If you’re seeking a crowd-pleasing sweet to shake up your Thanksgiving dessert routine, try this recipe for Babas au Rhum from Dorie Greenspan’s new book Baking Chez Moi.
Hear more from Dorie and Thanksgiving on this Saturday’s Good Food.
Excerpted from Baking Chez Moi by Dorie Greenspan
Makes 12 servings
Babas au rhum have been around for about three hundred years, but I wonder if they’ve ever been as popular as they are today. At its simplest, the baba is a tight-grained yeast-raised cake that’s soaked in a rum syrup. Serve it with whipped cream, and it’s a baba au Chantilly; bake the dough in a ring mold, and it becomes a savarin. When I first started going to Paris, babas were in most pâtisseries, simply soaked in syrup and placed on little foil saucers to catch any excess. They’re still there, but dolled up. Pierre Hermé has an entire collection of babas in flavors from chocolate and vanilla to rose and passion fruit. And Philippe Conticini’s Pâtisserie des Rêves offers what might be called do-it-yourself babas: Each comes with a little container of whipped cream and a capsule of aged rum, so you can give your babas an extra soak chez you.
These days, chefs as grand as Alain Ducasse put babas on their menus. Order a baba in a restaurant today, and it might be surrounded by a shallow pool of syrup and accompanied by a bottle of exotic rum with a pouring spout. Or you might get a limoncello baba, or one soaked and served with Armagnac.
In order for the babas to be able to imbibe the warm syrup, they have to be dry—stale, really. You can dunk yours after they’ve come to room temperature, but they’ll be so much thirstier and they’ll drink up so much more rum syrup (the object of babas’ existence) if you let them sit out longer, even for as long as 24 hours. My recipe for rum syrup produces enough for you to drench the babas and still have enough to serve in the bottom of the bowls. If that’s too much for you, cut the recipe in half.
A word on mixers: As with other yeast doughs, the baba dough calls for prolonged beating—this is a job best done with a stand mixer.
And a word on molds: Babas are traditionally made in special cylindrical molds called timbales. For the sake of practicality, I make these in muffin tins.
For the babas
2¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
1/3 cup (80 ml) warm water
1 tablespoon honey
¾ stick (6 tablespoons; 3 ounces; 85 grams) unsalted butter
1 cup (136 grams) all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
4 large eggs, at room temperature
For the rum syrup
1 moist, fragrant vanilla bean, split lengthwise, or 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2½ cups (600 ml) water
1¼ cups (250 grams) sugar
½ orange (with rind), cut into 4 pieces
Small piece cinnamon stick
½ cup (120 ml) dark rum
For the cream
¾ cup (180 ml) heavy cream
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (optional)
Dark rum, for serving (optional)
To make the babas: Put the yeast and warm water (check the yeast package for the correct temperature) in the bowl of a stand mixer. Stir in the honey and let stand for about 5 minutes, or until the yeast dissolves and becomes creamy; the mix may or may not bubble.
Meanwhile, cut the butter into chunks and toss it into a small saucepan. Melt the butter over medium heat and allow it to simmer until it turns a warm golden brown. Stay close—brown can quickly turn to black—and don’t worry when you see specks on the bottom of the pan. Remove the pan from the heat.
Attach the bowl to the stand mixer, fit with the paddle attachment and pulse just to blend the yeast and water; add the flour. Working at medium speed, beat in the flour, then add the salt and beat until the dough forms a ball around the paddle, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs one by one, beating for 2 minutes after each egg goes in. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and beat for another 2 minutes. Pour in the brown butter, scraping in the brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan, and beat on medium-high speed for another 3 minutes. You’ll have a thin, creamy dough with brown-butter flecks.
Cover the bowl with plastic film and set in a warm place (70 to 75 degrees F) for 30 minutes; the dough will rise, but it may or may not double in volume.
Generously butter a 12-mold muffin tin.
Stir the bubbly dough down with a flexible spatula and divide it evenly among the muffin molds; the dough will only come about halfway up the sides of the molds. Cover with a sheet of parchment or wax paper and set the pan in the warm spot. Allow the dough to rise until it comes about three quarters of the way up the sides, about 30 minutes.
While the dough is rising, center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Remove the paper and bake the babas for about 25 minutes, or until they’re golden brown. Transfer the tin to a cooling rack and let the babas rest for 3 minutes, then remove them from the tin. Let them cool on the rack for at least 2 hours, or leave them overnight (or for up to 24 hours), as some pastry chefs do—the drier they are, the more rum syrup they’ll absorb.
To make the syrup: Slide the back of a paring knife down the halves of the vanilla bean, to remove all the pulp. Toss the pulp and the pod into a medium saucepan (if you’re using vanilla extract, you’ll add it at the end), add the water, sugar, orange pieces and cinnamon stick and bring to a boil. Cook for 1 minute, then pour the syrup into a large heatproof bowl. If you’re using vanilla extract, stir it in now. Let the syrup cool for 20 minutes.
Remove the orange pieces, cinnamon and vanilla pod (if you used one) from the syrup and stir in the rum. The syrup is ready to be used now, or you can pour it into a jar, cover and refrigerate for up to 1 week. (If the syrup has been chilled, warm it gently before using.)
To soak the babas: Pour the syrup into a large bowl and drop in as many babas as will fit at a time. Turn the babas around in the syrup and leave them there for 1 minute—you want them to be thoroughly soaked—then transfer them to a large rimmed platter or a glass baking dish. If you made a full recipe of syrup, pour the remaining syrup into a pitcher and save it to pour around the babas when you serve them; if you made a half recipe and there’s any syrup left over, pour it over the babas.
To make the cream: Working in a cold bowl, beat the cream until it holds very soft peaks. Beat in the sugar and whip until the cream is firm. If you’re using vanilla extract, beat it in.
To finish the babas: You can cut off the tops of the babas—cut about one third of the way down—pipe or spoon a generous amount of whipped cream onto the base of each baba and replace the tops. Or you can cut the babas in half down the center, stopping before you separate the halves, and pipe or spoon the whipped cream into the openings you’ve created. If you’d like, serve with a bottle of rum.
Serving: I serve the babas in shallow bowls and pour the extra syrup around them. Just as they do in Paris bistros these days, I also put a bottle of dark rum on the table and let everyone douse and redouse the babas.
Storing: Unsoaked, the babas can be kept uncovered at room temperature for a day; if they are soaked, you can cover them and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 day. The syrup is a good keeper: Stow in the fridge for up to 1 week.
Excerpted from BAKING CHEZ MOI, © 2014 by Dorie Greenspan.
Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.
Photos: (c) Alan Richardson