Baba au rhum single

In my childhood home, back in the 1970s, a meal of spaghetti Bolognese was considered exotic.  This rare treat was due, in part, to post-war migration, and afforded the vast land of Australia some much needed diversity in culture!

I schooled with many first generation Australians – myself included – whose families heralded from a variety of European countries.  This first generation Australian was an ever ready participant to visit a friend’s home, to enjoy an afternoon snack (and embrace an array of new flavours along the way).

Since those days as a child, the gastronomic palate of Australia has bulged well beyond the last belt hole.  Cuisine from virtually every corner of the world is available.  From every continent, from every country, it seems a global aroma permeates all the major cities.

I suppose it is no surprise that the introduction of new tastes is common across all corners of the world.  In the 18th century, a variation of the baba au rhum was introduced into France (by way of Alsace-Lorraine), from Poland.  It is believed to be a descendent of the Kugelhopf.

This dessert, traditionally shaped like a Champagne cork, is a rich, yeast bread, baked in a cylindrical mould.  It is liberally (emphasis on liberally) soaked in a sweet rum syrup.  The more modern version includes dried fruit, but this recipe, by Julia Child, omits the fruit and showcases the simplicity of the original dessert.  The classic baba, as recommended by Julia, is finished simply with a few additional drops of rum, a brush of apricot preserve and a carefully topped glacéed cherry.  I opted for the extra rum and apricot but not the cherry.  Personal preference.

There are variations of this dessert with cream or fruit.  Each would serve as a lovely complement to the sweet rum laden bread.  This would be an ideal dessert to finish off a rich, hearty meal.  The rum syrup instantly cleanses the palate, and the hint of sweetness, from the rich bread and sugar syrup, provides a clear note to signal the end of the meal.

Baba au rhum set

{ Babas au Rhum } from Julia Child et al and Mastering the Art of French Cooking

Note: I baked the bread in a larger than recommended mould.  Typically the cylindrical baba mould holds about 100ml of fluid, and is roughly 5cm or 2 inches in diameter and depth – much narrower and smaller than the mould I used.

{ Pâte à baba et babas }

* Ingredients *
60g butter
10g dry active yeast
45ml tepid water
2 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 1/3 cups flour

* Directions *
Melt the butter and let cool.  Blend the yeast and water in the bowl with whisk and stand until yeast has dissolved completely.  Beat in the sugar, salt and eggs.  Mix the flour and the cool melted butter into the yeast with a wooden spoon.

Knead the dough by lifting it, slapping it, and pulling it vigorously against the sides of the bowl for about 5 minutes.  Alternatively, put into a mixer with a dough hook and mix until it starts to detach itself from the bowl.  Form into a ball and cut a cross deep on top.  Sprinkle with a little flour.  Cove the bowl and let rise in a warm place for 1 ½ to 2 hours or until the dough has doubled in bulk.

Butter the inside of your moulds.  Lightly break off about a tablespoon of dough, enough to fill a third of a cup, and press lightly into the bottom of the cup.  Place the cups, uncovered, again in a warm place and allow to rise 1 to 2 hours, or until the dough is over the rim of the cups.

As soon as the dough has risen the second time, bake in the upper third of a preheated 180C/375F oven for about 15 minutes.

{ Sugar syrup }

Both the babas and the rum syrup should be lukewarm but not hot before this operation begins.  If the babas are cold, warm slightly.

* Ingredients *
2 cups of water
1 cup sugar
½ cup dark rum (preferably Jamaican)

* Directions *
Bring the water and sugar to a boil.  Remove from the heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved.  When the sugar syrup has cooled to lukewarm, stir in the rum.  Arrange the babas in a dish, with their puffed tops up.  Prick tops in several places, pour the syrup over them and let stand for ½ hour basting frequently.  They should imbibe enough syrup so they are moist and spongy but still hold their shape.  Drain on rack for ½ hour.

After the babas have drained, sprinkle the top of each with a few drops of rum. Pain them with some apricot glaze/preserve, and place a cherry on top of each.

