A seasonal French classic: Baba au Rhum


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It's a cake, it's a bread, it's the classic French dessert, it's Baba au Rhum. 'Tis the season to entertain, and this magnificent, gleaming dessert, fragrant with candied fruit and soaked with boozy syrup, is big enough to serve 12, impressive enough to garner applause.

If you are a yeast baker, making a baba is right up your alley. The base is brioche, a light, airy sweet bread that is rich with eggs and butter. Baba is just a variation made with add-ins, soak and glaze. There is no kneading involved because the electric mixer (stand- or hand-) does all the work. The cake, syrup and glaze can, and should, be made ahead.

On the day of service, the cake is drenched with rum syrup and left to "cure" for a few hours. On the serving platter, the cake gets a slick of apricot glaze and a seasonal garnish. During December, holly leaves and pomegranate seeds. For Valentine's Day, sparkling sugar or a chocolate glaze.

Instead of one big bad baba, you can make smaller versions.

Use two loaf pans, 9-by-5-by-3 inches. Use four mini-loaf pans. Or one loaf for company and two mini-loaves for giving.

Still too much work? I've got you covered.

Brioche can be purchased as a large loaf or as mini-breads. Since I had leftover syrup and glaze, a couple of guests coming for supper and very little time to be fancy, I figured out a way to cheat using mini-brioche rolls. It was worth a try.

Many good bakeries make them, but the best, in my opinion, are made by La Gourmandine French bakery on Butler Street in Lawrenceville. I bought four.

At home, I went right to work transforming them. I removed their decorative papers and turned the rolls upside down in custard cups to stabilize them. Using a slim bamboo skewer, I poked about 25 holes in the bottom of each. Then, using a pastry brush, I brush-bathed each one with about 1/4 cup warm rum syrup and left them to "cure." Later, I warmed the apricot glaze and brushed it on. Sticky business but the result was worth it. (Refrigerated, Rum Syrup and Apricot Glaze keep forever. Leftover syrup is good over ice cream or plain cake; leftover glaze tightens up and is excellent spread on toast.)

Right-side up, each baba was garnished with holly leaves and a pomegranate seed. To serve, I placed each baby baba on a drift of whipped cream on individual serving plates.

Bottom Line: Baby babas are easy, fast, portion-controlled and drop-dead delicious, I may never make another big mama baba.

Baba au Rhum

3/4 cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees)

2 packages active dry yeast

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt

6 large eggs, at room temperature

3¾ cups all-purpose flour, divided

3/4 cup butter (1½ sticks), at room temperature

1/2 cup finely chopped citron or golden raisins

1/4 cup currants

Whipped cream for serving

For the Rum Syrup

2½ cups sugar

2 cups water

1 unpeeled orange, sliced crosswise, seeds removed

1/2 unpeeled lemon, sliced

1½ cups dark rum

For the Apricot Glaze

1 cup apricot preserves

1 teaspoon lemon zest

2 teaspoons lemon juice

Lightly grease a 10-by-4-inch tube pan. Line the bottom with a piece of parchment paper cut to fit. Sprinkle yeast over water in large bowl of electric mixer. Stir until dissolved. Add sugar, salt, eggs and 21/4 cups flour. At medium speed, beat 4 minutes, or until smooth, scraping side of bowl and guiding mixture into beater with rubber spatula.

Add butter, beat 2 minutes, or until very well blended. At low speed, beat in rest of flour; beat until smooth, about 2 minutes. Stir in citron (or raisins) and currants. Batter will be thick.

Turn batter into prepared pan, spreading evenly. Cover with towel. Let rise in warm place, free from drafts, about 1 hour and 10 minutes or until baba has risen to within 1/2 inch of top of pan.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 degrees, and place rack in middle position. Gently place baba on oven rack. Do not jar; baba may fall.

Bake 40 to 45 minutes, or until deep golden-brown and cake tester inserted in center comes out clean. Allow cake to cool in pan for 15 minutes. Turn out onto a rack to cool.

Either continue to finish, or wrap and freeze.

Turn baba upside down on a baking sheet with sides; remove paper liner. Using a slim skewer or cake tester, poke holes in the bottom of the cake. Slowly spoon the hot syrup over the cake until it is all used. Discard solids. Allow the cake to "cure" for 2 hours or more.

Invert the cake onto a serving platter. Brush top and sides with Apricot Glaze. Garnish with holly leaves and pomegranate seeds. Serve with great drifts of whipped cream. Makes about 12 servings.

Meanwhile make Rum Syrup: In a medium saucepan, combine sugar with 2 cups water bring to boiling, stirring, until sugar is dissolved. Boil, uncovered and on medium heat, 10 minutes. Reduce heat, add orange and lemon slices, and simmer 10 minutes. Remove from heat; add rum. Use while warm.

Make Apricot Glaze: In small saucepan, over low heat, melt apricot preserves. Stir in lemon zest and juice; strain, discard solids. Use while warm.

-- "McCall's Cookbook" (Random House, 1963)


Marlene Parrish: marleneparrish@icloud.com.

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