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in the kitchen with: clotilde dusoulier’s rum babas

by Kristina Gill

The recipe for Babas au Rhum that Clotilde Dusoulier from Chocolate & Zucchini has shared with us this week exemplifies the types of recipes we love for the In the Kitchen With column.  It’s a classic French recipe which reminds her of her childhood.  It is easy to make and is easily paired with so many different fruits and flavors.  We exchanged a lot of emails over how it should look until we realized that we both had different visual images.  In Italy, the baba looks like a little chef’s hat and in France, Clotilde has always made them wider than they are tall.  Shape however doesn’t affect the taste!  Clotilde’s recipe also calls for strawberries and black pepper, but the strawberry season had already passed by the time we were able to schedule her recipe, so we have used peaches.  If you are unable to get ripe strawberries this time of year where you are, please do not be deterred!  Whip up some cream, use what fruit you have, and enjoy!  Like many of the other recipes on the column, this one is a great pay out with very little effort.  The people with whom you share it will adore you!  –Kristina

About Clotilde: Clotilde Dusoulier is the 30-year-old Parisienne behind the award-winning food blog Chocolate & Zucchini. Born and raised in Paris, she discovered her passion for food while working in California as a software engineer. She started her blog in 2003 after returning to Paris, and its success has allowed her to start a new career as a full-time food writer.

She is the author of the cookbook CHOCOLATE & ZUCCHINI (Broadway Books, 2007) and of CLOTILDE’S EDIBLE ADVENTURES IN PARIS (Broadway Books, 2008), a book on Paris restaurants and food shops. She has also helped edit I KNOW HOW TO COOK (Phaidon, 2009), the newly translated bible of French home cooking. She lives in Montmartre.

CLICK HERE for the full recipe after the jump!

Strawberry Rum Babas

For 8 small babas :
150 grams pastry flour (5 1/3 ounces, about 1 cup and 2 tablespoons)
1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
15 grams sugar (1 rounded tablespoon)
1 teaspoon natural vanilla extract
3 large eggs
60 grams unsalted butter, melted and cooled (2 ounces, 1/4 cup)
1 good pinch salt

For the syrup and garnish
130 grams (1/3 cup) sugar
3 tablespoons good-quality amber rum
1 cup whipping cream, cold
1 pint fresh local strawberries
freshly ground black pepper

The day before, prepare the babas.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, combine the flour, yeast, 1 rounded tablespoon sugar and vanilla. Add the eggs one by one, mixing well between each addition, until the dough is smooth. Add the melted and cooled butter and continue mixing at low speed for 3-4 minutes, until the dough is shiny and elastic. (This can also done by hand in a large mixing bowl, with a wooden spoon; the dough will take about 10 minutes to come together.) Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rest for 30 minutes at room temperature.

While the dough is resting, prepare the syrup: place the 1/3 cup sugar and 300 ml (1 1/4 cups) water in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil, stirring from time to time until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from the heat and immediately add the rum (the heat will evaporate the alcohol). Set aside to cool completely.
Butter 8 individual baba molds (about 80 ml or 1/3 cup in capacity; mini bundt pans, muffin pans, or bouchon pans can be substituted). Transfer the dough to a piping bag (you can also use a freezer bag and snip one corner open) and fill the prepared molds up to two thirds. Cover and let rest until the dough rises to the edge of the molds, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 170°C (340°F) and bake the baba for 15 minutes, until golden. Unmold and place the babas in a shallow dish. Ladle the cooled syrup over the hot babas, scooping the syrup that drips to the bottom of the dish and pouring it back over them a few times.  Let cool completely, then cover with plastic wrap and let the babas rest in the dish overnight at room temperature.  They will continue to absorb the syrup.
Just before serving, whip the cream until stiff and slice the strawberries. Serve the babas with a spoonful of whipped cream and a few sliced strawberries sprinkled with a touch of black pepper. Pour the remaining syrup in a small jug so guests can pour some more onto their baba, as desired.

[Note from Kristina: Because I used individual baking molds (look for bouchon, dariole, or baba molds), it was necessary to butter and flour thoroughly before baking.  If you use silicon or another type of baking pan, thorough flouring may not be necessary!]

{Food photography by Kristina Gill.  Baba molds from Peroni; medium pebble bowl (ash), dessert bowls (ash), platter (ash) by mud australia; peach and gray wood grained ceramic bowls by Thomas Hopkins Gibson}

Why Clotilde chose this recipe:

I love rum babas because they have a definite retro charm to them (though they’re really making a comeback on Paris restaurant menus these days) and they’re the ultimate grown-up’s dessert: my mother used to buy them at the pastry shop every once in a while when I was little, and my sister and I thought it was the most outlandish thing. But then I tasted one again years and years later, and had one of those culinary aha moments I love: suddenly I understood the appeal of these spongy little yeast cakes, deeply aromatic but not too sweet or boozy (the alcohol in the syrup evaporates so you’re just left with the flavor). Babas au rhum are typically served with just whipped cream or chantilly, but I like to add some fresh fruit. Strawberries are an especially good match, but any juicy fresh fruit — raspberries, figs, poached rhubarb or apricots, pineapple, mango — could be substituted depending on what’s in season.

There will probably be requests from people who can’t/won’t use alcohol in cooking, and my answer would be that this is one of those recipes you really can’t make without the rum — you’d just miss the entire point of it!

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  • Adina – I wonder if the Drommar muffin tin from IKEA would do the trick. The cups are a little more tapered than these here, but they are tall and thin, unlike normal muffin tins. I also wonder if a popover tin would work.

  • @Adina – in the recipe Clotilde suggests muffin pans, mini bundt pans or bouchon molds (what I used). I suspect most people will have a muffin pans. Good luck and let us know how it works out!

  • @emilykristin – I think you are right, any of those pans would work. Some people use small savarin molds (it comes out looking like a little doughnut), or even one large savarin ring. The ones Clotilde has mentioned are the most traditional forms. I say use whatever pans you have on hand, keeping in mind that a substantial difference may affect the yield and/or cooking time. So just keep an eye on them as they bake, and you’ll be fine.

    @sally – they do have these in Italy, especially Naples, where there are shops which sell -only- baba! The origin isn’t quite clear, but Wikipedia details a few. Exiled Polish king living in France? :-)

  • I just came across a rum baba recipe in my French cookbook, and having read this blog, I know what my next adventure in French pastries will be. Merci! Vive la baba!

  • Just finished making these for Sunday brunch! I tried a little syrup and it is simply amazing! Great recipe!

  • @superbadfriend Baba dough is a brioche-like dough that relies on the lightness of pastry flour to create a fluffy, aerated crumb. I worry that spelt flour would make the babas too dense.

    They’d still be tasty, though, so if you don’t mind the textural change, you can try substituting, say, a quarter of the pastry flour with spelt flour, and see how it goes.

  • I Love Rhum Babas. luckily growing up we had a delicatessen near my school where you could buy them and they were gorgeous, they were doughnut shaped and the centre was filled with whipped cream and fruit. I have not tried to make them myself yet though seeing this post I am sorely tempted…thank you!! Yours look delicious too!!

  • thanks for reminding me of my childhood! i got busy and made these in tin cans from tomato paste. i needed 40 of them for a cocktail party and the diminitive size in combination with some fresh fruit in the base of a whiskey glass was absolutely perfect. they ate everyone of them!

  • Great recipe, thank you. Quick tip – if you put them into a cold oven and bring them up to temperature, you will get more rise out of the dough, just like some other breads.’

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