A rum baba or baba au rhum is a small yeast cake saturated in hard liquor, usually rum, and sometimes filled with whipped cream or pastry cream. It is most typically made in individual servings (about a two-inch-tall, slightly tapered cylinder) but sometimes can be made in larger forms similar to those used for Bundt cakes. The batter for baba is even richer than brioche batter, and includes eggs, milk and butter.
The origin of the Baba au Rum
The original baba was introduced into France in the 18th century via Alsace and Lorraine. This is attributed to Stanisław Leszczyński, the exiled king of Poland. The Larousse Gastronomique has reported that Stanislas had the idea of soaking a dried Gugelhupf (a cake roughly similar to the baba and common in Alsace-Lorraine when he arrived there) or a baba with alcoholic spirit. Another version is that when Stanislas brought back a baba from one of his voyages it had dried up. Nicolas Stohrer, one of his pâtissiers (or possibly just apprentice pâtissiers at the time), solved the problem by addition of adding Malaga wine, saffron, dried and fresh raisin and crême pâtissière. The writer Courchamps stated in 1839 that the descendants of Stanislas served the baba with a saucière containing sweet Malaga wine mixed with one sixth of Tanaisie liqueur.
Nicolas Stohrer followed Stanislas’s daughter Marie Leszczyńska to Versailles as her pâtissier in 1725 when she married King Louis XV, and founded his pâtisserie in Paris in 1730. One of his descendants allegedly had the idea of using rum in 1835. While he is believed to have done so on the fresh cakes (right out of the mold), it is a common practice today to let the baba dry a little so that it soaks up better. Later, the recipe was refined by mixing the rum with aromatized sugar syrup.
In 1844, the Julien Brothers, Parisian pâtissiers, invented the “Savarin“, which is strongly inspired by the baba au rhum but is soaked with a different alcoholic mixture and uses a circular (ring) cake mold instead of the simple round (cylindrical) form. The ring form is nowadays often associated with the baba au rhum as well, and the name “Savarin” is also sometimes given to the rum-soaked circular cake.
The baba was later brought to Naples by French cooks and became a popular Neapolitan specialty under the name babà or babbà. And finally the pastry has appeared on restaurant menus in the United States since 1899 or if not earlier.
Ingredients: 5 tablespoons lukewarm milk (100 to 115 degrees), plus 1 tablespoon milk
1/2 ounce fresh yeast
1 pound 2 ounces all-purpose flour, plus more for forming dough
1 tablespoon coarse salt
6 large eggs plus 1 large egg yolk
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened, plus more for molds
1/4 cup superfine sugar
Nonstick cooking spray
Whipped Cream, for serving (optional)
Cherries, for serving (optional)
- Place milk and yeast in a small bowl; stir to dissolve.
- Place flour, salt, and eggs in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with dough hook attachment; add yeast mixture and mix on low speed to combine and knead, about 5 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl with a spatula; knead on medium speed until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.
- In a large bowl, mix together butter and sugar. Add a few small pieces of butter mixture to dough; with the mixer on low, add remaining butter mixture, a little bit at a time. When all the butter mixture has been added, increase speed and continue mixing until smooth, shiny, comes away from the sides of the bowl, and is elastic, 6 to 10 minutes.
- Butter a large bowl, transfer dough to prepared bowl, and cover with plastic wrap; let stand in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 2 hours.
- Lift dough from bowl and drop back into bowl to deflate; repeat process once or twice. Cover bowl and transfer to refrigerator to chill for at least 8 hours and up to overnight.
- Butter 20 5-ounce baba molds and place on a baking sheet. Divide dough into 20 equal pieces; pinch each piece of dough to form balls. Place each ball of dough into prepared molds.
- In a small bowl, whisk together egg yolk and milk. Brush dough with egg yolk mixture, reserving remaining. Spray a piece of plastic wrap with nonstick cooking spray; cover dough, cooking spray-side down, and let stand in a warm place until doubled in volume, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees in a convection oven (425 degrees in a conventional oven).
- Working from the outside inward, brush each baba very lightly with reserved egg yolk mixture. Transfer molds to oven and bake until baba just begins to turn golden, about 5 minutes. Reduce temperature to 375 degrees (if using a convection oven; 400 if using a conventional oven) and continue baking until deep golden-brown and internal temperature reaches 205 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, 5 to 10 minutes more.
- Remove from oven and let cool in mold for 5 minutes. Unmold onto a wire rack and let cool completely. Poke bases of babas all over with a toothpick. Working in batches, gently drop babas into hot rum syrup, submerging completely; let soak until there are no more bubbles. Place on a rack set over a rimmed baking sheet. Repeat process with remaining baba; serve drizzled with additional rum syrup, whipped cream, and cherries, if desired. (The modern baba au rhum (rum baba), with dried fruit and soaking in rum, was invented in the rue Montorgueil in Paris, France, in 1835 or before. Today, the word “baba” in France and almost everywhere else outside Eastern Europe usually refers specifically to the rum baba.)