Too Much Spice in My Pumpkin Spice?: Pumpkin Spice Babka

Ah, it's that time of year... pumpkin spice season. I'm not a coffee drinker, so you won't find me at Starbucks waiting in line for a pumpkin spice latte. But fall is my favorite season and I do love the combination of pumpkin and cinnamon. Last week I received a email from Tasting Table teasing a recipe for Pumpkin Spice Babka, calling it "the answer to all of your fall cravings." I clicked through to the recipe and decided I had to make the babka that very evening.

The recipe is written to use active dry yeast and I changed the method slightly to use instant yeast. Because you don't need to activate instant yeast, I just put all of the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, brown sugar, yeast, cinnamon, salt) into the bowl of my stand mixer fitted with the dough hook; added milk heated to 115 degrees, and then incorporated the eggs and softened butter. I calculated that the baker's percentage of sugar in the recipe was about 15% (a little over 100 grams total white and brown sugar to 630 grams all-purpose flour), so I used SAF gold instant yeast, which is optimized for use with sweet doughs.

I kneaded the dough in the mixer until it was smooth and elastic and put it in an oiled bowl to rise. While it was rising, I made the filling by combining pumpkin puree with brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cloves, and nutmeg. The pumpkin filling was a muddy brown color because of the spices and as it sat on the counter while I waited for the dough to double in size, I noticed a small pool of liquid forming on the bottom of the bowl. A runny filling is never a good thing, so I put the filling into a fine-mesh sieve to drain off the excess liquid.

The dough was very easy to handle and I divided it in half and rolled each half out into a rectangle on top of parchment paper. It didn't stick at all and I didn't need to use any flour. I spread a thin layer of filling on top of each rectangle of dough and rolled it up, pinching the seam shut. Then I cut completely through each roll along its entire length, twisting the two halves together before putting the resulting loaf into a parchment-lined loaf pan. I let the formed loaves rise again until puffy, brushed them with beaten egg, and put them in the oven to bake.
I baked my loaves for about 50 minutes, at which point the internal temperature was 203 degrees. The tops were quite dark in some spots, but not burned. I let the loaves cool completely before slicing them. My reaction when I first cut into a loaf was surprise that there were not more swirls of pumpkin filling visible inside. I was expecting something similar to my only previous experience making babka, where the interior of the loaf was dominated by swirls of filling. The photo of the babka on the Tasting Table website also showed fat swirls of pumpkin filling. My loaf looked bland, with only a few anemic lines of filling.
The bread portion of this babka was good. I was really disappointed with the filling though. The pumpkin flavor wasn't very strong and I thought that the spice mix was off. The recipe calls for one teaspoon of cinnamon and a half-teaspoon each of ginger, allspice, cloves, and nutmeg -- so the cinnamon only comprises one-third of the total spice mix. I thought the spice level was too harsh, with either too much cloves, or nutmeg, or both. As I ate a piece, I kept wishing that there were some nuts or raisins in the filling to help add some additional flavor and texture and balance out the spice. I don't think this babka does justice to the beloved idea of "pumpkin spice."

Recipe: "Pumpkin Spice Babka" from Tasting Table.

Previous Post: "Happy Thanksgivukkah!: Thanksgiving Babka," December 11, 2013.


Louise said…
I got that email too and was tempted, but it sounds like I should pass on this recipe. Given your results and knowing what their photo looked like, maybe someone didn't proof read their published recipe. Unfortunately with Tasting Table, there's no way to comment on their recipes.
I think the bread recipe would be a good base to use with a tweaked filling. At least for me, the pumpkin filling was so thin that it kept getting pushed out as I rolled up the dough. I think the pumpkin might work better in the dough, as opposed to the filling...
Louise said…
I've been thinking about this and it occurred to me that when I think of "pumpkin spice", I don't actually expect pumpkin. For years I've bought Spice Islands Pumpkin Pie Spice and it's only the seasonings you'd put in the pie, although I never used it for that. I used to use it in an easy grilled lamb burger recipe, but I've since found a better one. Now I see all kinds of things in the grocery store labeled "pumpkin spice" that actually contain some pumpkin too.