Pretty to look at and even better to eat, this Easter Cream Cheese Babka has all the spring colors for a festive treat. Rich brioche dough is spread with pastel colored sweetened cream cheese, then rolled and twisted into a traditional babka shape. Baked until golden brown and brushed with sugar syrup, this babka is the perfect addition to your Easter brunch.
Making and coloring the cream cheese filling
Start the filling for the Easter cream cheese babka before making the dough so it can chill while the dough rises. Use softened cream cheese so you don't end up with lumps of cream cheese in your filling.
Combine all the cream cheese filling ingredients together and beat with a stand mixer or electric mixer until smooth and creamy.
Divide the filling between 4 small bowls, a little more than ⅓ cup in each bowl. I like to use gel food coloring like this one as it's easier to control how saturated the color is. Feel free to use whatever you have on hand.
Start with the smallest amount possible of each color and stir it well, adjusting the color as needed with more food coloring until you reach your desired color.
I went with pastels for Easter but you can easily adjust the colors for any holiday or special occasion. Chill the bowls of cream cheese until the dough is ready to fill.
Tips for perfect babka dough
While babka can seem intimidating with those intricate swirls, it's not as hard as it seems! Follow the tips below for an approachable way to make babka.
- Proof your yeast- Babka dough uses yeast so before you make the dough, make sure your yeast is alive and foamy. To read more about proofing yeast, see this post.
- Use very soft butter- Once the dough has come together it gets enriched with butter...lots of butter! To make sure the butter is incorporated easily, use very soft butter. You should be able to push your finger through the stick of butter with little to no resistance. If the butter is too cold, microwave it in 5-10 second increments on half power being careful not to melt it.
- Refrigerate the dough if it's too warm- If the dough feels too warm after the first rise, refrigerate it for about 30 minutes. Just cover it up in the bowl it rose in. This will make it easier to roll and shape it.
How to fill and shape babka
Using one half of the dough at a time, roll it into a 12 x 16 inch rectangle. Score the dough lightly with a knife to mark lines to spread the cream cheese in. Make sure not to cut through the dough! Measure every 3 inches and mark a line horizontally in the dough.
Spread one color of cream cheese in between each line, leaving a small border at the top edge of the top color.
Starting with the bottom long edge, tightly roll the dough into a log, pinching the seam slightly to seal the edge. Trim off about an inch from each end. Reorient the log to face lengthwise from you. Using a sharp knife, slice in half lengthwise and face the layers pointing up. Twist the 2 halves around each other creating your final babka dough.
Carefully transfer each babka to a loaf pan lined with parchment paper squishing it at the ends to fit if needed. The dough will need another hour to do a second rise so cover the loaf pan with plastic wrap and let sit in a warm place for about an hour.
How to freeze babka
When the babka has cooled, wrap it in a layer of plastic wrap, a layer of foil and then place it in a zip-top bag and freeze it. It will last for 1-2 months in the freezer.
Place it in the refrigerator the night before you will want to serve it to allow it to defrost. The babka slices are delicious toasted in a toaster or warmed in a microwave.
Because the babka has a generous amount of cream cheese, it's best to refrigerate the babka. Wrap it in plastic wrap or foil and refrigerate for 4-5 days.
You can toast it to warm it up or pop it in the microwave for a few seconds.
Yes, if you only have instant yeast, just skip the proofing part of the recipe and add the yeast to the dry ingredients of the dough. Continue with the recipe as written.
Make the babka dough as described above. Instead of letting the dough rise the first time, transfer the covered bowl of dough to the refrigerator overnight.
It will rise overnight in the fridge and then you can proceed with the shaping and assembling steps. You will still let it do the second rise in the loaf pan before baking.
While it's much easier to use a stand mixer with a dough hook, you can make the dough by hand-just be prepared for a work out! Proceed with the recipe as written but use your hands to knead the dough. The kneading times will increase when making it by hand.
Once it's time to add the butter, make sure the butter is very soft. A bench scraper like this one or a dough scraper like this one can come in handy to help incorporate the butter into the dough as it gets really sticky.
You may think this is an unnecessary step, but don't skip it! The sugar syrup gives the babka a beautiful sheen and helps increase the moisture in the dough. Divide the syrup between the two loaves and use it all.
