Are you looking for a showstopping savory loaf? Look no further! This pesto babka is just the bread for a special dinner. It's surprisingly simple to shape, and has a beautifully soft crumb and flavorful pesto filling. Both you and your dinner guests will love this delightful bread!
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Babka is an Eastern European word meaning "little grandmother," and can refer to a yeast-leavened cake baked in a bundt pan, or a swirled bread like the one in this recipe. Most babkas are sweet, but I wanted to try something savory to use up some leftover pesto. The pesto brings an outstanding flavor to the bread; you'll enjoy eating all the browned bits of herbs on the outside of the bread.
A sweet chocolate babka tastes rich, buttery, and chocolatey with a soft, fluffy texture. This pesto babka retains the wonderful texture and buttery flavor of a traditional sweet babka, but with the savory flavor of basil pesto instead of chocolate.
Although the shaping looks tricky, it's really not any harder than making cinnamon rolls. Roll out the dough to a long rectangle, spread on the pesto, and roll it up tightly from a short end. Make sure to seal all the seams once it's rolled up to prevent the pesto from leaking out too easily. Then, split the log in half lengthwise and simply twist the two strands together, keeping the filling facing up as you twist.
It can be kept on the counter sealed in a plastic bag for up to 3 days, but will taste the freshest the same day it's baked. For the best flavor, I recommend pre-slicing the babka and freezing it in a zip-top freezer bag for up to 1 month. Simply defrost slices as desired.
Substitute all the dairy products in this recipe, and you'll be making a kosher version. (Make sure your pesto is kosher, too; you can't use one that has cheese in it.) Use water instead of milk, and olive oil instead of the butter.
Sweet babkas are usually served at breakfast or with coffee, but you can enjoy this savory pesto babka in different ways. Enjoy it spread with butter and served alongside a bowl of soup, toast it, or make into grilled cheese sandwiches.
How to Make
Gather the ingredients for the pesto babka.
Pour the flour into a mixing bowl, then stir in the salt and yeast on opposite sides.
Mix in the sugar and the wet ingredients to form a dough.
Knead until the dough passes the windowpane test (see recipe card below for instructions).
Prove the dough until it has at least doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Drain the excess oil from the pesto. Punch down the dough and roll it out into a rectangle measuring 9x20 inches. Spread the pesto on top, then roll it into a log from one of the short sides.
Pinch the seam and ends to seal, and split the log in half lengthwise. Twist the two pieces together with the pesto filling side facing up. Place the twisted babka inside of a loaf pan and prove until the dough is springy to the touch, about 30-45 minutes.
Bake at 400°F for 10 minutes, then at 375°F for 25-30 minutes, or until it has an internal temperature of 190°F. Be sure to check the bread after 10 minutes to cover it with foil.
Let the babka cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then remove it and let it cool completely for 1 hour on a wire rack. Slice and serve with salted butter and enjoy!
- Filling: Try sun dried tomato pesto, grated cheese, roasted garlic, olives, or other Italian-inspired fillings.
- Dough: Incorporate pesto into the dough itself, or mix in sun dried tomatoes or olives for extra flavor.
- Kosher: Use water instead of milk, olive oil instead of butter, and a homemade kosher pesto.
- Use bread flour, not all-purpose. You will not get the best rise or texture from all-purpose.
- Use fast-action yeast so you can skip the 10-minute blooming in warm water and sugar necessary for active dry yeast.
- Knead thoroughly. This is one of the most fool-proof ways you can ensure a good textured bread.
- Drain the oil from the pesto. Otherwise, the dough will be super greasy and slippery.
- Cool completely before slicing. This allows the loaf to finish cooking through.
Other Bread Recipes You'll Love
- Pane Bianco
- Tomato Basil Bread
- Greek Olive Bread
- Everything Bagel Bread
- Macaroni Grill Rosemary Bread
- Panera Black Pepper Focaccia
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How to Make Pesto Babka
Making the Dough
- Melt the butter in a small saucepan, then add the milk and heat it gently to about 115°F.
- Pour the bread flour into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the salt and yeast on opposite sides of the bowl, then stir in each one with your finger. Blend in the sugar.
- Dump in the egg and half of the warm milk and butter mixture. Mix on low speed until the dough begins to come together, then trickle in the remaining milk as needed to create a soft, slightly sticky dough.
- Switch attachments to the dough hook and knead for 3 minutes on medium-low speed. The dough should be soft and smooth with a glossy sheen. Use the windowpane test to see if the dough is kneaded enough by breaking off a lump of dough and gently stretching it. The dough should stretch thin enough until it's translucent without tearing; if not, knead for a minute longer and check again.
- Shape the dough into a ball and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside in a warm place to prove until at least doubled in size, about 1 ½ hour.
Shaping the Babka
- Line a 9x5-inch loaf pan with parchment paper.
- While the dough is proving, measure out the pesto. Drain off any excess oil, then pour the pesto into a mesh sieve and push out as much oil as you can with the back of a spoon. You should have ¾ cup (188g) of drained and squeezed pesto.
- Turn out the proved dough onto a lightly floured surface and punch it down all over to knock out gas pockets. Roll it out to a rectangle 9 inches wide and at least 20 inches long, lifting the dough occasionally to relax the gluten. If the dough is shrinking back a lot when you roll it out, let the dough rest for a few minutes, then try again.
- Spread the pesto evenly over the bread, getting within an inch of the edge, then roll up the bread tightly from a short end. Pinch all the seams and ends to seal.
- Slice the log of dough in half lengthwise, then twist the two lengths together, keeping the filling side up as you twist.
- Place the babka in the loaf pan and cover with plastic wrap. Set in a warm place to prove until the dough has crowned about an inch over the top of the pan and springs back quickly when gently prodded with a fingertip, about 45 minutes.
- About 20 minutes before the babka is done proving, preheat the oven to 400°F.
- Sprinkle the babka with the coarse salt, then bake at 400°F for 10 minutes. Check the loaf after 5-10 minutes and cover it with aluminum foil if it's getting too dark. Lower the temperature to 375°F and bake for another 25-30 minutes, until the center of the loaf has an internal temperature of 190°F on a meat thermometer.
- Let the babka cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then remove and let it cool completely on a wire rack before slicing and serving, about 1 hour.
- Only use bread flour, not all-purpose, for this recipe. You won't have the same rise or texture with all-purpose.
- Store leftover babka on the counter in an airtight container or zip-top bag, or freeze for up to 1 month. Keeping it in the fridge will make it go stale much more quickly.
- Leftover sliced pesto babka makes fantastic grilled cheese sandwiches!
This post was originally published on March 29, 2018.