Food You Can Eat: Lemon Cheese Babka

No this is not a recipe from John Wick.

I took this picture. Can you tell? Of course you can. This one sucks.

First things first:  Not being of Jewish ancestry, I can’t tell you if this babka is a real babka or not.  My guess, considering that it came from the recipe box of a Midwestern Catholic woman, is that it is not.  Doesn’t matter.  It’s still good.

A caveat before we get started:  I didn’t have any eight-inch pans for this recipe—only nine-inch pans.  So, I asked a neighbor if she had some eight-inch rounds I could borrow.  She said, “sure”, and proceeded to hand me a bunch of nine-inch pans.  So, I had to just go to the store and buy some of those cheap-ass foil pans instead.  The recipe makes two babkas, so I gave her one of them even through she can’t do the most basic measuring in her head.

Here’s what you’ll need:


1 Pkg. Dry Yeast

¼ Cup Sugar

¼ Cup Water, very warm

3 ½ – 4 Cups Flour

¾ tsp. Salt

2 tsp. Lemon Zest, grated

2 Whole Eggs

2 Egg Yolks

⅓ Cup Milk, warm

6 Tbsp. Butter, softened

½ Cup Raisins (optional) absolutely not because raisins are bullshit

Cheese Filling

8 oz. Cream Cheese

½ Cup Cottage Cheese

1 Egg Yolk

¼ Cup Sugar

1 tsp. Lemon Zest, grated

½ tsp. Vanilla

Crumb Topping

⅓ Cup Nuts, chopped

3 Tbsp. Flour

3 Tbsp. Sugar

3 Tbsp. Butter

¼ tsp. Cinnamon

Sprinkle yeast and ½ tsp sugar over very warm water.  Stir and let stand for 10 minutes.

Combine 2 cups flour, salt, 2 tsp. lemon zest and remaining sugar.  Make a well in the middle of flour mixture. 

In a separate bowl, beat eggs and egg yolks together until just combined.  Pour eggs, yeast mixture and milk into well. 

It’s alive! The yeast, I mean.

Stir to combine and then beat well.

Scrape the bowl and then run it again for another minute to make sure all the dry ingredients are mixed in.

Add softened butter gradually.  Stir in more flour—about a ¼ cup at a time until the dough is firm but not dry.  Knead dough until smooth and elastic—about five minutes.  Place into a buttered bowl.  Cover with a damp cloth and let rise until doubled in size—about 1 ½ – 2 hours.

Meanwhile, make the filling.  Beat together both cheeses until smooth.  Beat in egg yolk and sugar.  Stir in lemon zest and vanilla.

Yes, I did lick the paddle. No, I do not regret it.

Combine all topping ingredients until it looks like streusel topping.

Use pecans and literally no other nut in this topping.

When risen, punch down dough and knead in raisins, if using them avoid raisins like the plague that they are. Knead for about a minute.  Divide into four equal parts.  Grease two 8 x 1 ½” round pans and press two dough pieces into bottoms of pans and halfway up the sides.  Spread half the filling over each. 

If I make these again, I’m going to double the filling recipe.

Roll remaining dough pieces into 9” circles.  Place each on top of filling.  Press with your fingertips into dough around the edges to seal. 

Trim the excess dough from the edges before sealing.

Sprinkle half of the topping on each. 

At this point it made sense to give away one of them.

Let rise to tops of pans–about 20 minutes.  Bake in a 350-degree oven for 35-40 minutes.

At this point I started having serious doubts about giving one away and perhaps keeping them both for myself.

Allow to cool long enough to be able to remove from pans to finish cooling.  Drizzle icing or top with powdered sugar.

In the end, I knew Mrs. Butcher would have my head if I ate them both.

Try to avoid eating the whole thing in one sitting.

About butcherbakertoiletrymaker 575 Articles
When you can walk its length, and leave no trace, you will have learned.


  1. I love a good babka! I’ve only made chocolate ones. They’re a pain in the neck but worth every minute of effort. I think they’re more traditionally made in layered rolls and produced as loaves or “wreaths.” The chocolate ones anyway. Here’s my platonic ideal of what they look like, and I assure you mine don’t look anywhere near as good:

    If we have our holiday party this year it’s going fall during Hannukah (we have them at the beginning of December to kick off the holiday season and avoid all the competition from the other, later Christmas parties) and I’ll try to remember to attempt your version. This reminds me that I still have that vanilla fermenting in my closet and now would be a good time to start thinking about bottling some limoncello to add to the stock of my moonshine.

  2. Resident Brooklynite Jew piping up here. This isn’t recognizable as either of the two commonly acknowledged versions of babka: the first is an Eastern European Easter bread/cake often containing dried fruits and iced (think of something along the lines of a panettone or fruit cake). It’s usually either round-ish or baked in a bundt-like cake pan. It’s often also called baba.


    The second and more readily recognizable version is the braided bread (almost always in a loaf form, though I’ve also seen little buns and large rounds or wreaths) originating from Eastern European Ashkenazi Jewish communities. You’ll recognize a good one by the signature swirly pattern on the interior. It’s most commonly available in chocolate, cinnamon, and sometimes cheese variations. [And, yes, the chocolate one is superior, so don’t even bother to show up to a gathering with a cinnamon one, lest you want to be subjected to at least an hour or so of gentle ribbing and comments like “Have you not seen the Seinfeld episode?” Yes, this has happened amongst friend, family, and work groups several times IRL.]

    I’m guessing the name for this recipe comes from an offshoot of folks who lump the term babka onto anything that would loosely describe coffee cake. Nonetheless, it does look delicious.

    For the record, babka requires two rising periods, egg wash, and can be a real pain in the ass to make. I therefore cheat and order it. Here are a couple of recommendations:

    Green’s in Brooklyn (they used to supply Dean & DeLuca before they shuttered, RIP)

    Mekelburg’s in Clinton Hill

    Russ & Daughters do an OK one, but it’s not my favourite

    And whilst Breads Bakery is a terrific place to get bread and pastry, their babka is a dried-out disappointment. The best babka is in Brooklyn, at the first two places above, imho.

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