During the height of grocery shortages and banana baking frenzy of 2020, my husband suggested I try making a banana babka. I thought about his idea, considered slicing bananas, tossing them with cinnamon sugar for a filling in a plain babka, but I don’t personally love the taste of roasted bananas. It wasn’t until I saw this banana nutella roll recipe, which was based on this yeasted banana bread recipe, that I began playing with the idea of using the banana IN the dough. I finally gave it a go and… just, wow.
One thing: this is going to be a sticky dough that is not very easy to work with. I’m sorry! It will work out though, you’ll see the dough rise nicely twice, and it will be difficult to roll out and spread the filling over. Feel free to liberally use flour when you do. The result is absolutely worth it: it’s SO soft and tender!
And that filling? Oh my. It’s cinnamon roll filling and combined with the banana it tastes like banana french toast – it’s incredible.
The dough itself is not like a traditional chocolate babka or a challah due to the added banana and lack of eggs. I call it a babka because of how it is shaped; according to My Jewish Learning, “In its most traditional form, babka is made by twisting a yeast-based dough swathed in different fillings around itself into a tortuous loaf that is baked at medium heat for around an hour.” There is truly nothing like that amazing twist that is signature to babka, a bread that originated in Eastern European Jewish communities: “in the early 1800s, when housewives would spread extra challah dough with jam or cinnamon, roll it up, and bake it alongside the bread,” (Food52). With the cinnamon filling, I couldn’t think to call it anything else without honoring the origins of the idea.
How to make Cinnamon Banana Babka
Make the dough: prove the yeast, throw everything into a bowl and let the dough hook do the work.
Sleep: no seriously, the dough needs to rise overnight in the fridge. It’ll be impossible to work with unless it’s cold!
Make the filling: very similar to a cinnamon roll filling.
Shape the dough: like a cinnamon roll but with two logs and a twist.
Ingredients for Cinnamon Banana Babka
Bananas: Ripe & brown! The kind of bananas you’d use for banana bread.
Bread flour: A flour that’s got a higher protein content, so at least 11% will yield a chewier bread. If you can’t find it use all purpose but get one with a higher protein content.
Sugar: granulated sugar. I don’t like using brown sugar in my doughs because it doesn’t always dissolve well.
Yeast: fast acting or instant yeast. If you use active dry add ¼ teaspoon more. I dissolve both types of yeast in milk before adding to the dough.
Canola oil: You can also use any neutral tasting oil like grapeseed or vegetable.
Milk: whole milk or 2% at least. The milk makes the bread very tender.
Salt & vanilla: I always add both to my doughs to give it flavor. Don’t skip the salt.
Butter: This is for the filling and you can either brown it or melt it (see below in FAQ).
Brown sugar: Light or dark is fine. You could use granulated as well but you’ll miss that caramel-like flavor.
Turbinado sugar: Raw sugar, I love this sugar here. It gives a really nice crunchy top to the bread which contrasts so well with the gooey filling and soft bread. If you can’t find it you can just skip it.
Eggwash: If you don’t want to crack an egg just for the egg wash you can brush on heavy cream or milk. This will help the turbinado sugar adhere to the dough and give it a nice shiny top.
FAQ for Cinnamon Banana Babka
Sam, this dough is ridiculously sticky. I hate it.
I know! It was annoying even for me to work with and I’m used to sticky doughs. You can add a bit more flour to the mixer when the dough is kneading. And while rolling, feel free to use as much flour as you need (but don’t over do it). Remember: sticky dough = supersoft bread.
Can I brown the butter for the filling? Also how do I brown butter?
Yes. You’ll want to brown a bit more than listed because a lot of moisture evaporates. So for the ⅔ cup listed you’ll want to brown around 1 cup, and measure after its browned. To brown: In a saucepan, melt the butter on low. Cook it as it sputters and spits and once it goes a bit silent and you see bits of brown, transfer it to a heatproof bowl. Let it cool a bit before you add the sugar.
Can I halve the recipe to make just one loaf?
Yes. It won’t change much – just half of everything below. For the yeast go with a slightly heaped teaspoon.
Can I make this babka recipe into cinnamon rolls?
Yes, once the dough is in a log, slice them and place in a prepared 13×9” cake pan. Bake time will be 350 F for about 25 minutes – go by eye.
Can I make this all the night before and bake the next day?
I think you could but the rolls should come to room temperature before you bake them. And make sure they are ready, even at room temperature: do the press check. Does the dough hold an indentation? Then it’s okay to go into the oven. If not, give it more time to rise.
Cinnamon Banana Babka Recipe
Yeasted banana bread swirled with a cinnamon sugar filling.
1/2cupbutter113g, either melted or browned (if browned, measure after browning see notes up top)
½teaspoonfine sea salt
1teaspoonpure vanilla extract
The night before, make the dough:
Heat the milk so it’s lukewarm and add the yeast to it, stir and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, add the rest of the dough ingredients and the milk & yeast mixture. Turn the mixer on low for a couple of minutes, then to medium and knead for a full ten minutes. The dough will be very sticky at first but it will start to come together a bit more toward the end of the ten minutes. Transfer the dough to a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set in the fridge overnight.
The next morning:
Remove the dough from the fridge and let it sit at room temperature until it doubles in size, about 30-50 minutes depending on the temperature of your kitchen. It should still be a bit cold when you start working with it.
Make the filling by first browning or melting the butter, then stirring the sugar, cinnamon, salt and vanilla. If you’ve browned the butter and the mixture is quite hot, set it in the freezer to cool for 5-10 minutes.
Prepare two loaf pans by greasing and lining them with a parchment sling. Use metal clips to hold the parchment in place if you have them.
Divide the dough into two equal halves. Set one aside, sprinkle some flour over it so it doesn’t dry out.
Roll out the first half to about 16×10 inches. Spread half of the filing over the dough, leaving a 1 inch border on one of the shorter sides. Roll up the dough from the other short side into a log then, using a sharp knife, slice it in half lengthwise. Twist the two halves around each other and place in prepared pan. Repeat with second half. Set the pans in a warm area and let rise until puffy. Preheat the oven to 350 F. The loaves are ready for the oven when the dough is pressed and the indentation doesn’t spring back very quickly (about an hour). Brush with eggwash and sprinkle with turbinado sugar.
Bake the loaves for about 40 minutes, covering with foil if they are browning too quickly. To know if your bread is fully baked in the center use an oven thermometer, it should register 190 F.