Growing up, we ordered pizza all the time. Friday night was pizza night: a pepperoni pie and a dozen wings from the only pizza spot in town, Nima’s. And I still order Nima’s when visiting my folks in the Finger Lakes, on nights when Andrew and I don’t feel like being the in-house private chefs for the family.
Now, pizza bread? That was reserved for celebratory occasions. My mom would get frozen pizza dough from the store, roll it up with shredded mozz and pepperoni, bake it, and dip the slices in in warmed sauce out of the jar. It was what we ate every Christmas Eve, and only on Christmas Eve (along with BBQ meatballs, shrimp cocktail, and crudites).
But this year, I realized, “Right, I’m an adult and I can eat pizza bread whenever I want.” So I made it my own, and I took it a little further, as I am wont to do. Though to be fair, this pizza babka isn’t crazy, nor is it super hard. But it is impressive and delicious.
For the babka dough, I adapted Claire Saffitz’s Sour Cream and Chive Roll recipe that the entire internet made for Thanksgiving 2020. And if you haven’t made that dough in its original form, they’re really delicious rolls. To that I added some oregano, some garlic—you know, pizza stuff. Then a simple layer of tomato paste, then shredded whole milk low-moisture mozz, a good dusting of grated Parm, and thinly-sliced pepperoni from the deli case. Don’t go for the pre-sliced pepp in the bag here, get paper-thin big pepperoni rounds. Roll it up, and drench it in garlic butter. What more could you want?
People have been DMing and emailing me about variations on all the recipes so far, which I love. I have not tried other pizza toppings in this babka. My assumption is you could fill it with whatever you want as long as it’s not too wet and rolls flat, so it doesn’t puncture the layers. If you do try another filling in this, like making a vegetarian version, let me know! I’ll update it here.
The way I roll babka is pretty straightforward. Roll it thin, spread your fillings, roll, slice the whole long in half lengthwise, give it a nice twist, and you’re there. Granted, in my tenure at MeMe’s Diner I was rolling out 3 dozen babka, twice a week, for three years, so I’ve had a little practice. But I promise you, it’s not hard. I am not a babka expert, simply someone who has rolled lots of babka, very early in the morning, more times than they would like to count.
With this babka especially, you want to give it a good second proof. After you’ve rolled and formed the dough, put it in the pan and let it really come back up. If it’s underproofed, your babka will be underbaked inside, because it will be too dense.
The babka gets a good coat of garlic butter before it goes in—and as soon as it comes out of—the oven. And as tempting as it will be to slice right into your pizza babka hot out of the oven, give it a bit to come down and come together. Your babka will be better for it, and you’ll be proud of yourself for the self control you demonstrated. Of course, you can eat this before it’s completely room temp, just not when it’s hot. But why risk crushing those beautiful layers you built? A dense, gummy pizza-flavored log is not the look.
Speaking of eating, you’ll need a dipping sauce. For this I lean on the forever-handy Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce, but you don’t really need to follow a recipe. A can of good tomatoes, a stick of butter, an onion cut in half, and salt. Simmer it for a good long time while your babka is baking.
I’ll confess, while testing this recipe I ate half a loaf for lunch and the other half for dinner that night. I didn’t even sit down, I ate it standing at the counter. Kate got a taste. I regret nothing.
1 ⅓ cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons warm whole milk
½ teaspoon yeast
¼ cup sour cream
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons room temp butter
About 4 ounces very thin pepperoni rounds
1 cup shredded mozzarella
3 tablespoons tomato paste
½ cup shredded Parmesan
1 stick butter
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 stick of butter
1 medium onion, peeled and cut in half
In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar, yeast, and warm milk. Set aside for about 5 minutes until it starts to foam.
In the bowl of a stand mixer add the flour, sour cream, salt, garlic powder, oregano, egg, and butter. Add the foaming yeast mixture.
Using the dough hook, mix until a shaggy dough forms then run the mixer on medium-low for about 10 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and has pulled away from the bowl cleanly.
Place the dough in a greased bowl, covered in food wrap, and proof in a warm spot until doubled in size, it took mine about a half hour, it could be longer, the key is doubled in size.
Turn the risen dough out onto a floured surface. Gently form the dough into roughly a 6x8 inch rectangle. Roll the dough out into a 12x16 rectangle.
With an offset spatula, spread the tomato paste in an even thin layer, edge to edge. Sprinkle on the mozzarella in an even layer, then shingle on the pepperoni in an even layer, covering the whole rectangle. Top with the shredded Parmesan.
Starting on the long side, roll the topped dough, tightly, but not too tightly, into a log. Face the log seam-side down. Slice this log lengthwise down the center, revealing the layers of dough and filling. (Because the fillings are dry cheese and meat, some fillings will escape the layers, and that’s ok.)
At one end, cross the two logs on top of each other, in an X. Gently, and working to keep the layers together, braid the two halves together. Continue braiding until both logs are twisted together; about three times. Slide a spatula under the babka, and transfer the braided dough to a greased 9x5 loaf pan. (A long fish spatula is helpful here.)
Cover the pan in food wrap and let the babka proof in a warm spot until the braid has roughly doubled in size, about 35 minutes, again it could be longer you want some real volume gain here.
While the bread is rising, melt the butter. Add the garlic and simmer over medium heat. Let the garlic get nice and fragrant, but don’t let it get brown. Remove from heat and stir in the parsley.
Brush the risen bread with half of the butter mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes. It will be nicely browned and should read around 185 degrees internally when done.
While the bread bakes, simmer the tomatoes, butter, and onion in a medium saucepan.
Immediately after removing from the oven, brush the babka with the remaining butter mixture. Let the babka cool until it’s warm, but not hot, before de-panning and slicing. Serve with warm sauce for dipping.
If you’re feeling down for any reason this week, please watch this video of an elderly fruit bat named Statler and his wonderful life.
I’m going to make this Kung Pao Cauliflower from WooHeng on Food52 this week. You should too.