I first had the idea for Strawberry Rhubarb Babka way back at Christmastime, when I made this traditional Chocolate Babka. I knew the sweet-tart flavour of a strawberry rhubarb compote would pair exceptionally well with the buttery brioche, and that this would make a really lavish addition to a brunch table for Mother’s Day. Yes, this Babka is a fair amount of work, but Mom is worth it!
Speaking of Moms, I was super nostalgic when I got up to make my brioche for this babka at 6am the other day. (Don’t worry, you don’t need to do it at 6am! My personal preference is to bake super early). I had a flashback to when I used to sell bomboloni in Halifax a couple years ago (the original Sweet & Savary!) and making dough early in the morning was routine. Then every Saturday morning at 5am Mom would meet me at my commercial kitchen to help fill, package, and transport 350 Boms which we’d have ready to sell by 7am (and be sold out of by 10am!). Here we are setting up on our very first time at the market:
All morning long it was organized chaos, Mom and I working around each other in my tiny kitchen as if we were choreographed. And then, my absolute favourite time of the day: we had made it to the market, the table was decorated, signage displayed, Boms piled high on their pretty cake plates, the sun just rising outside over the Halifax Harbour, and Mom and I were finally able to take a breath. One of us would pop over to the local coffee vendor a few tables away for two large coffees. There was a (brief) moment of quiet before the customers started lining up, so we’d enjoy our coffee together, finally getting a chance to have a real conversation.
Mom never asked me for anything in return for all of her 5am help and I couldn’t have done it without her. (And a special shout out to my Dad for letting me have her all those Saturdays!) So hug your Mom today. She’d do anything for you!
Happy Mother’s Day to all of the incredible Moms I know xoxox
A few notes about this recipe:
The compote is runny. It’s going to ooze out when you roll up the babka. This is ok. I’ve found that it doesn’t matter what the babka looks like before you bake it; it will rise up in the oven and become a gorgeous golden mass of swirls and curves.
Also, placing the dough in the freezer in 5 minute intervals between each step of the process of assembling makes handling the dough much easier. Take your time and don’t skip this step.
You’ll have extra compote – I like to spread it on slices of the babka for an extra kick of tangy-sweet flavour. Or add it to vanilla ice cream. Or eat it with a spoon. However you like.
Buttery Brioche absorbs the sweet tanginess of a strawberry rhubarb compote, resulting in a tender loaf of swirled deliciousness.
- 3 1/4 C BREAD flour, plus more as needed
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 5 Tbsp sugar
- 1 Packet Instant Yeast
- 4 eggs
- 6 Tbsp Water, plus more as needed
- 14 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into half inch pieces
- 4 Cups Rhubarb, small dice
- 3 Cups Strawberries, small dice
- 6 Tbsp Sugar
- 2 Tsp Vanilla Extract
- 1 1/2 Tsp Cornstarch, mixed with 1 Tsp Water
- 1/3 cup water
- 6 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 3 Tbsp Reserved Rhubarb Compote
- Add bread flour, salt, sugar and yeast to the bowl of your electric mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low for 10 seconds. Combine the eggs and water (no need to beat the eggs) and add to the dry ingredients. Mix on low until dough stiffens and paddle struggles a bit, about 20 seconds. Switch to dough hook, and mix on speed 2 until everything comes together and dough is smooth, about 5-7 minutes. (If after a couple of minutes there are still dry spots in the dough, add a 1/2 tsp of water at a time until dough is no longer dry) After 5-7 minutes the dough won’t be completely elastic, but it should be on the smooth side and not lumpy. If it isn’t there yet, keep kneading it with the dough hook on speed 2 until it smooths out. It shouldn't feel wet or sticky, but should feel cold and sufficiently hydrated. If it is still too dry or stiff, add a 1/2 tsp of water and continue mixing until you get the right consistency.
