A baba is a type of cake also known as a Madeleine. French novelist Marcel Proust described their aroma and flavour as ‘persistent’, ‘faithful’ and full of ‘vitality’. Lightly flavoured with alcohol and soaked in lots of fruit flavoured syrup, the baba is the jewel in the crown of French gastronomy. Some say it is so French that it gave its name to one of the four roman camps surrounding the Gallic village in the Asterix comic! And even though history has given French pastry chef Nicolas Stohrher a deciding role in its creation (he allegedly first sprinkled rum over this cake in 1835), the origin of the desert is still highly contended.
Legend has it that Stanislaw, Polish prince and father-in-law to Louis XV who was exiled to France, is behind this culinary creation. The Polish king thought that his Alsatian kougelhopf cake was too dry and asked his French pastry chef to sprinkle sweet, fortified wine over it. He liked the recipe and named it after his favourite literary hero, Ali Baba.
This version of the story strongly contradicts the Polish one, which is supported by entomology. ‘Baba’ means old woman in Polish, and the Poles were eating a raised cylindrical cake made with dried fruit flavoured with saffron as early as the sixteenth century. But we must not forget the Italians who also have a kind of baba, the Neapolitan, made with limoncello, a very sweet lemon liqueur.
With a base as simple as flour, butter, sugar, eggs, water, milk and fruit, even the English have a version! And if the whole of Europe is claiming that they invented it, then quite simply, we are all gaga for baba. So try it! Although, with summer on the way, it is worth knowing that it contains 250 calories per 100 grams ...
'Darling, I am missing an ingredient to prepare my rum baba - you haven't seen it perchance?' (Illustration: Enzo)>
Recipe for Rum Baba
1 sachet of raising agent
3 tablespoons of milk
250ml fruit flavoured syrup
-Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 6, 180°
- Combine the egg yolks and the sugar until they are evenly mixed. Add the hot milk, melted butter, flour and raising agent
- Beat the egg whites until they stand up in peaks and then fold them into the first mixture
- Pour the mixture into a ring shaped cake tin and bake in the oven for 25 minutes
- Tip the cake out of the tin and sprinkle with fruit flavour syrup. Enjoy the baba with fruit salad or a little whipped cream