Makes 12 babas

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gingerbread

In my bread quest this month, I could not go past brioche.  There are many egg-based breads.  Brioche :: Challah :: Panettone :: Stollen :: Pulla.   Brioche is probably the richest of them all.  In Sherry Yard’s, The Secrets of Baking handbook, she explains the foundation brioche recipe and its versatility to make flavoured brioche, lean and rich brioche, sticky buns, as well as fried brioche in the form of beignets and doughnuts.  When flicking through the pages, I stopped on her Gingerbread Brioche recipe.  I simply nodded and knew it would be where I would start.

As breads go, the recipe was actually quite simple.  Well, if you have a stand mixer, that is.  You simply make a sponge (yeast and warm milk added with a little sugar and flour to make a batter) that rests for about half an hour.  Then you add that with the rest of the ingredients into a mixer and gently work the dough for a few minutes.  Once that is done, it simply needs to proof a couple of times.  At the end, you shape into your favoured tin, and voila, you are done!

I only made half the recipe suggested as I was light on brioche à tête molds – I only had two medium sized available.  Even when I filled those I had some dough left over.  I looked around for some alternative pans / molds that would take the remaining dough.  I pulled out some little pudding molds which were perfect for the job.  For these mini gingerbread-y versions, I wrapped up the dough around a little square of dark chocolate.  What could be better?

The end result was fabulously light, buttery, rich and soft all wrapped up together.  The texture just perfect.  The only thing I would change next time would be the amount of nutmeg.  The flavour was a little overpowering compared with the other spices included.  When I was adding the spices I did pause when reading the quantity of nutmeg (thinking it was too much), but shrugged, figured Sherry knows best, and continued on.  I would probably reduce it by half or even a quarter next time.  But I have retained the original quantity in the recipe below, in case you are a nutmeg nut!

Sherry makes this bread specifically for French toast.  She serves it with orange butter and walnut-maple syrup.  After tasting the bread, I think she is on a winning combination.

{ Gingerbread Brioche }

* Ingredients *

Sponge:

½ cup whole milk at room temperature (see note)
1 tbsp dry active yeast
2 tbsp sugar
½ cup bread or all purpose flour

Dough:

1/3 cup unsulfured black-strap molasses (see note)
3 tbsp packed light brown sugar
2 tbsp ground ginger
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
¼ tsp ground allspice
¼ tsp ground cloves
4 cups bread flour 
2 tsp salt
6 large eggs, slightly beaten
9 ounces unsalted butter, softened but still cool

1 large egg

* Directions *

Make the sponge.  Combine milk and yeast in the mixing bowl of a standing mixer. Whisk and let sit for 5 minutes.  Add flour and sugar, mix to form a thick batter. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature for 30-45 minutes, until bubbles form.

Add the molasses, brown sugar, spice, flour, and salt to the sponge. Add the eggs. Beat with the paddle attachment on low speed for 2 minutes, until the eggs are absorbed. Increase the speed to medium and knead the dough for 5 minutes.  Hold the mixer when necessary.

Turn the machine down to medium low speed and add the butter, 2 tbsp at a time. Knead for another 5 minutes, until the dough is shiny.  Scrape out the dough and clean and lightly oil the bowl.  Don’t worry if the dough is difficult to handle.  Place the dough back in the bowl then turn it over so that the top is oiled. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for 2 hours, until doubled.  When dough is has doubled in volume, punch it down by folding it two or three times. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.

After the second rise, the dough is ready to be shaped.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface.  For brioche à tête generously butter two 8 inch brioche molds and put them on a baking sheet.  Punch the dough down again and transfer it to a work surface.  Set aside the equivalent of about 1 cup of dough, and divide the rest into two portions.  Firmly roll each portion of dough on the table in a circular motion with the palm of your hand to form a smooth ball.  Place into each mold.

With the reserved dough, divide in half and roll into a bowling pin shape.  Make an indention in the centre of the larger ball, and place the small pin into the centre of the brioche. Cover with a towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 400F or 200C.  Lightly whisk the egg and gently brush the surface of the dough.  Bake for 10 minutes and reduce heat to 350F or 180C.  Bake for another 30 minutes depending on the size of your molds.  Allow to cool for 10 minutes.

{ A few notes … }
1. For the milk, I warmed mine ever so slightly to about 80 – 90 F.
2. I have had trouble finding unsulfured molasses in Australia.  As a substitute, I used dark treacle.  I use treacle for all my gingerbread baking and it works a treat.
3. Tête means head, as you can see why!