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Not Your Bubbe’s Recipe: Chocolate and Cinnamon Babka Cupcakes

Babka is more than just reminiscent of your bubbeit literally means grandmother in Polish.

As the name suggests, grandmothers were typically the bakers behind the babka. In the Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, Gil Marks writes that the dessert was most likely the result of extra challah dough that was cleverly turned into an additional treat by mid-19th-century Eastern European bubbes. And thank god for that! Somewhere between a bread and a cake, the sweet loaf-shaped delicacy can be eaten for breakfast, as a midday snack, or, more traditionally, as a dessert. On the off chance there are any leftovers, it’s also great for making French toast or bread pudding.

While originally stuffed with dried fruit and cinnamon, in the last half-century American Jews have immortalized chocolate babka as the premiere variety. (You may remember the Seinfeld episode when Elaine famously dubbed cinnamon the “lesser babka.”)

Even now, with babka something of a household name for Jewish and non-Jewish New Yorkers alike, if bubbe isn’t baking it, you’re probably not eating it. No longer available only in haimish bakeries, babka can be found in Zabars, Zaros, and even Bouchon Bakeries—though the recipe has, somewhat shockingly, remained the same.

Why make babka, available by the dozen at your neighborhood bakery, on your own? I could tell you to make one to be true to your roots, to honor your grandparents, or to finally use up that instant yeast packet in your cabinet. But the reason is simpler than that. There are few things in this world more delicious than fresh bread, straight out of the oven. One of those things just happens to be fresh bread straight out of the oven with melted chocolate and butter oozing out of it.

These “Trail Mix Babka Cupcakes” are a contemporary twist on the classic loaf, keeping with the latest in the cupcake-craze and portion controlled for the weight conscious among us. Simply pairing chocolate and cinnamon filling into one cupcake produces an original recipe while preserving the integrity of babka’s history. Bake a dozen and send a basket to your bubbe!

Not Your Bubbe’s Trail-Mix Babka Cupcakes
Yield: 14-16 Babka Cupcakes

¾ cup milk or soy milk
¼ cup melted butter or margarine
2 teaspoons fast-acting dry yeast
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 ½ cups whole wheat flour
¼ cup + one teaspoon sugar
¼ cup water
1 egg
½ teaspoon salt

Trail-mix Filling
10 oz. chocolate chips
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup cold butter or margarine
1/3 cup chopped nuts (walnuts, peanuts, or almonds)
1/3 cup chopped dried fruit (raisins, craisins, apricots, or dried apple work well)

Streusel Topping (Optional)
1/3 cup confectioners sugar
1/3 cup all purpose flour
¼ cup butter or margarine
1 tablespoon milk or soymilk
Egg wash (one egg beaten with one tablespoon milk/soy milk)

Special Equipment
Stand mixer (recommended but not essential)
Rolling pin
Cupcake pans

1. Melt butter or margarine in saucepan and stir in the milk.

2. Warm milk and melted butter slightly and add the yeast and the teaspoon of sugar, let sit for five minutes until the yeast blooms.

3. While waiting, combine the all purpose four, whole wheat flour, cinnamon, and sugar into the bowl of your stand mixer. Mix to combine.

4. Add the egg, water, yeast, and milk mixture and mix well. Using the dough hook (or your hands if you are not using a stand mixer) knead the dough for 15-20 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic.

5. Cover the dough with a damp cloth and place in a warm place for 1 ½ hours for the dough to rise and double in size. In this time, you can make the filling and topping.

6. For the filling, mix together all ingredients except for the butter.

7. Rub, or cut, the butter into the mixture until it is relatively evenly dispersed and you have no clumps larger than the size of a cranberry.

8. For the streusel, combine all ingredients and, like the filling, cut the butter in until you get crumbs the size of pebbles.

9. Once risen, punch the dough down and reform it into a ball. Let sit, covered, for another 10 minutes.

10. To make the process more manageable, cut the dough into two equal portions.

11. Spray cupcake tin and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Take one half of the dough and roll it into a large rectangle about 1/8 of an inch thick. Sprinkle half of the filling evenly over the rectangle, then cut the rectangle into smaller rectangles, roughly 2 inches wide and 4 inches long. Roll up the rectangles, maintaining the width, and seal the seam by pressing down on the dough. Coil the babka ropes into the cupcake pan. Repeat the process with the other half of the dough.

12. Once inside the cupcake tin, cover and let rise for a half hour. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with streusel. Bake for 12-14 minutes. Once cool enough to touch pop them out and enjoy! They are best while still warm.

Also try: Not Your Bubbe’s Chicken Schnitzel

Sarah Miller is a graduate of the Pastry and Baking Arts program at the Institute of Culinary Education and is currently working at ABC Kitchen.

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