Fancy bougie breads are everything this spring, and we of course had to combine some of our favorite flavors in this delicious savory cheese-filled babka for you! The Roasted Red Pepper Pesto and Mozzarella Babka gives you all the buttery bread goodness of the sweet version, but it is packed with so many vibrant flavors that you won’t be able to stop at one slice!
If there is one thing that many people have learned over the past year of quarantine it’s that making bread at home, from sourdough to brioche donuts, is not only better than anything you can buy, but also quite easy for anyone who can follow a recipe.
We have been making our own bread for quite some time, so we are here to enable your bread-making addiction! Now it’s time to up the bread game with fancy loaves packed with flavor!
What is a babka?
Babka is a type of bread made with an enriched dough, meaning, you add butter and/or milk to the dough resulting in a soft, fluffy and buttery texture. The enriched dough is then filled and twisted resulting in a beautifully swirled and tasty loaf.
Babka’s origins are within Jewish communities throughout Eastern Europe and traditionally consist of a slightly sweet dough with even sweeter fillings such as chocolate, cinnamon, or fruit spreads. Over the last decade, babka’s have become very popular in the US and now you can find thousands of recipes for sweet and savory varieties.
How to Make this Roasted Red Pepper Pesto and Mozzarella Babka
This babka is made in a very similar fashion to a traditional sweet babka, but with less sugar added to the dough mix. Our savory babka also has Italian herbs mixed in to the actual dough in addition to the filling of Roasted Red Pepper Pesto and Mozzarella cheese to give the dough a more savory flavor overall.
The Italian herbs complement the flavors of the pesto, as well, making this babka perfect to have alongside whatever you are having for dinner – especially with things like roasted meats or lighter main dishes.
To make the savory babka dough…
First you need to mix the dough ingredients together. This is a yeasted dough, and we use active dry yeast. Active dry yeast needs about 5-10 minutes to “bloom” prior to mixing the dough, so make sure you give it this time.
If using instant yeast, this first step is not necessary.
You will need to warm the milk a little for the best environment for the yeast to bloom. We heat it up in the microwave or in a saucepan on low until it’s just warm to the touch.
Be careful when heating the milk, though. If the milk is warmer than about 110-115°F then it could kill the yeast, so make sure your milk is not too hot before adding the sugar and yeast to it.
Mix the dough
To mix the dough, we use a stand mixer fitter with a dough hook. If you do not own such equipment, you can do this by hand instead. To mix by hand, you will first mix the ingredients in a bowl until they are combined, then dump them out onto a countertop or other hard surface and knead by hand for about 10 minutes.
The goal is for the dough to be smooth and slightly shiny, but not sticky. You want to knead the dough long enough to develop the gluten. If you can stretch it without the dough tearing, then you should be good to go.
Proof the dough
To develop the flavor of the dough fully, we recommend first allowing the dough to sit covered in a bowl in a warm, draft free spot until about doubled in size. We place the dough in an oven with the light on, but during the summer you can keep the dough on the counter. The dough should double in size after about 1.5-2 hours.
Punch the air out of the dough
Next you want to literally take your fist and punch the air out of the dough. Go ahead, take out all that pent-up anger! Once the excess air is out, we cover it again and place it in the fridge to finish developing the flavor overnight.
Roll out the dough, add the filling, and shape
Now comes the fun part! If you have ever felt intimidated by making braided or twisted loaves in the past, well, no need to worry!
Creating that twisted look the babka is known for is actually quite simple. You will need to first roll out the dough on a floured work surface into a large rectangle about 1/4 inch thick. Then spread your fillings on the dough, but leave about a half-inch without the filling around the edge .
Next, roll the dough into a tube starting with one of the shorter sides of you rectangle. Once you finish, pinch the ends of the dough to keep the filling inside.
To shape, you will first take a sharp knife and cut the dough down the middle of the tube lengthwise entirely to make two pieces and to expose the filling. Then lay the two sides next to each other cut side up.
The last step here is to form the loaf. Start at one end and simply twist the two sides around each other, one over the other attempting to keep the cut side facing the top. When you get to the end, pinch the dough together, then take your hands at each end and gently scrunch it together to about the size of your loaf pan, and place it directly in your loaf pan.
If you are using the Calphalon Nonstick Bakeware Medium Loaf Pan like us, you will not have to grease the pan or line it with parchment.
The last proof will take about 1-1.5 hours. Cover and place the loaf pan back in the oven with the light on during this time. Your dough will fill out the loaf pan a bit, but you shouldn’t expect your dough to double in size during this final proof stage.
The closing and most exciting step is to bake your babka! Here you want to make sure your oven rack is in the middle and you preheat your oven to 350°F. We typically turn the oven on at about the 1 hour mark of the final proof. Before placing it in the oven brush it with a little egg wash so the dough will be shiny when it’s fully baked.
The loaf will take approximately 50 minutes to bake, but you are looking for the top of the dough to be golden brown, so add some time if needed but check at 45 minutes as oven temperatures vary quite a bit. We have found that 50 minutes is the minimum time it takes for ours to be perfect and 55 minutes is the most time we’ve needed. But that is OUR oven! Your oven will be different.
Let’s talk about that Roasted Red Pepper Pesto!
So, this pesto is one of our newest favorite recipes! We used it in this loaf but have also blended it further to make a fantastic pasta sauce, we’ve spread it on toast or in sandwiches or wraps, topped chicken with it, and used it as a dip for vegetables or a number of things.
The recipe for this pesto makes about 2.5-3 cups. It lasts in your fridge for about 2 weeks, so we highly recommend making the full recipe, but you only use about 1/2 cup for the actual babka. We can’t stop eating this pesto when it’s in our house, so we guarantee this won’t go to waste! We haven’t tried to freeze it, but there is no apparent reason why it wouldn’t be a good candidate to freeze.
The pesto can be adjusted with a variety of flavors as well. For example, you can add different colored bell peppers for a slightly different color (and flavor) profile or add a jalapeño to give it a touch of heat. You can also add different nuts or different types of basil.
Have fun with it! But if you start out with this recipe, you may not want to ever try a different version!
A note about our bakeware
We recently became part of the Calphalon Ambassador team and we are thrilled to share some of our favorite Calphalon bakeware items with you in this post today and many more to come! For this particular recipe, we used the Calphalon Nonstick Bakeware Medium Loaf Pan and cooling rack.
We love the 10-piece Calphalon Nonstick Bakeware set with these pieces for so many reasons in addition to how easy they are to use for this recipe.
In addition to the loaf pan and cooling rack, this set comes with the following:
- 12-Cup Muffin Pan
- 12×17-in. Baking Sheet
- Medium Loaf Pan
- Two 9-in. Round Cake Pans
- 14×17-in. Cookie Sheet
- 9×13-in. Brownie Pan
- 9×13-in. Covered Cake Pan
You will never experience any warping, sticking, or hot spots with this set, AND even better, it is all dishwasher safe, so no hassle when it comes time to clean.
Check out more of our favorite items from this set in upcoming recipes!
We hope you enjoy this recipe for our Roasted Red Pepper Pesto and Mozzarella Babka! If you give it a try, leave us a comment below or tag us on Instagram @cooking_with_wine!
If you like this recipe, check out some of our other popular recipes below!