Suggested fillings: 1 to 1 1/2 cups chocolate fillingcinnamon sugar, or other filling of your choice
For the Sugar Syrup
For the dough: Place the yeast and ½ teaspoon sugar in a small bowl. Add the lukewarm water and stir gently to mix. Set aside until foamy, 5 to 10 minutes. In a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, mix together the flour, ⅓ cup sugar, and 2 teaspoons vanilla.
Scald the milk: In a medium saucepan, scald the milk (bring almost to a boil, until milk is just simmering). Allow to sit for 1 minute to cool just slightly.
Mix: With mixer on low, add the water-yeast mixture, milk, and melted butter. Add the eggs one at a time.
Mix on high: When the dough begins to come together, after 2 to 3 minutes, turn off the mixer and scrape down the sides. Raise the speed to high and mix for another 5 to 10 minutes until the dough is shiny, elastic, and smooth. It may seem like a long time to mix, but the result is worth the wait.
Rise: Place dough in a greased bowl with a damp towel on top. Allow to rise 1 to 2 hours.
Make the sugar syrup while the dough is rising: Combine the water, sugar, and vanilla in a small saucepan. Bring to a low boil until the sugar has dissolved. Set aside and cool. This syrup can be kept in the fridge for 2 to 3 months and makes enough for at least 2 batches of babka (6 medium babkas).
Loaf pans: Prepare three 8 ½-by-4 ½-inch greased loaf pans. Note: you can also make two larger round babkas that can be baked on baking sheets.
Roll out dough: Cut the dough into three equal parts (use a food scale for precision). Roll out one part into a rectangle. Spread one-third of the filling onto the rectangle and roll up along the shorter side (to create swirls inside).
Cut dough: Once the dough is formed into a swirled log, cut it straight down the middle so the filling is exposed.
Trim dough: Cut ½ inch off each end so they are even.
Layer dough: Layer each cut piece on top of one another and twist. Place in a greased loaf pan.
Rise: Repeat with the other two pieces of babka dough. Lightly drape a kitchen towel over the top of the pans. Allow to rise another 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 3500F while the dough rises.
Bake: Bake for 20 minutes. Brush each babka with two layers of sugar syrup. Place back in the oven for approximately 15 minutes. The edges should be slightly brown and the middle should be slightly doughy.
Brush the finished Babka: When the babkas come out of the oven, immediately brush each with another 3 light layers of sugar syrup. Allow to cool for 5 to 10 minutes. Using a butter knife, loosen the sides of the babka from the pan and place on top of wire rack to cool.
Used with permission from Modern Jewish Baker: Challah, Babka, Bagels & More by Shannon Sarna, The Countryman Press 2017.