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Baba cake or baba au rhum is a European cake which is made with rum and raisins or currants. Some bakers classify baba is a bread, rather than a cake, since it includes yeast. In either case, the dessert is rich, sweet, and extremely flavorful. Numerous European nations have different regional recipes for baba cake, which is usually served on special occasions. Outside of Europe, the dessert can sometimes be difficult to find, but it can fortunately be made at home.
Different nations call baba cake by different names. In Turkey, it is known as “father's cake,” while French and Polish speakers know it as babka. In France, a baba cake made in a large ring mold called a savarin. The recipes for the cake are slightly different in each of these countries, but the cakes are clearly related, and all of them show a common thread of Middle Eastern influence, since they are usually very strongly sweetened. When baked in individual molds, baba cakes are very tall, and they may have textured sides to hold their sugar and rum glaze.
Many tales to explain the origins of baba cake have been bandied about. The concept was probably brought over from Russia to Eastern Europe. Popular mythology has it that a King of Poland was eating stale kugelhopf, a very similar pastry, and decided to dip it in rum to refresh the flavor. The result was apparently so pleasing that the king decided it should be added to the pastry repertoire of his nation.
To make baba, cooks start by soaking ¾ cup raisins or currants in rum so that the dried fruits will plump up and be infused with rum flavor. Next, two and ¼ cups bread flour are mixed with two tablespoons sugar, two teaspoons yeast dissolved in two tablespoons of warm water, and a pinch of salt. Four eggs are added one at a time to the flour mixture, and the dough is beaten with a spatula. One half cup of softened butter is added and the baba dough is kneaded until it is smooth and elastic before the raisins are worked in, with the cook reserving the rum for the end.
The kneaded dough is either divided and placed into oiled baba molds, or it is pressed into a single large oiled ring mold. While the oven preheats to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (204 degrees Celsius), the baba cake is allowed to rise until it has doubled in size to fill the molds. The baba cake is baked in the oven for 15-20 minutes, and then allowed to cool on a rack. A sugar syrup is made by boiling four and 1/3 cups water with two and ¼ cups sugar, and the cakes are immersed in the sugar syrup to create a sweet glaze. After glazing, the rum is drizzled over the baba cake, and it is ready to be served.
In the United States, a lot of bakers also make versions of Baba, or Babka as it's usually called there, without any alcohol. One of the best kinds I have had is chocolate babka. So sweet and delicious.
Great article! I think you are correct about the origin of the Baba Cake. In French, the literal meaning of the word baba is “falling over or dizzy.”
It has been said that the baba cake is, indeed, a version of a kugelhopf. The kugelhopf was invented in Lemberg in the early 1600’s. It was brought to France by King Leszczynska who was the deposed king of Poland. He was also the father-in-law of King Louis XV.
The story goes like this: King Leszczynska ate the kouglhopf and thought that it was much too dry. He dipped it in rum. He absolutely loved it. He was so in love with this new concoction that he named it after his favorite hero, Ali Baba. His chef later refined the bread by adding raisins and using brioche dough. It then officially became “baba”.
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