Pumpkin Seed and White Chocolate Babka

by meike peters

Sundays are for sugar rushes

I’ll be honest, my oven has been off most of the time in the past few months. There was a humble apple pie, a few quiche variations and the obligatory cookies in December to fill the jars – and to fill my apartment with that buttery smell – but apart from that I’ve been a lazy baker. Yet to compensate for the lean supply of baked goods from my own kitchen – and still satisfy my voracious sweet desires – I dove into a new old passion: regular visits to my trusted Berlin bakers.

My favorite bakeries in the city offer all I would need to never ever have to turn on my oven again (not to say that would ever happen!). Flaky pastries for the mornings, experimental cookie creations from Cookies & Co for my espresso break, and for the afternoons, there’s a café/ bakery I’ve visited for almost 16 years, SowohlAlsAuch Kaffeehaus. They have a decadent hazelnut mascarpone torte, which often crowns my Sunday coffee table. And then there’s Café Boulangerie, with their chocolate covered Bundt cake it is a favorite place to go to when I meet my girls for walks in the neighborhood.

Almost any time I’m up for a longer trip across the city just to nibble on Laurel’s bagels, Challah knots and rugelach from Fine Bagels, or have my traditional Pfannkuchen (filled doughnuts without a hole, called Berliner where I come from) at New Years and carnival from KaDeWe.

And for sudden cravings, around the corner from my home is a small bakery particularly talented at yeast baked goods like Puddingbrezel (vanilla custard pretzel), tender brioche buns, sticky poppy seed twists and a relatively new discovery: a glorious pumpkin seed twist. I had never before thought of using squash seeds for sweet baking. For pesto, or crunchy salad toppings, yes, but it never occurred to me that it would make sense to mix it, for example, with white chocolate chunks and use that for a babka filling. So I just did that, loved it and here’s (finally!) a new recipe on the blog.

It’s a wintery variation of my blueberry lemon cheese babka and my poppy seed babka and it fits particularly well to gloomy Sundays in February, when the heart needs some sweetness to fill the gap until spring. And anyway, Sundays are for sugar rushes – doesn’t matter if homemade or from your favorite neighborhood bakery.

Pumpkin Seed and White Chocolate Babka

Mind that the babka has to rise twice, the first time overnight (for about 8 hours) in the fridge.

Makes 1 loaf cake.

For the dough

  • 275g / 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 50g / 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fast-acting yeast
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 60ml / 1/4 cup whole milk, lukewarm
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 75g / 1/3 cup butter, at room temperature, cut into cubes
  • sunflower oil, to grease the bowl

For the filling

  • 240ml / 1 cup whole milk
  • 50g / 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 150g / 5 ounces pumpkin seeds, finely ground in a food processor
  • 110g / 4 ounces white chocolate, roughly chopped

For the glaze

  • 45ml / 3 tablespoons water
  • 50g / 1/4 cup granulated sugar

Day 1 – in the evening:

For the dough, in the large bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, whisk together the flour, sugar, yeast and salt.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the milk, egg and egg yolk and add together with the butter to the flour mixture. Mix with the hook for about 8 minutes then continue kneading and punching the dough with your hands for a few minutes until you have a soft and silky ball of dough. Transfer the dough to a clean, oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and leave it in the fridge overnight, or for about 8-10 hours (don’t be alarmed, the dough will only rise a little).

Day 2 – in the morning:

Take the dough out of the fridge and let it sit in the bowl at room temperature for about 1-2 hours (this time I even let it sit for 4 hours and the babka rose beautifully).

For the filling, in a medium saucepan, bring the milk, sugar, cinnamon and ground pumpkin seeds to a boil and cook, whisking constantly, over medium-high heat (bubbling) for 5 minutes or until the mixture is spreadable. Let the filling cool completely (I put the pot in the snow on the balcony, whisking occasionally).

Butter an 23 x 10cm / 9 x 4″ loaf pan and line the bottom with a piece of parchment paper.

Punch the dough down, take it out of the bowl and knead for 30 seconds. Roll the dough with a rolling pin into a 40 x 28cm / 16 x 11″ rectangle. Spread the pumpkin seed filling on top, leaving a 2cm / 3/4″ border then sprinkle with the white chocolate. Starting from one long side, roll the dough up into a log (8th picture, below). Use your fingers to squeeze the overlapping dough then flip the roll over so that the seam is at the bottom. Using a sharp knife, cut the roll in half lengthwise (3rd picture, top). The cut sides facing up, place both pieces next to each other then quickly lift one half over the other, repeating to form a twist (4th picture, top). Using the blade of a large knife, gently lift the babka and transfer quickly to the prepared pan. Cover with a tea towel and let it rise in a warm place (I kept the bowl on the heater) for about 60-90 minutes or until puffy.

Preheat the oven to 190°C / 375°F (conventional setting).

For the glaze, in a small saucepan, bring the water and sugar to a boil and cook for 2 minutes or until syrupy then take the pan off the heat and set aside.

Bake the babka for 35-40 minutes or until golden brown and spongy, covering the top of the babka with tin foil after 30 minutes if it gets dark. After 35 minutes, check with a skewer, it should come out almost clean. Take the babka out of the oven and immediately brush the top with the syrup. Let it cool for 10-15 minutes then remove from the pan. Enjoy the babka warm or cold.