Strawberry Cream Cheese Babka

Recipe by PJ Hamel

Babka, a staple of many Jewish bakeries, is a tender, lightly sweetened yeasted bread that's swirled with filling, topped with streusel, and baked until beautifully golden brown. While cinnamon and chocolate are probably the two most familiar babka fillings, sweetened cream cheese is a close third. Our version of cheese babka adds strawberry and lemon to the filling, creating a vibrant pink swirl throughout the loaf. 

45 mins
55 mins to 1 hr
5 hrs 30 mins
one 9" loaf
Strawberry Cream Cheese Babka  - select to zoom
Strawberry Cream Cheese Babka  - select to zoom
Strawberry Cream Cheese Babka  - select to zoom


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  1. To make the tangzhong: In a medium saucepan set over medium heat, bring the water, butter, sugar, and salt to a boil.  

  2. When the butter is fully melted, add the flour all at once then stir to combine. The mixture will quickly form a ball that follows the spoon or spatula around the pan; this will take just 20 to 30 seconds. 

  3. Remove the pan from the heat and transfer the mixture to a large bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the flat beater attachment; spread it across the bottom of the bowl to help it cool. Let it rest for about 5 minutes uncovered. 

  4. To make the dough: With the mixer running, add the eggs to the lukewarm tangzhong one at a time, making sure the first egg is fully incorporated before adding the second. Beat until the mixture is shiny and quite smooth.  

  5. Weigh your flour; or measure it by gently spooning it into a cup, then sweeping off any excess. Add the flour, water, yeast, and vanilla to the bowl, mixing to form a soft, sticky dough. 

  6. Change to the dough hook and knead for 5 to 7 minutes, until springy. If you’re using a mixer it probably won’t clean the sides of the bowl; that’s OK. Cover the dough and let it rise until it’s nearly doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours. 

  7. To make the filling: In a small bowl, mix all of the ingredients together until smooth. If the cream cheese isn’t soft enough to work with easily, microwave the mixture very briefly, then stir to combine; set aside. 

  8. To make the streusel: In a medium bowl, use your fingers to combine all of the ingredients until the mixture is sandy and crumbs form; some larger, pea-sized pieces are OK. Set it aside.   

  9. To fill and shape the babka: Gently deflate the dough in the bowl, then transfer the dough to a lightly greased surface and roll it into a 9" x 18" rectangle, letting it rest for 5 to 10 minutes if it resists stretching. 

  10. Spread the filling over the surface of the dough, leaving a 1" border bare on all the edges. Starting with a short end, roll the filled dough into a cylinder, sealing the seam and ends as best you can. 

  11. Lightly grease a 9" x 5" loaf pan. Or grease the pan and line it with a loaf pan lifter.  

  12. Using a bench knife or a sharp knife, cut the log in half lengthwise to make two pieces of dough each about 10" long.  

  13. With the exposed filling side up, wrap the two pieces around each other to form a short twist, tucking the ends underneath. Carefully transfer the loaf to the prepared pan. Sprinkle the prepared streusel evenly over the top. 

  14. Let the babka rise, covered, for about 1 1/2 hours, until it’s barely crested over the rim of the pan. Near the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F. 

  15. To bake the babka: Bake the babka for 30 minutes. Lightly cover the top with aluminum foil, and bake for an additional 25 to 30 minutes, until it’s golden brown and the interior measures about 195°F with a digital thermometer

  16. Remove the babka from the oven, and immediately loosen the edges with a heatproof spatula or table knife. Let the babka cool for 10 minutes, then lift it out of the pan onto a rack to cool completely before slicing. 

  17. Storage information: Store the completely cooled babka, well wrapped, at room temperature for several days, or refrigerate it for up to a week. Reheat slices stored in the refrigerator before enjoying. 

Tips from our Bakers

  • This loaf starts with a “super-tangzhong,” one that uses a higher percentage of flour and water than normal and also incorporates egg: think making choux paste for cream puffs. Not only does this technique produce a soft, tender loaf, it helps keep the babka from drying out if you choose to store it in the refrigerator. 

  • While some fruit-flavored cheese babkas start with jam or fresh fruit, we found that this yields a loaf that’s unpleasantly dense and super-moist in the center. We highly recommend keeping the moisture level of the filling down by using freeze-dried strawberries ground into a powder.  

  • The dough for this babka is quite sticky, and can be a challenge to knead by hand. Your bread machine set on the dough cycle is an excellent hands-free choice here. 

  • To make a plain cream cheese babka, omit the 6 tablespoons (26g) freeze-dried strawberry powder from the filling. Also adjust the filling by increasing the confectioners’ sugar to 1 cup (113g), increasing the flour to 3 tablespoons (23g), and adding 1 teaspoon King Arthur Pure Vanilla Extract and 1/4 teaspoon almond extract. Assemble and bake as directed.