Do you usually shy away from complicated baking projects? Yes or no, stick with me here; I'm going to walk you through Cranberry-Orange Babka, a bread that looks fancy but actually requires no more skill than simply twisting together two strands of dough. I call it fancy without the fuss.

While most familiar to us Americans in its chocolate version, babka is a time-honored Slavic yeast "cake" made from a rich brioche-type dough studded with raisins. The cake (we'd call it sweet bread) is traditionally baked in a tall cylinder. It's often flavored with rum, and usually gilded with icing.

Our version of this classic lays the babka on its side in a loaf pan; and substitutes cranberry and orange for raisins and rum. The result is part coffeecake, part sweet bread, and 100% "Save this recipe, I'm making it again."

How to make Cranberry-Orange Babka via kingarthurflour

Cranberry-Orange Babka: Let's get started!

The dough

Let's start with the dough. Enriched with egg and butter plus dry milk, it's a smooth, malleable dough, eager to please as you knead and shape it.

Combine the following:

1/2 cup lukewarm water
1 large egg
3 tablespoons softened butter
1/2 teaspoon Buttery Sweet Dough Flavor, or vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon Fiori di Sicilia, optional; for enhanced flavor
2 1/4 cups (9 1/2 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons Baker's Special Dry Milk or nonfat dry milk
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast or active dry yeast

Mix and knead by your usual method — hands, bread machine on the dough cycle, mixer — to make a smooth, supple dough. It may be sticky at first, but keep at it; it'll eventually come around (and become a round).

The first rise

Put the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover the bowl, and let the dough rise until it's just about doubled. This took 90 minutes in my moderately cool kitchen; your dough may be quicker or need more time.

How to make Cranberry-Orange Babka via kingarthurflour

The filling

While the dough is rising, make the filling. Combine the following in a saucepan:

1/4 cup orange juice
1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Cook the mixture over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until it begins to thicken to a jam-like consistency. This will take about 10 to 15 minutes once it comes to a simmer.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in 1 tablespoon melted butter, 1/8 teaspoon orange oil or 1 teaspoon grated orange rind, and 1 teaspoon Yuletide Cheer Spice or cinnamon. Set the filling aside to cool to lukewarm.

How to make Cranberry-Orange Babka via kingarthurflour

Take your nicely risen dough and gently deflate it.

How to make Cranberry-Orange Babka via kingarthurflour

Assembly

Transfer the dough to a lightly greased work surface (or silicone rolling mat, as I'm using here), and roll/pat it into a 12" x 14" rectangle. As I mentioned earlier, this dough is nice to work with; it won't fight back as you stretch it out, thanks to the egg and butter tempering the gluten.

How to make Cranberry-Orange Babka via kingarthurflour

Spread the cranberry filling over the surface of the dough, leaving a 1/2" border along the edge of one of the short sides. Starting with the filling-covered short side, roll the dough up jelly-roll style, sealing the edge.

How to make Cranberry-Orange Babka via kingarthurflour

Cut the log in half lengthwise to expose the filling.

How to make Cranberry-Orange Babka via kingarthurflour

Place each half side by side, filled sides up.Yes, this becomes a bit messy; keep a wet dishcloth close by.

How to make Cranberry-Orange Babka via kingarthurflour

Lay one strand over the other to make an X shape.

How to make Cranberry-Orange Babka via kingarthurflour

Twist the two logs together, working from the center to each end.

How to make Cranberry-Orange Babka via kingarthurflour

Pinch the ends together, and place the twisted log in a lightly greased 9" x 5" loaf pan.

How to make Cranberry-Orange Babka via kingarthurflour

The second rise

Cover the loaf and allow it to rise for 1 to 2 hours, until it's crowned 1/2" to 1" over the rim of the pan.

Hint: If you know anyone who stays in hotels regularly, get them to bring you home some of the courtesy plastic shower caps available to guests. PERFECT dough rising covers!

Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F.

How to make Cranberry-Orange Babka via kingarthurflour

Admittedly my kitchen is usually chilly, but it took the loaf a full 2 hours to rise to the desired 1" over the rim of the pan. That's why you need to take suggested rising times with a grain of salt: your dough in your kitchen in your climate will react differently than your sister's in Phoenix — or our dough here in Vermont.

Baking

Bake the babka for 45 to 50 minutes, tenting it with aluminum foil about halfway through to prevent over-browning.

How to make Cranberry-Orange Babka via kingarthurflour

The top of the finished loaf will be golden brown, and a digital thermometer inserted into the center of the loaf will read 190°F or above.

Remove the loaf from the oven.

How to make Cranberry-Orange Babka via kingarthurflour

Final touches

After 10 minutes, remove the babka from the pan and transfer it to a rack. For a softer crust, brush the top of the warm loaf with melted butter, if desired.

Cool the loaf completely before slicing and serving.

Cranberry-Orange Babka via kingarthurflourWant to gild the lily? Mix 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar with about 1 tablespoon milk or cream, enough to make a pourable icing. Drizzle over the cooled babka.

Cranberry-Orange Babka via kingarthurflour

Enjoy.

Serve it soft and fresh, or toast it with butter. Make it into French toast, or even sweet/salty grilled cheese (try an assertive cheddar). Any way you slice (or twist) it, Cranberry-Orange Babka is a recipe you'll definitely want to keep in your virtual hip pocket.

Please read, bake, and review our recipe for Cranberry-Orange Babka.

Print just the recipe.

Interested in other European-style sweet breads? Check out these recipes:
Hefefranz
St. Lucia Buns
Czech Kolaches
Chocolate-Cherry Brioche
Overnight Panettone
Tuscan Coffeecake
Polish Babka
Greek Tsoureki
Shortcut Russenzopf

 

PJ Hamel
The Author

About PJ Hamel

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

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