Recipes with Julie Van Rosendaal: It's always a good time for baking some babka

Hanukkah begins Dec. 10 this year — and that's always a good time to make some babka, and perhaps some sweet and savoury rugelach. 

Hanukkah recipes both sweet and savoury

To make a cinnamon babka, skip the chocolate filling and mix together 1/4 cup very soft butter, 3/4 cup soft brown sugar and about 2 tsp. cinnamon to spread over the dough. (Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC)

Hanukkah begins Dec. 10 this year — and that's always a good time to make some babka, and perhaps some sweet and savoury rugelach.

Babka, which originated in Jewish communities in Poland and Ukraine, is often referred to as a cake, but is made with a yeasted dough, rich with butter, sugar and eggs.

The dough is filled with any number of things — often chocolate or cinnamon-sugar — rolled, cut and twisted and tucked into a loaf pan, often topped with a smattering of streusel.

Babka is easier to make than it looks. Roll out the dough into a square, spread the dough with filling (like chocolate or cinammon), then roll up like a jelly roll, cut in half lengthwise, and twist them up to fit into a loaf pan. (Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC)

Slices reveal a sticky swirl of filling, and though babka isn't quite as gooey as a sticky bun, it's marbled with enough sticky or chocolatey sweetness to make it delicious on its own, without needing butter. 

It looks complicated in all its golden contorted glory, but babka is quite forgiving, and worth the effort if you're looking for a pandemic baking project. And, it's fun to play around with different fillings to make your own custom babka.

Similarly, rugelach (a shaped cookie with Jewish Polish origins) can be sweet or savoury, its buttery cream cheese pastry spread with jam or preserves, tahini, Nutella, cinnamon sugar … and scattered with finely chopped dark chocolate or nuts before cutting into wedges and rolling up, crescent roll-style to bake. 

For savoury rugelach, dial back the sugar and add some grated sharp cheese to the dough. The version below is made with 'everything' bagel spice blend.

Chocolate or Cinnamon Babka

You can put whatever you like into babka, in this case a chocolate filling that bakes up into a rich, dark loaf. (Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC)

This sweet dough is sticky before it has time to rise — resist the urge to add more flour. After a couple hours on the countertop, it will smooth out and be easy to handle. 

To make a cinnamon babka, skip the chocolate filling and mix together 1/4 cup very soft or melted butter, 3/4 cup soft brown sugar and about 2 tsp. cinnamon to spread over the dough. For Nutella babka, spread the dough with Nutella instead of the chocolate paste. 

If you want a streusel topping, mix 1/3 cup each flour and brown sugar with 2-3 Tbsp. soft butter, and scatter the crumble over the bread before baking. 

As it bakes, you can cover it loosely with a piece of foil if it's getting too dark.


3/4 cup milk, warmed

2 tsp. active (or instant) dry yeast 

1/2 cup sugar

3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting

1/2 cup butter, cut into pieces and softened

2 large eggs

1 tsp. vanilla

1 tsp. salt

Chocolate filling:

1/4 cup butter

6 oz. dark or semi-sweet chocolate, chopped

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1/4 cup cocoa

1 egg, lightly beaten

Put the milk into a large bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer) and sprinkle it with the yeast and a pinch of sugar. Let stand for a few minutes, until it gets foamy. Add the flour along with the remaining sugar, butter, eggs, vanilla and salt and stir or beat with the dough hook attachment of your stand mixer until you have a sticky, smooth-ish dough. (It should be very soft and tacky.) Shape into a ball, place in the bowl, cover with a tea towel and set aside for a couple of hours.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter and chopped chocolate over medium heat, stirring until smooth. Remove from the heat and stir in the brown sugar and cocoa; the mixture will have the consistency of thick paste. (Alternatively, use Nutella!)

Line two 4x8-inch loaf pans with parchment. Divide the dough in half — it won't have raised a huge amount — and on a lightly floured surface, roll each piece into a square or rectangle that's about 12x14 inches. 

Top a babka of any flavour with a streusel topping for extra crunch. (Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC)

Spread each piece with half the chocolate mixture. Starting at a long side, roll-up jelly roll style. (If you like, stick the rolls in the fridge or freezer for 15 minutes to make them easier to handle.)

