THIS MONTH: Baba au rhum

Louise Pick­ford dishes up a dessert of pure in­dul­gence

Living France - - Flavours Of France -

When it comes to fa­mous recipes, the facts about their ori­gins are of­ten long, com­pli­cated and much con­tra­dicted. Baba au rhum is no dif­fer­ent and I have to ad­mit, I al­ways as­sumed that it orig­i­nated not in France or even Europe but some­where in the Mid­dle East. It cer­tainly sounds like some­thing the Ara­bian Knights would have en­joyed, and not sur­pris­ingly, at one point in its long history, it was thought that its dome-like shape was inspired by Ali Baba in his tale A Thou­sand and One Nights.

It is, how­ever, now more or less agreed by food his­to­ri­ans that this deca­dent dessert was in­vented in France in the 18th cen­tury, by French pas­try chef Ni­co­las Stohrer, for the ex­iled King of Poland, Stanis­law I. The king, liv­ing in Al­sace-Lorraine, was in France for the mar­riage of his daugh­ter to Louis XV and asked Ni­co­las to soak a rather dry kugel­hopf cake (an Eastern Euro­pean yeast cake baked in a tall dome-shaped tin) in al­co­hol to ren­der it more palat­able. It is known for cer­tain that Ni­co­las Stohrer made and sold what we know to­day as a baba au

This recipe pro­duces a cake with a won­der­fully moist airy tex­ture and lovely rich boozy flavour

rhum when he opened his long run­ning and world-fa­mous pâtis­serie in Paris in 1730.

Un­like the orig­i­nal recipe, to­day’s babas are pur­pose­fully dry when cooked so that they soak up as much of the de­li­cious rum syrup as pos­si­ble. This recipe pro­duces a cake with a won­der­fully moist airy tex­ture and lovely rich boozy flavour. Babas are tra­di­tion­ally baked in in­di­vid­ual tins, ei­ther dome-shaped or in in­di­vid­ual ring moulds.

Babas al­ways bring a smile to my face. They so epit­o­mise 1970s Bri­tain, when French cui­sine was de rigueur and bistros were hugely pop­u­lar. Per­haps it’s nos­tal­gia for be­ing in Lon­don at the time and dis­cov­er­ing this ex­otic dish that cre­ates such fond mem­o­ries, but most likely it’s for the way in which they were served back then, with a piped swirl of cream and that ubiq­ui­tous glacé cherry perched on top. For­tu­nately, if you go to any num­ber of bistros in France to­day, this time­less clas­sic is served just the same way. They may be kitsch, but they’re just de­li­cious, so who cares?

For this recipe, you’ll need ei­ther a deep 12-hole muf­fin tin, or 12 x 80ml ca­pac­ity in­di­vid­ual me­tal pud­ding tins. Note also that dried ac­tive yeast is avail­able from some larger su­per­mar­kets or health food stores, and shouldn’t be con­fused with fast-act­ing yeast.

Louise Pick­ford is a food writer and stylist with more than 25 cook­books to her name. She lives in Char­ente with her food and lifestyle pho­tog­ra­pher hus­band Ian Wal­lace.

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