Babka-Inspired Olive Bread

Like everyone else, I got more into baking bread during the lockdown. It seemed more sensible to make bread rather than cake for a household of two people and so I thought it might be nice to try a savoury version of a babka. Babka is made in Eastern Europe from a yeasted, enriched dough, sitting somewhere in that middle ground between bread and cake. It is usually stuffed with chocolate or cinnamon but I decided to use black olive tapenade instead, to go with a wholemeal dough. You could also use pesto or sundried tomato paste. I think it would be very nice made with white or focaccia dough. I don’t really get on with enriched doughs so I usually use a croissant dough instead. If you’d like a sweet version, you could make a babka shaped loaf using this cinnamon bun recipe and fill it with melted chocolate, chocolate spread or cinnamon & sugar.

I found you need to be quite generous with the filling to get any sort of visible swirl. I used 160g of black olives ( a fairly standard sized jar – gross weight 340g) with a teaspoon of capers and a glug of lemon juice and olive oil. I whizzed everything up in a mini hand blender – you want a paste that can be easily spread.


350g strong wholemeal bread flour

150g plain bread flour

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons salt

7g dried yeast

350-400ml lukewarm water


160g olives (a drained jarful)

1 teaspoon capers

1 tablespoon lemon juice

a glug of olive oil

  1. Make the bread dough by combining the dry ingredients and the olive oil. Add 350ml water and give the dough a good knead. Wholemeal dough is quite thirsty – add more of the water slowly, and as needed. Leave to rise for an hour in a warm place. I favour a radiator or a hot water bottle. You can also turn the lid over on a pot of hot water to make a flat surface and sit the bowl on top of it. Make the tapenade while the dough rises.

2. Roll the dough out into a rectangle and spread with the olive tapenade.

3. Roll the dough up along the long side – you want to roll it reasonably tightly. Turn the sausage so the seam is on the underside and you can’t see it, before slicing it in two, along its length.

4. Shaping the dough is harder than the internet suggests. I found that handling the dough elongates it, so go slowly. Make sure the insides of the sliced sausage are facing upwards and cross the two halves over in the middle.

5. Twist the two halves around each other to give a twisty almost plait, trying not to pull on them.

6. Pushing gently from either end, squash the twisted dough so that it will fit into your bread tin.

7. You may find it useful to keep the tin next to the dough so you can measure it against it. Gently wrangle the dough into the greased bread tin. You’ll probably need to squash it a bit more to get it into the tin.

8. Leave it to prove for an hour (this doesn’t need to be in a warm place) and pre-heat your oven to 180C. Bake it for an hour and twenty minutes. Leave it to cool a bit before you slice it as you want it to keep its shape.