka dough.

Shaping the Babka

Now that your dough has risen beautifully and your pesto is bursting with flavor, it’s time to shape your braided pesto babka.

Rolling and Spreading

Begin by lightly flouring your work surface and placing the risen dough on it. Use a rolling pin to roll the dough into a large rectangle, approximately 20 inches long and 10 inches wide. Aim for an even thickness across the entire piece to ensure uniform baking.

Next, take your freshly made pesto and spread it evenly over the rolled-out dough, leaving a small margin around the edges to help seal the babka later. Ensure the pesto layer is not too thick to prevent it from leaking during the baking process.

Braiding the Babka

To create the braided effect, start by rolling the dough lengthwise into a tight log. Make sure the seam is underneath to help hold the log together. Using a sharp knife, cut the log in half lengthwise, exposing the layers of dough and pesto.

Turn the halves so the cut sides are facing upwards and start braiding them together, keeping the cut sides exposed. Twist the two pieces around each other carefully but firmly, until you reach the end, then pinch the ends together to secure them.

Carefully transfer your braided babka onto a prepared baking sheet lined with parchment paper. At this stage, it should look intricately woven with strands of pesto beautifully visible among the layers of dough. Your babka is now shaped and ready for its final rise before baking.

Proofing the Babcha

After braiding your pesto-infused babka, it’s crucial to allow it to proof properly. Proofing is the final rise of the shaped dough before baking, and this step is vital for achieving the soft, fluffy texture characteristic of a good babka.

Preparing for Proofing

  1. Once you have your braided babka on the baking sheet, cover it lightly with a clean, damp kitchen towel. The dampness of the towel helps to keep the dough from drying out, ensuring it rises evenly without forming a crust.
  2. Find a warm, draft-free spot in your kitchen for the proofing process. Ideal temperatures for proofing are between 75°F and 85°F (24°C to 29°C). If your kitchen is cooler, you can place the baking sheet in an off oven with the light on, or you can use a proofing box if you have one.

Timing the Proof

  1. Allow the babka to proof for 1 to 1.5 hours. During this time, the dough should roughly double in size. The exact time may vary depending on the temperature and humidity of your proofing environment.
  2. Check the dough periodically by gently pressing it with a finger. If the indentation fills back slowly, the dough is just about ready. If it springs back quickly, it needs more time.

Signs of Proofed Dough

  1. Aside from visual cues and the finger test, you should notice a very slight, yeasty fragrance emanating from the dough.
  2. The dough’s surface should appear soft and puffy, without any tight or hard spots.

Following these proofing steps, your babka will be perfectly primed for baking, ensuring that the layers of dough and pesto meld beautifully in the heat of the oven, creating a moist and flavorful delicacy that is as beautiful to look at as it is to eat.

Baking the Babka

Now that your babka has risen beautifully, it’s time to bake it until golden and delicious.

Preheating the Oven

First, ensure your oven is ready to provide a consistent heat for baking. Preheat your oven to 375°F (190°C). This temperature is ideal as it cooks the dough thoroughly without burning the pesto.

Baking Time and Temperature

Place your babka in the center of the preheated oven. Bake it for about 25-30 minutes. Keep a close eye after the 20-minute mark, as ovens can vary. You’re looking for a deep golden-brown crust, and the babka should sound hollow when tapped. If you see the top browning too quickly, loosely cover it with aluminum foil to prevent burning while allowing it to continue cooking internally.

Once baked to perfection, remove your babka from the oven and let it cool on a wire rack. This resting time helps the structure set properly, enhancing the bread’s soft, fluffy texture.

Serving and Storage

Once your braided pesto babka has achieved its golden-brown glory and you’ve allowed it to cool properly, it’s time to serve and store this delightful pastry.

Cooling and Slicing

After removing your babka from the oven, transfer it immediately to a wire rack. This step is crucial as it prevents the bottom from becoming soggy by allowing air to circulate around the entire loaf. Let the babka cool on the rack for at least 20 minutes before slicing. Cooling not only enhances the texture but also makes slicing easier, ensuring your braided design remains intact. For a clean and even cut, use a serrated knife, slicing with gentle sawing motions.

Storage Tips

To maintain the freshness and softness of your braided pesto babka, proper storage is key. If you plan to enjoy the babka within a day, keep it at room temperature. Wrap the loaf in aluminum foil or plastic wrap to prevent it from drying out. For longer storage, the babka can be refrigerated for up to 5 days. Wrap it tightly in plastic wrap followed by aluminum foil to preserve its moisture. For extended storage, the babka can be frozen for up to 2 months. To freeze, wrap the loaf in plastic wrap, then a layer of aluminum foil, and finally place it in a freezer bag. Thaw overnight at room temperature when ready to enjoy.

Conclusion

Now that you’ve mastered the art of making a braided pesto babka you’re all set to impress at your next gathering or simply enjoy a delightful treat at home. Remember the joy doesn’t end with the last slice; this babka’s versatility in storage means you can savor it for days or share it with friends and family. So why not give it a try this weekend? Get ready to bask in the aromas of freshly baked dough and pesto—your kitchen will thank you and your taste buds will too!

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