Recipes·Star Baker

Pesto Babka

Two-time Star Baker Aimee pleases the judges with this savoury take on the babka.

Two-time Star Baker Aimee pleases the judges with this savoury take on the babka

Two-time Star Baker Aimee pleases the judges with this savoury take on the babka. (Geoff George/The Great Canadian Baking Show)

Food historians trace the cake-like babka's roots back to Jewish bakers in Eastern Europe. Its distinctive look is the result of twisting or braiding the dough, which exposes its luxurious filling.

While a babka is typically a sweet bread, this savoury recipe blends in flavours from Italy. Swirls of aromatic pesto weave through the loaf, which can be enjoyed as is or garnished with light ricotta cheese, parmesan crisps, fried basil leaves and edible flowers.

Aimee’s Pesto Babka helped earn her the title of Star Baker during Bread Week in Season 5 of The Great Canadian Baking Show.

Pesto Babka

By Aimee DeCruyenaere



  • ½ cup whole milk
  • 3 tbsp (23 g) plus 1¾ to 2¼ cups (210 to 270 g) bread flour, divided
  • 3 eggs, divided
  • 2 tbsp (25 g) granulated sugar
  • 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1¼ tsp kosher salt
  • 1½ tsp instant yeast
  • 1½ tsp dried basil
  • ⅛ tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp granulated garlic powder
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • ¼ cup (57 g) cold unsalted butter, cubed, plus more at room temperature for greasing pans


  • 1 tightly packed cup (40 g) fresh Italian basil
  • 3 tbsp (27 g) pine nuts, toasted
  • ¼ cup (25 g) grated Parmesan
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2 tbsp (40 g) extra-smooth ricotta
  • Salt, to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Lemon juice, to taste
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup (40 g) drained diced sun-dried tomatoes in oil

Garnishes, optional:

  • Flaky sea salt
  • Finely grated Parmesan
  • Canola or vegetable oil, for frying
  • Fresh Italian basil leaves
  • Calabrian chilies in oil or olive oil
  • Extra-smooth ricotta
  • White edible flowers


Make a tangzhong, also known as a water roux, by combining the milk and 3 tablespoons of bread flour in a medium saucepan and whisking until combined. Place the saucepan over medium heat and cook until the mixture begins to thicken, about 2 minutes. 

Remove the saucepan from the heat and scrape the tangzhong into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add 1¾ cups of bread flour, two eggs, sugar, oil, salt, yeast and spices. Mix on low until the dough is smooth, firm and very elastic, 12 to 15 minutes. If the dough is too slack, add the additional flour, a little at a time, until you have a soft, smooth dough. 

Add half of the cold butter and mix on low speed until the butter pieces have incorporated into the dough, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining cold butter. Increase the speed to medium-low and continue to mix until the dough is extremely elastic, another 10 to 15 minutes.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside to rise in a warm place until it has doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Lightly grease a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan with the room temperature butter. 

Combine all the ingredients but the oil and tomatoes in the bowl of a food processor. Blend until smooth, then slowly stream in the oil while the machine is running. Set aside the sun-dried tomatoes until ready for assembly.

Roll the dough into a 12-inch square, then spread the filling over the whole surface. Sprinkle the sun-dried tomatoes evenly over the filling. 

Roll up the dough into a log, place it seam-side down on your work surface, then cut it in half lengthwise. Turn the halves cut-side up to expose the filling, and pinch two of the ends together. Twist the two halves around each other three or four times, then pinch the loose ends together. Transfer the braided dough to the prepared loaf pan, cut-side up.

Cover the pan tightly with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size, 45 minutes to 1 hour. 

Heat the oven to 350 F. 

Beat the remaining egg in a small bowl and brush it over the risen dough. Sprinkle flaky sea salt on top, if desired. 

Bake in the centre of the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the babka reaches 190 to 200 F, rotating the pan about halfway through. Tent it with foil if it’s browning too quickly.

Garnish, optional:
To make the Parmesan crisps, place 1-teaspoon mounds of grated Parmesan on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 350 F until lightly browned and crisp, 5 to 10 minutes. 

To make the fried basil, place the oil in a small saucepan over medium heat and bring it to 275 to 300 F. Lower the leaves into the oil and fry until crisp and translucent, 5 to 10 seconds. Remove and place on a paper towel.

Brush the babka with chili oil or olive oil, and place three spoonfuls of ricotta on the top of the loaf. Arrange the basil, Parmesan crisps and flowers in the ricotta. 

Makes one 9-by-5-inch loaf