If you feel the desire for a multiday bread-baking project, but chocolate babkas are too sweet, and crusty sourdoughs, too needy, I’ve got a loaf for you. It’s a savory, ricotta-filled babka that’s absorbing and meditative, but not at all fussy. Simply tearing the warm, garlic-scented bread with your hands will make procuring the yeast and flour well worth the search. And slices make or the best grilled cheese sandwiches, ever.
The difference between this babka dough and other savory bread doughs, like focaccia or pizza dough, is that babka is softer, eggier and a whole lot more buttery. But that same richness means it takes its time to rise, especially if the room is cool.
Your oven with the light turned on is an ideal place to let the dough rise. Or, if that’s filled with yet another banana bread or a big lasagna, pick any warm, draft-free spot.
Think of your bowl of dough like a cat looking for a place to nap, and tuck it away on top of your fridge, in a nook of your couch, on in that bright spot of sunlight on your carpet, wrapped up in a blanket. This first rise could take two or three hours, and the dough might not double in bulk. But it should puff noticeably.
Then, the second rise is best done in the fridge overnight. The long, slow fermentation develops the bread’s flavor. But if you’re in a rush, you can get away with four hours.
As for the filling, it’s a simple and adaptable mix of ricotta spiked with Parmesan, chopped herbs, alliums and optional ham or olives to make it saltier. If you don’t have ricotta, any creamy fresh cheese will work: soft goat cheese, cream cheese or cottage cheese. Just make sure the cheese is at room temperature, or it will be too hard to spread.
Really, the only slightly tricky thing about this babka, if you’ve never made babka before, is shaping it.
There are lots of videos and how-to photos on the internet. But honestly, it doesn’t matter how you shape it. As long as the filling is rolled in the dough, and that dough baked in a pan, it will be fine. With its buttery, Parmesan-speckled crust, it will look gorgeous no matter how it comes out. And it will taste even better.