Za’atar variation is just one recipe in an entire babka chapter of breaking breads that mainly features sweet fillings, like nutella and halva. they all use the same dough, of which there is a basic option (a buttery enriched dough) and an advanced option (laminated dough). because the za’atar twists at breads use a laminated dough and because i sleep on a bed of butter, i went that route. you’ll find both options below.
for the basic dough:120g (1/2 c) whole milk20g (2 1/2 tb) fresh yeast or 6g (2 tsp) active dry yeast280g (2 1/4 c) alll-purpose flour + extra for dusting and kneading, sifted220g (2 c + 2 tb) pastry or cake flour, sifted2 large eggs75g (1/3 c) granulated sugarlarge pinch fine salt80g (5 tb + 1 tsp) unsalted butter (at room temperature)all-purpose flour for rolling and shapingfor the advanced dough:200g (1 stick + 5 tb) unsalted butter (at cool room temperature)for the za’atar filling:30g (3 tb) sesame seeds400g (1 1/3 c) labne1 red jalapeno or fresno chile, finely chopped (seeded for less heat)20g (1 tb + 1 tsp) extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for finishing 110g (1 c) feta cheese, crumbled60g (1/2 c) pine nuts50g (1 c) fresh oregano leaves25g (2 1/2 tb) za’atar, plus extra for finishingfor the egg wash:1 large egg1 tb waterpinch fine saltHOW TO MAKE IT:make the basic dough:Add the milk to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. use a fork or your fingers to lightly mix the yeast into the milk. then, in this order, add the flours, eggs, sugar, salt, and finally the butter in small pinches.mix on the lowest speed, stopping the mixer to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed, and to pull the dough off the hook as it accumulates there and break it apart so it mixes evenly, until the dough is well combined, about 2 minutes (it will not be smooth).if the dough is very dry, add more milk, 1 tablespoon at a time; if the dough looks wet, add more all-purpose flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough comes together. increase the mixer speed to medium, and mix until the dough is smooth and has good elasticity, 4 minutes. chill the dough:set the dough on a piece of plastic wrap and press it into a 1-inch-thick rectangle. wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for 24 hours.[at this point you’ve completed the “basic babka dough.” if you’d like to skip to the sesame seed toasting and filling steps, that is ok! but if you’re in this for the long haul and want to make the “advanced babka dough,” go onto the next step.]prepare the butter:set the 200g butter on a large piece of parchment paper. use a rolling pin (or your fist) to smack and whack it into a 7-by-8-inch rectangle that is between 1/8 inch and 1/4 inch thick. use a bench knife to square off the corners and then pound as needed to fit the measurements. set the butter aside.add the butter and make the first fold:place the dough on a lightly floured work surface, lightly dust the top, de-gas the dough by pressing down on it, and then roll the dough into a 7-by-16-inch rectangle with a short side facing you. place the butter on the bottom half of the dough, leaving a 1/4-inch border at the bottom. fold the top of the dough over the butter to meet the bottom edge, pull the corners so they align perfectly, and use a pastry brush to brush away any excess flour from the surface.toast the sesame seeds: place the sesame seeds in a small skillet over medium-high heat and toast them, shaking the pan often, until they are golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. transfer the seeds to a small plate and set aside.roll the cold babka dough:unwrap the cold babka dough and set it on a lightly floured work surface. roll the dough into a 12-by-28-inch rectangle (it should be just a little shy or 1/4 inch thick) with a long side facing you. pull and shape the corners into a rectangle.fill and roll the dough:spread the labne over the dough in a thin, even layer. sprinkle it with the jalapeno, olive oil, feta, toasted sesame seeds, pine nuts, oregano, and za’atar. divide the dough in half horizontally so you now have two 6-by-28-inch pieces. working from the long bottom edge of one of the pieces, roll the dough up into a tight cylinder, pushing back on the cylinder with each roll to make it even tighter. lift the cylinder, holding one end in each hand, and gently stretch and pull to tighten it even more (it will stretch to about 35 inches long). repeat with the second piece of dough.divide the dough into strips and make the mini babkas:use a bread knife to slice each cylinder in half lengthwise so you have 4 long pieces, and then slice those pieces crosswise into 7 equal sections (about 5 inches each) to make a total of 28 strips. cross 2 equal-size pieces to create an x, keeping the exposed filling facing up. twist the ends together like threads on a screw so you have at least 1 twist on each side of the x (3 twists total). repeat with the remaining pieces. set twists in a lightly greased mini loaf pan.let the mini babkas proof:cover the pans with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm, draft-free spot until the babkas have doubled in volume and are very soft and jiggly to the touch, 2 to 3 hours depending on how warm your room is.preheat the oven to 350ºf.bake:make the egg wash by whisking the egg, water, and salt together in a small bowl. brush egg wash over each mini babka, and bake until they are dark brown and baked through, about 20 minutes; check after 15 minutes, and if they are getting too dark, tent them loosely with a piece of parchment paper. remove from the oven and, while they are still warm, brush with more olive oil and sprinkle with a little za’atar. serve warm or at room temperature.