This is a forgiving, beginner-friendly recipe (using a brioche recipe adapted from Alexandra Stafford), but don’t confuse “no-knead” with “no effort.” Any babka is still a project. Plan accordingly, and you’ll be rewarded with the plushest, lushest, most delicious garlic bread of your life.
- Make the dough at least one day before you want to eat it. Whisk the flour, yeast, salt, and sugar together in a large bowl. Heat the milk and butter until the butter melts and the mixture is steaming hot, but not boiling. (This took about 90 seconds in my microwave.) Meanwhile, whisk the cold water and egg together in another bowl.
- Pour the hot liquids into the cold ones and whisk to combine. The mixture should be lukewarm: around 100ºF on a thermometer, or barely warm to the touch. If it’s too cold, microwave for 30 seconds at a time to warm it up.
- Stir the wet ingredients into the dry with a flexible spatula, scraping and folding until no dry flour remains. You’ll have a sticky, shaggy blob of dough. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and immediately transfer to the refrigerator. Chill for 12 hours or up to two days. The dough won’t double in volume, so don’t freak out if it looks smaller than expected.
- Next, roast some garlic for the filling. (I do this right after I get the dough into the fridge; if you do it on baking day, allow plenty of time for it to cool.) Heat your oven to 375ºF. Remove the excess papery skin from a head of garlic and trim half an inch off the top to expose the cloves. Drizzle a teaspoon of olive oil over the top and rub all over the garlic. Wrap tightly in aluminum foil, place in a small baking dish, and roast until super soft and fragrant, about an hour. Cool completely before using.
- Make the filling right before you roll out the dough. Combine the butter, egg, chopped raw garlic, cheese, and garlic powder in the bowl of a food processor. (If you don’t have a food processor, an immersion blender or regular blender will also do the trick.) Squeeze the roasted garlic cloves out of their skin directly on top. Pulse to combine, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and process for a minute or so until nice and smooth. Transfer to a bowl and fold in the chopped green onion, parsley, lemon zest, and pepper flakes; season with salt to taste. Set aside.
- It’s time to roll. Lightly flour a clean countertop and scrape the dough right onto the flour. Knead gently for a minute or two, just to get a feel for the texture and smooth it out slightly. Pat the dough into a rough rectangle, with the long sides at the top and bottom.
- Now, flour the absolute heck out of everything: countertop, rolling pin, both sides of the dough, and your hands. Be generous—you can brush off the excess later. Roll the dough out into a rectangle that’s 1/4 inch thick and roughly 24 inches on the long side, adding more flour anywhere it sticks. The exact dimensions matter less than the thickness and maintaining a vaguely rectangular shape with the long sides at the top and bottom.
- If there’s lots of flour left on the dough, gently brush it off with the side of your palm or a pastry brush. Dollop the filling evenly across the surface and smooth it out with the back of a spoon or an offset spatula, leaving about 1/4 inch of space at each edge. Lift up the long edge closest to you and start rolling the dough into a log, gently pulling the roll toward your body to tighten it as you go. Continue until it’s all rolled up.
- Your next move depends on the pan(s) you’re using. For two 1-pound loaf pans, trim 2-3 inches off each end and cut the remainder in half; you want two pieces, each slightly longer than a pan. For a 1.5-pound loaf pan, trim 4-5 inches off each end so the middle of the log is, you guessed it, slightly longer than the pan. Reserve the trimmings. Place each log on a sheet of parchment, seam side down, and roll it up tightly. Transfer to the freezer and chill until firm to the touch: 15-20 minutes for shorter logs, 25-30 minutes for longer ones.
- Meanwhile, generously butter your pan(s) and a baking dish large enough to hold the trimmings. Whisk an egg yolk with 1 tablespoon of milk to make the egg wash. Arrange the trimmings in the baking dish however you like, brush with egg wash, and cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel. Set aside.
- Remove your dough log(s) from the freezer and unroll the parchment. Arrange so that the seam faces down, then use the tip of a sharp knife to carefully cut the log in half the long way. Open it up like a book, with the cut sides facing up, and place one cut end on top of its neighbor. Press them together, then twist the two pieces around each other in an “S” shape. Press the other ends together and carefully transfer your beautiful creation to a buttered loaf pan, again with the cut sides facing up. Repeat with the second log if needed.
- Brush the surface with egg wash, cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel, and rest at room temperature until the dough warms up and puffs slightly. This is a really important step: Cold dough snaps as it expands in the oven, but warm dough stretches. You want it to stretch. Allow at least an hour for smaller loaves and up to two for larger ones.
- When you’ve achieved puffiness, it’s finally time to bake. Heat your oven to 375ºF, with a rack in the middle. Brush the babka(s) with more egg wash and rest, uncovered, while the oven heats. Bake for at least 35 minutes (45 for big loaves) then reduce the temperature to 325ºF and bake for 10-20 minutes more. If the top browns too quickly, cover with a piece of foil. There is a lot of butter inside this loaf; when in doubt, another 5 minutes in the oven can’t hurt.
- Cool the babka(s) in the pan for as long as you can stand. Serve in slices if you like, or tear into it with your bare hands—either way, a side of marinara for dipping is strongly encouraged. Should you find yourself with leftovers, they make a truly decadent strata or savory French toast.
A.A. Newton is a Philadelphia-based writer, photographer, and recipe developer.