This Easter cream cheese babka is sure to be a hit with kids and adults alike on your brunch table. Enjoy!
For more babka recipes, check out:
Tag me on Instagram @themarblekitchenblog if you make this and leave a star rating and comment below! Thanks and enjoy!
Easter Cream Cheese Babka
Cream Cheese Filling
- 12 oz cream cheese softened
- ¾ cup sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- ½ tsp almond extract
- 4 colors of food coloring
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- ⅓ cup sugar + 1 tsp sugar divided
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1 pkg active dry yeast about 2 ¼ tsp
- 1 cup milk warmed to about 100-110 degrees
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 10 tbsp unsalted butter very soft and cubed
- ¼ cup sugar
- ¼ cup water
Cream Cheese Filling
- Combine the cream cheese, sugar and extracts in a bowl and beat using an electric mixer until combined. Set aside until ready to fill the dough.
- Divide the cream cheese filling evenly between 4 bowls. Color each bowl your desired color. I used pastel colors for Easter.
- Whisk together flour, ⅓ cup of sugar and salt in a bowl. Warm milk in the microwave for about 45 seconds or until a thermometer reads 100 to 110 degrees. Add the milk and 1 tsp sugar to the bowl of a stand mixer fit with a dough hook. Sprinkle the yeast over the milk and stir to combine. Let stand for about 5 minutes until the yeast starts to foam.
- Add eggs, vanilla, flour, sugar and salt to the yeast mixture. Mix on low speed until combined and then increase speed to medium low and mix for about 5 minutes until the dough is smooth.
- Add the softened butter by the tablespoon and mix on medium low about 4 minutes until butter is incorporated and dough comes together but is sticky. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed during mixing.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for 1 to 1 ½ hours until the dough is about doubled (or let rise in the refrigerator overnight). Punch down the dough and scrape out onto your surface. Divide the dough into 2 halves and shape into a rectangle. Wrap each disc in plastic wrap and left refrigerate for 30 minutes to firm up the dough before rolling it out.
- Once chilled slightly, starting with one disc, roll the dough out on a floured surface to a 12 x 16 rectangle. Use a knife to lightly score the dough in half horizontally and then again on each half horizontally. (Do not cut through the dough! This is just a visual to spread each color of cream cheese inside the lines). You’ll have 4 long rectangles. Spread one color of cream cheese mixture in each of the 4 rectangles leaving a small ¼ inch border on the top edge of the top color. See the pictures above!
- Starting with the long side without the border, roll the dough into a tight log.
- Trim off about an inch from each side. Slice the dough down the middle lengthwise into 2 long halves with the layers exposed. Place the end of one of the halves over the top of the other half, pressing together lightly (see pictures above) and then braid the 2 pieces over one another to the bottom, again pressing together lightly. Repeat the last 2 steps with the other dough disc.
- Line two, 9 x 5 loaf pans with parchment paper leaving an overhang on the long sides. Carefully place the braided dough into each loaf pan, squeezing the ends slightly to fit if needed. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for an hour.
- Bake at 350 degrees for about 30-40 minutes or until golden brown and a tester comes out clean. You can also test it with an instant read thermometer. It should be about 185-190 degrees when done. If the top is browning too much, place a sheet of foil over it to allow it to cook through without the top burning. Immediately after taking out of the oven, brush each loaf with half the sugar syrup, using it all.
- Cool a few minutes in the loaf pan and then transfer the babka using the parchment paper to a wire rack to cool completely.
- Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan and stir, cooking on medium high until the sugar is dissolved. Set aside to cool.
- Check out the post for detailed pictures on how to spread the cream cheese and twist the babka.
- After cooling the babka completely, wrap it in plastic wrap or foil. It should be stored in the refrigerator due to the cream cheese. It will keep for about 5 days. Warm it in the microwave or toast it in a toaster if desired.
- Freeze the babka loaf by wrapping it in a layer of plastic wrap, then foil and then placing it in a zip-top bag. The babka will keep for 1-2 months in the freezer. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator.
- To make the dough over 2 days, instead of the first rise, place it into the refrigerator overnight and then proceed with the recipe the next day.