“I need you to teach me how to make rum baba,” — said Alex, one of my oldest and dearest friends. Every time he visits Austin, I learn something new to cook. It’s not that I don’t know what he is talking about, but my knowledge is often theoretical. It means I’ve heard or read about it, I ate it in restaurants but never considered making it myself. Rum baba was exactly the case. This recipe is based on my Italian friend’s story about Neapolitan Babà al Rhum.
Rum baba is brioche-like rich cake soaked in rum flavored syrup. It can be a large cake or individually portioned little cakes, served with whipped cream and tart fruit. The cake itself is less sweet than brioche, taking into account it needs to absorb a lot of syrup. It is a perfect canvas for artistically balanced flavors the soaking liquid brings into the dessert. Use the best rum you can afford for this recipe.
…and a Bottle of Rum!
Ho! Ho! Ho! Rum is not the only alcohol option. In her story, Elena mentions limoncello as a relatively new trend for soaking baba cakes, which inspired me to make my version of syrup based on citrus slices macerated in local honey. I have other unconventional ideas for flavoring and serving baba cakes to add later.
Mix dry ingredients in a bowl of a stand mixer. Add eggs and milk and knead with flat beater a soft dough on low speed (4 for KitchenAid) for 10 minutes. Add butter and continue for another 5 minutes. The process of kneading is done, when the dough is smooth and elastic and forms a ball around the beater. Place it in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let it stay at room temperature for about 45 minutes (74F) to 1 hour (72F) until doubled.
Start preheating your oven, 350F. Brush cavities of the mini muffin pan with melted butter. Shape the dough making 1" balls and place them into each cavity. If using other size baking pan cavities or molds, make sure the dough portions fill only 1/2 of their volume. Let the dough double at room temperature again.
Bake the cakes for 15-20 minutes (no egg wash!) until golden brown. Place them on a cooling rack to rest. Note! Baking time and temperature are for mini cakes. It needs to be adjusted accordingly for other sizes.
for basic rum syrup
Combine sugar, water, and lemon zest. Bring to boiling, reduce the heat and let simmer for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and let cool to room temperature. Add rum, stir, and the syrup is ready for soaking baba cakes.
for honeyed citrus syrup
For 1 pint jar with three baba cakes 2.5"D. Combine 5oz honeyed citrus syrup, 3oz cold water, and 1.5oz Mocambo rum.
for soaking and serving
Place baba cakes into glass jars or containers and add enouph syrup to keep them submerged. If it's a jar, close the lid and soak for 8-12 hours in refrigerator, turning upside down a few times. If it's a cotainer, place a nonreactive weight (e.g., porceline sauser) on top of the cakes. If you prefer serving baba less wet, sqeeze extra liquid carefully pressing cakes between your hands and let the sponge to restore its shape.
Whip cream with sugar and vanilla seeds and ppe it on top of the cakes. Add tart fruit of your choice to balance sweetness.