Wild blueberry and almond babka loaf

You’re going to love this deliciously fruity spin on the classic yeasted, sweet bread


Photo: Nassima Rothacker

The babka seemed to have something of a resurgence over lockdown and, of course, it is a well-known staple treat within New York delis. The original recipe is said to have originated in the Jewish communities of Poland and Ukraine.

This type of babka (a sweet braided bread, as opposed to a fluted bundt) was likely taken by the diaspora to Israel, and beyond, establishing itself as a ‘yeast cake filled with chocolate, cinnamon and sometimes fruit’. I was interested to learn that in the early 19th century, challah dough was rolled up with jam and baked as a loaf and that the addition of chocolate and other spices was a much later incarnation.

Some say the word babka comes from the Yiddish bubbeh, also meaning ‘grandmother’. A babka made in this way, of twisted strands of dough baked in a loaf form, is different to my earlier recipes for a more cake-like babka, baked in a bundt tin and reminiscent of a grandmother’s skirt.

Rather than using chocolate, I like to make mine with either a home-made preserve or, in this case, with a wild blueberry preserve. There are Polish and French versions of such a preserve in most supermarkets. Ground almonds add a little additional texture and another layer of flavour, but you could use finely chopped hazelnuts, instead. Poppy seed paste also makes a good alternative filling to jam.

Makes: 1 loaf

Prep: 1 hour (plus 4 – 6 hours rising time)
Bake: 50 minutes

350g plain flour, plus extra for dusting

14g fresh yeast, crumbled (or 7g active dry yeast)

75g caster sugar

75ml lukewarm milk

2 eggs, plus 1 egg yolk, beaten (save the egg white for the glaze)

1 tsp almond extract

Grated zest of 1 orange

1 tsp salt

75g butter, cubed, at room temperature

A little sunflower oil, for greasing

For the filling:

300g wild blueberry preserve or any jam of your choice

50g ground almonds

50g soft light brown sugar

For the streusel:

25g cold butter

40g plain flour

25g caster sugar or soft light brown sugar


  • In a jug, combine 1 tablespoon of the flour with the yeast, 1 tablespoon of the caster sugar and half of the lukewarm milk. Stir with a whisk, then set aside in a warm place for 10–15 minutes.
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the remaining flour with the rest of the caster sugar and mix well. Pour in the yeast mixture and keep mixing. Switch to a dough hook and add the eggs and egg yolk, the rest of the milk, the almond extract and orange zest, and mix well for around 5 minutes. Finally, add the salt, followed by the butter and keep mixing/kneading for at least 10 minutes. It should form a lump of dough.
  • You will need to stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl a couple of times. If the dough is still sticky at this point, add up to 2 tablespoons of extra flour.
  • Brush the inside of a clean bowl with a little oil. Transfer the dough to this bowl and cover with a clean cloth. Leave somewhere warm for at least 2 hours, but ideally 4 hours.
  • When you are ready to bake, line a loaf tin, measuring 30 x 11 x 7cm, with a single sheet of baking paper, so that a little hangs over the long edges.
  • Tip the dough out onto a board sprinkled with a generous amount of flour. Punch the dough to get rid of any air pockets and knead for a couple of minutes. Roll out the dough to a 30 x 20cm. Spread the preserve/jam for the filling all over the dough, leaving a couple of centimetres clear around the edge, then sprinkle over the ground almonds and the brown sugar. Roll the dough into a log, starting from one of the longest edges. Take a sharp knife and cut down the centre of the log, dividing the whole length. You will then have two long pieces and be able to see the filling on the inside.
  • Starting at the top, join the two pieces of dough, then cross them over each other. Keep going, as though you are making a braid. You can trim both ends to neaten them up. Carefully transfer the whole piece of twisted dough into the lined loaf tin. Cover with a clean cloth and chill in the refrigerator for up to 2 hours.
  • Meanwhile, make the streusel topping. Place all the ingredients in a bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the mixture resembles a crumble or a sandy texture.
  • Preheat your oven to 180°C/160°C fan.
  • Brush the top of your loaf with the lightly beaten egg white, then sprinkle over the streusel topping. Bake in the centre of the oven for 50 minutes, checking after 35 minutes to see whether the top looks golden. Once it is golden, cover with foil and continue baking for the remaining time. Remove from the oven and leave the babka to cool in the tin.
  • Serve warm, with a little unsalted butter.

Recipe adapted from: The Sweet Polish Kitchen: A celebration of home baking & nostalgic treats by Ren Behan (Pavilion Books)

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