- With the dough hook still attached, add the butter, one piece at a time, one right after the other, mixing on speed 2. Once all the butter is added, stop the mixer and scrape the dough into the center. Continue this process of mixing and scraping until the dough starts to come together. If you aren’t able to get the hook to ‘grab’ the dough, sprinkle a teaspoon of flour over it. You can also switch back to the paddle and give it a good beating on speed 4 or 5 for 10 seconds, just to help things along - the dough will look almost cake batter-like. Switch back to the dough hook and let the dough knead at speed 2 for 8-10 minutes. You will know it is done when the sides of the mixing bowl are completely clean. (This may seem like it will never happen, but just keep mixing! Again, you can add a tsp of flour at a time to get the hook to ‘grab’ the dough if it isn't kneading properly. Stop the mixer to scrap the sides occasionally and it will eventually all come together.)
- When the sides of the bowl are clean and the dough has become very smooth and elastic, turn it out onto your clean counter (not floured), divide into two pieces and form each into a tight ball. Place them on a cookie sheet that has been lined with parchment and sprayed with non stick cooking spray. Wrap the sheet in plastic wrap, then press down on the balls to flatten them slightly. Put the sheet pan in the fridge overnight, and make the compote before proceeding.
- Place the strawberries, rhubarb, sugar and vanilla in a medium sauce pan. Heat over medium heat until the fruit breaks down, then add the corn starch and water mixture and simmer until thickened, about 20 minutes.
- Spray the insides of two loaf pans with non stick spray. Line each with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on each side so you can easily lift out the babka.
- Working with one ball of brioche at at time (leave the other refrigerated), place a ball onto your well-floured counter. Sprinkle the top of the dough with flour as well. Remember, the dough won’t roll out if it’s stuck to the counter, so make sure you add more as needed. Roll the dough out into a large rectangle, about 18” by 12”. Run your hand over the dough to feel that it is the same thickness all over and try to keep it even. Place the dough rectangle in the freezer for 5 minutes to make the next steps easier.
- Remove the dough from the freezer and place it onto a rectangle of parchment paper, then spread 1 cup of compote over the dough using an offset spatula. Starting at the end closest to you, roll the dough away from you into a log, ending with the seam side down. Some compote will ooze out - that's ok. Transfer the log and parchment paper to a sheet pan, and place it in the freezer while you repeat the previous steps with the second piece of dough.
- Remove first dough from the freezer and slice it clean in half down the middle (the opposite of how you would cut cinnamon rolls) so you have two long pieces with the filling exposed. Pinch the ends together on one end, and braid the two pieces together by wrapping one over the other, keeping the filling pointing up. Pinch the ends together. If the babka is still stiff enough (from being in the freezer) proceed to next step. If it has softened too much, put it back in the freezer for 5 minutes, then proceed.
- Put the braided brioche into your loaf pan - it will be longer than your pan, so put it in an ’S’ shape, tucking the end in. Repeat with the second brioche from the freezer. At this point, the loaves can be well-wrapped and frozen for up to 6 weeks. Remove to the fridge to defrost overnight, then proceed with next steps.
- Cover both pans with plastic wrap and leave in a warm place for about 1.5 hours to rise. Make the syrup during this time.
- Place the water and sugar in a small sauce pan and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and stir in reserved 3 Tbsp of compote. Set aside to cool.
- Preheat oven to 375. Remove plastic wrap and bake the babkas for about 45-55 minutes, until they are puffed and brown, a skewer comes out clean (there will be no rubbery resistance when you insert it) and, if you were to tap on the bottom of the loaf, it will sound hollow. The internal temperature will be between 195-210. If the babkas are getting too brown, you can cover them with tinfoil until they are finished baking. The compote tends to brown quickly, so keep an eye that it isn't burning.
- Remove from the oven and immediately brush with the strawberry rhubarb simple syrup. Use half for each loaf, and make sure you use it all.
- Allow to cool for 10 minutes in loaf pans, then remove to cool completely. Babka is best the same day, but is good for 2 days if well wrapped. It freezes excellently. Try toasting a piece or, if you dare, make some french toast with it.