1tbsp Active Dry Yeast*
75g (plus 0.5 tsp sugar)
110mls lukewarm water
575g hi-grade (bread) flour
2 tsp vanilla
110mls whole milk
175g butter, softened but not melted, divided into 2cm cubes
170g butter, softened
150g soft brown sugar
150g castor sugar
200g castor sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
Prove the yeast by placing the dried yeast and 1/2 tsp of sugar in a small bowl. Add the lukewarm water and stir to gently incorporate the yeast. Leave in a warm place until the mixture is foamy (5-10 minutes. If the yeast doesn't foam, it's dead and you'll need to replace it with a fresh pack).
In a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, mix together the flour, the sugar and the vanilla. Leave aside while you prepare the wet ingredients.
In a small saucepan, bring the milk almost to the boil (just until small bubbles appear around the rim of the pot; don't let it boil over). Remove from the heat and allow to cool until it's lukewarm.
With mixer on low, add the water-yeast mixture, the eggs and the milk. Mix just until you have a shaggy dough then add the butter, cube by cube, until it's completely incorporated. Stop the mixer to scrape down the sides of our bowl once or twice to ensure that all the ingredients are well mixed.
Raise the speed to 3 (bread should be kneaded slowly at no more than Speed 3 in your stand mixer which protects the motor of your machine too) and continue to knead slowly for 7-10 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic with a pleasant shine.
Place dough in a greased bowl with a damp towel on top. Allow to rise in a warm place (1 to 2 hours) until doubled in size
While the dough is rising, make your sugar syrup. Combine water, sugar and vanilla in a small pot. Bring to the boil, stirring to ensure the sugar is completely dissolved. Set aside to cool. This makes enough for about 4 babkas - you'll need half of it for this recipe.
To make the filling: cream the butter, sugars and salt until light and fluffy. Set aside.
Prepare two 2lb loaf tins (grease and line them with parchment paper).
Cut the dough into twp equal parts (use a food scale for precision). Roll out one part into a rectangle. Spread with half of the filling and roll up along the shorter side (to create more swirls inside).
Once the dough is formed into a swirled 'swiss roll' I like to rest it in the fridge for 15-20 minutes as I find it cuts more cleanly and will keep the layers more defined. Remove from the fridge and cut the loaf straight the middle of its length (you will have two long half-logs) so that the filling is exposed. Lay one half on top of the other half, cut sides up on both, and then twist them together to form the braid. Tuck the ends in neatly and place it into your loaf tin.
Repeat with the rest of your dough and butter/sugar mixture. Place your loaf tins, covered lightly with a clean tea towel, into a warm spot and allow them to rise again for 45 minutes or until slightly puffed and soft looking. Preheat oven to 180C while the dough rises. I never use the fan bake for bread as I think it dries it out but over to you. If you do use fanbake, lower your heat by 10C.3
Bake for 25 minutes. Remove the Babka from the oven and brush with a couple of coats of the sugar syrup. Return to the oven for another 15 minutes. Then remove and brush with another three coats of the syrup. Allow to cool in the tin and serve sliced (and slightly warmed if desired).
* We like the Tasti brand of yeast for this recipe. Make sure to always check the expiry date of yeast before you start cooking and discard that which is expired or too close to date.