Baba au Rhum

The best-known baba, Baba Rhum (bah-bah oh rum) makes a delicious dessert for a lunch or dinner party. Babas can be baked a day or two advance of serving, but should be reheated in a cool oven for 5 minutes so that they are warm when they are soaked syrup.

ONE LARGE BABA OR

12 SMALL BABAS BABA DOUGH

2 oz. plus

1 tablespoon butter

1 oz. fresh yeast, or oz. dried yeast

1 tablespoon tepid milk

1 tablespoons sugar

½ teaspoon salt

2 eggs

8 oz. plus

1 teaspoon flour

SAUCE

12 fl. oz. water

6 oz. sugar

5 fl. oz. apricot glaze

12 glace cherries

2 oz. almonds, slivered

To prepare the cake, mash the fresh yeast and the sugar together in a medium- sized mixing bowl, with a fork. Add the milk, and cream the milk and yeast together to form a smooth paste. Set the bowl aside in a warm, draught-free place for 15 minutes or until the yeast has risen and is puffed up and frothy.

If you are using dried yeast, dissolve the sugar in the 3 tablespoons of water, then gradually add the dried yeast, mixing it well with a fork so it dissolves. Leave to stand for 15 minutes in a warm place to reactivate the yeast.

In a small saucepan, melt 2 oz. of the butter over low heat. Set aside to cool.

Sift the flour and salt into a large, warm mixing bowl. Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture and pour in the yeast, eggs, and melted butter. Blend well with a wooden spoon. Then beat and knead the dough with your, hand, lifting it and slapping it vigorously. During the early stages of kneading, the dough should be quite sticky. If it is too sticky, add a spoonful or two of flour. If the dough is too stiff add a spoonful of milk.

When the dough begins to lose its stickiness, turn it out on to a lightly floured board and continue slapping and kneading it.

When the dough is completely elastic and can be stretched and twisted without breaking, roll it into a ball.

With a little butter, grease a large mixing bowl and place the dough in it.

With a sharp knife cut a cross on the top of the dough and sprinkle it with a teaspoon of flour.

Cover the bowl with a clean cloth. Set the bowl in a warm, draught-free place and leave it for 1 to 2 hours, or until the dough has risen and has almost doubled in bulk. Press the dough with your fingers, if the impression remains the dough has risen sufficiently.

When the dough has risen, deflate it by kneading it gently for 2 more minutes.

Grease the insides of 12 baba moulds with the remaining butter. Divide the dough into 12 portions. Gently press each portion into a mould. The mould should only be two thirds full. Place the filled moulds, uncovered, in a warm place and leave them to rise for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the dough has risen to just over the top of the moulds.

To make a large baba, butter the inside of a large ring mould and press the dough gently into it. It should fill two thirds of the mould. Put the mould in a warm place for 35 to 40 minutes until the dough has risen to fill the mould.

Preheat the oven to fairly hot 375°F (Gas Mark 5, 190°C).

As soon as the dough has risen, put the filled moulds in the middle of the oven for 15 minutes, 30 minutes if you are making one large baba, or until the babas are cooked. The babas are done when a skewer inserted into them comes out clean and when the tops of the babas are brown. Unmould them carefully on to a cake rack and allow them to cool slightly.

To make the sauce, dissolve the sugar in the water in a small saucepan. Bring it to the boil over moderate heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat.

Allow the syrup to cool and stir in most of the rum. Taste and add a little more rum if necessary.

Place the babas in a shallow dish large enough to hold them all comfortably. Prick them all over with a fork. Pour the warm syrup over them and leave them to soak for 30 to 40 minutes or until the babas have absorbed enough syrup to be well moistened. Baste the babas with the syrup every few minutes. Carefully transfer the babas on to a rack and leave them to drain.

When the babas have drained, arrange them on a serving dish and sprinkle the remaining rum over them. With a pastry brush, paint the babas with the apricot glaze. Cut the glace cherries in thirds and decorate the outside of the babas with them.

Fill the centres of each baba with the slivered almonds.

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