I meant to make baba au rhum for New Year’s Eve. What can be better than getting drunk on rum and cake in the same bite? Well, obviously, that did not happen and the missed opportunity hung over my head long after we ringed in the new year. Last weekend Mother Nature brought us more snow and more cold temperature. All I wanted to do was hibernate. So rather than listening to the instinctive call for comfort food, I made a batch of boozy baba au rhum. It was much less fussy than I initially anticipated.
If you made brioche or challah, you’ll be glad to know that baba is very similar, only easier. Plenty of enrichment from eggs and butter meaning you’re better off using a mixer. Unlike bread dough which requires kneading, baba resembles a yeast-raised batter. I followed Dan Lepard’s recipe from his book Short & Sweet (also available online).
Aren’t they beautiful? The sticky batter rose to great height with the cutest domed top. My house was rather cold. To nudge the fermentation along, I proofed the batter in a Dutch oven with a steaming bowl of water. The warm enclosure made the yeast very happy. Even with all the enrichment, the baked baba were dry. Lepard helpfully explained that his recipe accounted for sweetness and moisture from the soaking syrup. Dry texture means each baba can hold more delicious vanilla rum syrup!
I had my first baba au rhum almost a decade ago in a bistro at Paris’ Les Halles neighbourhood. The travel guidebook said that was THE dessert to order so I gamely listened. The baba arrived on a soup plate and piled high with Chantilly cream. I was first giddy with excitement but soon was just giddy from too much rum. Needless to say my walk back to the rental apartment was a blur. The next time I had a baba was also in Paris, allegedly the patisserie that invented the confection. The baba at Stohrer was delicious and much less boozy. I inhaled the whole thing on a park bench and happily spent the rest of the afternoon strolling, not stumbling, around.
What I like most about making baba au rhum at home is the freedom to dictate how much booze to use. I could add more or less depending on my mood and what I had planned for the rest of the evening. I served them with the requisite dollop of lightly whipped Chantilly cream and a sliver of homemade candied orange peel.
January is prime time to shape up our eating habits. Perhaps baba au rhum has no place in such a virtuous time of year. But if you are in the mood to break some resolutions, I can’t imagine a better way. Cake and booze, together at last!