By now, most of you have read about the pizza babka (some of you even subscribed just for that recipe). I mean, I get it! And that’s why, when I did a pop-up at Winner in Brooklyn a few weeks ago, I put these pizza babka muffins on the menu. The folks over at Winner are great to work with, which made it a really fun week being back in a kitchen. Getting to rework the pizza babka (this one is individual-sized and filled with caramelized onions, spinach, and pepperoncini) was a bonus. As it turns out, I liked the vegetarian pizza babka more than the pepperoni version!
The individual “babka muffins” were something we started doing at MeMe’s Diner, with the Everything Bagel Babka. Back in 2018, Hannah Goldfield wrote in The New Yorker, “The Everything Bagel Babka looks more like a popover—but who are we to say what babka is supposed to look like? What matters is that it’s absolutely delicious…” and I guess I took that to heart. I’ll always love a little babka knot baked in a muffin tin; you still get the textures and twist of the big loaf, but it’s easier to share or take to-go.
For these pizza babkas, I upgraded to a large muffin tin. If you’ve already made my Cocoa Brioche Morning Buns, then you probably already have one. And if you’re on the fence about owning a large muffin tin, Kendra Vaculin at Epicurious wrote about all the other ways you can use one. (Hello, baby meatloaves!)
Spray the heck out of the tins with pan spray or you’ll end up with a babka mess. And I know I’ve talked about this before, but don’t focus on the time I give in the recipe when you’re proofing. The yeast you use, and your location, and the weather can make a big difference. Just go by what you see, not what the clock says.
Also, when you pull the babka muffins out of the oven, let them cool just enough in the tin to hold together, about 5 minutes or less. Gently pop them out and finish cooling on a wire rack. Leave them in the tin any longer than 5 minutes and they’ll start to steam, and the lovely crust and caramelized cheese on the outside of the muffin will be ruined. I mean, at home, I couldn’t even wait for them to cool before breaking one open.
You can fill these babka muffins with whatever you want; just make sure there isn't too much moisture. Using a clean kitchen towel, I pressed as much water out of the thawed frozen spinach as possible. I also pressed some liquid from my pepperoncini and cooked my onions down until they were a jam-like texture. I always love seeing when people riff on my recipes. Let me know if you do!
I made my first video to go with these, if you need help on how to do the twist into the muffin tin. Substack won’t let me embed a Reel/TikTok, but you can watch it here.
Veggie Pizza Babka Muffins
For the Dough
1 ⅓ cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons warm whole milk
½ teaspoon yeast
¼ cup sour cream
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons room temp unsalted butter
For the Filling
1 cup shredded mozzarella
3 tablespoons can tomato paste
¼ cup shredded Parmesan
½ cup banana peppers, lightly squeezed to remove moisture
1 cup frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed of all possible water
½ cup caramelized onions
Pinch of red pepper flake
For the Garlic Butter
1 stick unsalted butter
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
For the Sauce
28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 stick of unsalted 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, 45 minutes-ish but go by volume not by time.
Turn the risen dough out onto a floured surface. Gently form the dough into a rough 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 the parm, banana peppers, spinach and caramelized onions, covering the whole rectangle.
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. (some fillings will escape the layers, and that’s ok.) Cut each half into 3 equal segments.
Grease a large 6 cup muffin tin with pan spray. Twist each segment and nestle into the muffin tin. Free style is fine here. Make sure the tin is well greased.
Cover the pan in a damp towel and let the babka proof in a warm spot until the muffins have roughly doubled in size, about 1 hour (Go by size not time).
While the muffins are 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 muffins with half of the butter mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes. They will be nicely browned and should read around 185 degrees internally when done.
While the muffins bake, make the sauce: 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 in the pan for 5 minutes, gently depan and finish cooling on a rack. If fully cooled in the tin, the muffins will steam themselves and lose their nice crust. Serve with warm sauce.
This week in “I’m Obsessed With This Cake,” we have Horoscope Cakes, based in Milwaukee. When Tara O’Brady posted them in her IG Story yesterday I turned to Andrew and said, “Well, there’s our wedding cake.” (He agreed.)
I guess I can finally announce this! I’m back in a restaurant kitchen, as of right now. This weekend is the start of a season-long residency at Nor’East Beer Garden in Provincetown, MA—a collaboration with my friend Dori Santos. We spent the dark months of last winter creating a menu that speaks to our love of Ptown, and our respective food memories of summer. I’m particularly excited about the brand-new ice cream machine at Nor’East. I’ll be making rotating flavors all summer, starting with Narragansett ice cream (to serve alongside fried Portuguese flippers) and Atlantic Beach Pie ice cream. If you’re visiting the Cape this season, I’d love to see you. Here’s our opening menu: