Thursday, June 23, 2011

Baba a la David

Who doesn't love that luscious classic, the 'Baba au rhum', or rum baba? It's a staple of French cake shops and restaurant desserts but apparently it was originally introduced to France by the Polish king in exile, Stanislas, in the 18th century, and when his daughter married the French king Louis XV, her cooks carried the recipe to the court, and then it became popular in pastry-shops and the like. The word 'baba' originally refers back to a yeast cake popular in Poland and Russia, whose name derives from the word for 'grandmother.' (Sweet and nurturing and warm--a rather lovely image for a grandmother!)

Babas are certainly that too: with their glazed sugary top and rum-flavoured sugar syrup moist interior and the yeast-light texture of their crumb, served slightly warm with whipped cream they are beloved of adults and children. You can certainly overdo the rum--I remember one legendary instance when we had bought some beautiful-looking rum babas from a little boulangerie-patisserie in Bram, near Carcassonne, and proceeded to eat them on the spot, but soon grew so cross-eyed by the incredible saturation of the rum that we had to go for a long walk around the block to clear our heads! I reckon they must have tipped a good glassful of rum in each cake and it quite overwhelmed everything else.

But it's much worse if babas don't have enough rum (and it's got to be the real thing, not flavouring in a bottle)or are dry from not enough syrup. The right balance isn't easy to strike, especially for a home cook, but recently David had a go at making this classic dessert and it turned out great. He improvised a fair bit, including getting the dough to rise in a breadmaker rather than in the air--gave it a large-pored crumb which absorbed the rum and sugar syrup really well.

Basically how you make a rum baba is first to make a yeast dough with plain flour, yeast, caster sugar, warm milk, egg yolks, butter, and lemon rind. Proportions vary depending on how many you are making but to make four individual babas(they are usually served as individual cakes), you'll need 110 g plain flour, 15 g fresh or dried yeast(if using dried yeast you need of course to let it work first in a little lukewarm milk or water)15 g caster sugar, 90 ml warm milk, 2 egg yolks, grated rind of half a lemon, 55 g butter. You mix the soaked dried yeast or fresh yeast with 2.5 ml of the sugar and 5 ml of flour to make a thin batter, then whisk the egg yolks with rest of sugar and the lemon rind, melt the butter. Put the flour in a bowl, make a well in centre, add the yeast mixture and the eggs, mix well with your fingers, adding a little warm milk as needed, till you have a nice soft dough then add the butter, and knead well--it shpuld look like very thick batter. Then leave to rise either in a bowl in a warm place or like David did, in a breadmaker, till it has doubled in size. Meanwhile make the sugar syrup--dissolve 170 g caster or white sugar in 225 ml water in a pan on the stove and boil for a few minutes, till it has thickened well, add rum to flavour. (1/4 to half a glass is ample.)When the dough has doubled in size, knead it a little and put it in four separate and greased baking moulds(David used china ramekins)and leave to prove in a warm place for another 10 mins or so, then bake in the oven at about 190 C, for about 30 or so minutes or until the top has gone golden brown. When cooked, take them out and while they are still warm, prick them all over with a skewer or toothpick and then pour on the rum sugar syrup until the baba is saturated with it and the top has gone all shiny. Serve warm or cool as you wish, with whipped cream.

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