Cut each log in half lengthwise, and for each loaf lay the two pieces side by side and pinch them together at the top to join, then alternate the pieces back and forth over each other, like braiding, but with only two. 

Tuck into the baking pan, ends tucked down. If it's really long, you can fold the twisted roll in half to make it fit. Don't worry about it being perfect.

Cover and let rise for another hour, and preheat the oven to 350˚F. Brush the tops of the loaves with beaten egg and bake for about 45 minutes, or until deep golden. (Some recipes say the bottoms should sound hollow when tapped, but I find the dough is too dense and loaded with chocolate for this to be an accurate gauge.) Makes two loaves.

Sweet Rugelach

To make the Rugelach crescents, cut a round of dough into four pieces, then cut each into three. Roll each long triangle into a crescent shape. (Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC)

The beauty of rugelach (besides them being super satisfying to make, and fancy without need for decoration), is that they're infinitely customizable: you could spread the dough with virtually any kind of jam or preserves, or Nutella, tahini—rummage through your cupboards, and use your imagination! This is also an ideal recipe if you're baking with a few kids—you can let each roll and customize their own portion of dough. If I use tahini, which is unsweetened sesame seed paste (and delicious paired with chocolate!) I spread it thinly and sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar before topping with chopped dark chocolate and/or nuts.


1 cup butter, at room temperature

1 8-oz. pkg cream cheese, at room temperature

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 tsp salt

2 cups all-purpose flour

For Filling:

1/2 cup apricot jam, marmalade or other preserves, or Nutella or tahini

cinnamon-sugar (optional)

1/4-1/2 cup finely chopped dark chocolate and/or nuts


In a large bowl, beat the butter, cream cheese, sugar and salt until smooth and creamy; add the flour and beat on low speed until you have a soft dough.

Divide the dough into quarters and let rest for 10 minutes, or wrap and refrigerate for an hour, or overnight. When you're ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350˚F. 

On a lightly floured surface, roll each piece out into a 10-inch circle. Spread with jam, tahini or other preserves. In a small bowl, stir together the sugar and cinnamon, and sprinkle about 1 Tbsp. overtop (you can skip this if you're using sweet jam). Sprinkle with the chopped chocolate and/or nuts. (Resist loading on too much, so the filling doesn't spill out.)

Cut the circle into quarters, and then each quarter into three, making 12 wedges. Roll each one up like a croissant, and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Make for 15-20 minutes, or until golden. Makes 4 dozen rugelach.

Savoury Everything Bagel & Cheddar Rugelach

Make your own 'everything' spice blend with a combination of sesame seeds, poppyseeds, salt, dehydrated garlic and onion. (Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC)

If you can't find an everything bagel blend, you can make your own—it's typically a combination of sesame and poppyseeds, salt, dehydrated garlic and onion, and sometimes nigella seeds and/or caraway. 

1/2 cup butter, at room temperature

1/2 pkg (4-oz.) cream cheese

1/2-1 cup grated extra-old cheddar or Gouda 

1 egg yolk

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 tsp salt

everything bagel seasoning blend

grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

beaten egg, for brushing (optional)

In a large bowl, beat the butter and cream cheese until well-blended and smooth. Add the cheddar, egg yolk, flour and salt and beat on low speed with the paddle attachment of your stand mixer or stir by hand until the dough comes together. Turn it out onto the countertop and knead a few times, then divide in half, shaping each half into a disc, and let sit for 20 minutes.

When you're ready to bake, preheat your oven to 350˚F. 

On a lightly floured surface, roll each piece of dough out into about a 12-inch circle (the dough should be about 1/8-inch thick). Sprinkle with 'everything' bagel seasoning and Parmesan (if you like) and roll gently so that it adheres to the dough (and sinks into it a bit).

Cut each circle into quarters, then cut each quarter into three wedges, making 12 wedges out of each disc. Roll each wedge up like a crescent roll and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. If you like, brush with a little beaten egg or cream (which will make it more golden and glossy) and sprinkle with a bit more of the everything bagel blend.

Make for 15-20 minutes, or until golden and set. Makes two dozen rugelach.