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

Walnut Cake single

When I was young, a family friend had a macadamia nut tree in their yard.  Even though the macadamia is native to Australia, it is not common to have your own tree.  So it was a treat to occasionally come home with a handful of macadamia nuts after a visit.

Opening a macadamia nut, however, requires patience, persistence and most importantly, brut force – often necessitating a hammer, or some other blunt object, to crack open the stubborn shells.  The macadamia shell is a stark contrast to the softer shell of the walnut.

Majestic groves of walnut trees are common landscapes that grace the valleys of the Périgord region, in the southwest corner of France.  Walnuts feature strongly in cakes and desserts from this area, and this light, nutty Gâteau is one such example.

This recipe comes by way of French food authority, Anne Willan.  It is quick to put together.  And except for the last minute addition of caramel, can easily be made ahead.  It would be a very elegant dessert, and perfect for entertaining.

What a pleasure it would be to see the transformation of the humble walnut from the tree, into this not so humble cake.

On those lucky days as a child, returning home with a handful of macadamia nuts, there was no such dessert, cake or pastry created.  Though admittedly, I am not sure if there was adequate collective patience to crack sufficient nuts required for an entire cake!

Walnut Cake set

This was a very simple cake to bake.  Made easier with the introduction of a new attachment.

Recently, when profiled on the Daring Bakers website (‘Daring Members on the Spot’), I spoke about my favourite kitchen gadget and kitchen appliance.  They were my indispensable silicon scrapers and my KitchenAid mixer respectively.  So imagine my surprise when I got the chance to combine my two favourite kitchen tools, in one!

I recently had the opportunity to trial a BeaterBlade.

The BeaterBlade replaces the flat beater / paddle attachment for your KitchenAid.  It includes a rubber ‘wing’ along each the side of the beater that provides superior mixing – and means you have to stop the mixer fewer times to scrape down the sides and bottom!

To ensure a precise feel of the beater, I tested this blade on three different cake batters (to varying degrees of viscosity).  This was the final batter.  The result?

I relived that feeling of mixing a batter, for the first time, with my very first bench top mixer.  That feeling when you are standing back, watching and listening to the low hum of the machine do all the work – no pesky bowls and handheld beaters involved – while you get on with something else.  That feeling was back, and it was a joy to bake with this attachment.

The flat beater that came with my KitchenAid?  Well, that is now my back up!
 
I know they have been available in the USA for a while time (as I had read reviews from American pastry chefs including Dorie Greenspan and Rose Levy Beranbaum), and they are now available in Australia through FullyBaked.

{ Gateau aux noix } by Anne Willan

* Ingredients *
2 slices day old white bread
1 cup/150 grams/5 1/2 ounces walnut pieces
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons/140 grams/5 ounces butter, more for the pan
2/3 cup/140 grams/5 ounces sugar
4 eggs, separated
Grated zest of 1 lemon
Topping
1/3 cup/75 grams/2 1/2 ounces sugar
1/4 cup/60 mls/2 fluid ounces water
8 walnut halves
9-inch/23-centimeter cake pan

* Directions *
Heat the oven to 325˚F/160˚C/Gas 3. Toast the bread in the oven until very dry, 6 to 8 minutes. Let it cool, leaving the oven on. Break the bread in pieces and grind it to crumbs in the food processor. Add the walnut pieces and salt and grind to a coarse powder (the dry bread helps keep the walnuts light). Butter the cake pan, line it with a round of parchment paper, and butter the paper.
Cream the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Add half of the sugar and continue beating until light and soft, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the egg yolks, one by one, beating well after each addition and scraping the sides of the bowl to be sure all the ingredients are mixed. Beat in the lemon zest. With a spoon, stir in the ground walnut mixture.
Using the mixer with another bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff. With the whisk turning, gradually add the remaining sugar and continue beating until this meringue is stiff and glossy, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Fold about a quarter of the meringue into the walnut mixture to lighten it, and then add all the mixture to the remaining meringue. Fold the two together as lightly as possible. Spoon the batter into the cake pan and bake until the cake pulls from the sides of the pan and a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean when withdrawn, 40 to 50 minutes. If the cake browns too quickly, cover it loosely with aluminium foil. Let the cake cool 5 minutes, and then turn it out onto a rack covered with a sheet of parchment paper. Strip the lining paper from the cake and leave it upside down (so it has a flat top) to cool completely, at least an hour. 
For the topping, put the sugar and water in a small saucepan and heat gently without stirring until the sugar dissolves. Raise the heat and boil until the sugar cooks to a golden brown caramel. Turn the cake top upwards and set it back on the rack. Take the caramel from the heat, let the bubbles subside and at once pour it over the cake, spreading with a metal spatula to make a very thin layer, letting it drip down the sides.  Take care as caramel can burn badly. Decorate the cake at once with walnut halves so they stick to the caramel. The caramel will become crisp as it cools. When starting to set, mark portions in the caramel with a knife so the cake is easy to cut in wedges.

Makes a 9-inch/23-centimeter cake to serve 6 to 8

Far Breton

‘My grand-mère is the best cook in Brittany,’ the child exclaimed defiantly, crossing her arms and eyeing her schoolyard friend.  ‘Not possible, you lie.  My grand-mère makes the best food around,’ boldly cried the opposing child.  Onlookers watched the banter back and forth and knew neither child would back down.  For in Brittany, every grand- mère was the best cook.

This custard tarty cake, studded with rum soaked prunes, is a speciality of the Brittany region and a quintessential dessert from this picturesque area of France.  It is creamy, dense and smooth, and comes by way of my lovely French friend, Ms Couzelin

Ms Couzelin, my macaron-taster cum work colleague, grew up in Brittany, the most western province of France.  Until the age of 20, she would visit her grand-mère almost daily when living close by; each Thursday practically running to the house for her weekly lesson in crepe making (another speciality of the Brittany region).

Marie, her grand-mère, would make Far Breton frequently.  Mostly when milk was plentiful – or on request.  Ms Couzelin still makes it now when she wants to recreate a dish, from home.  She recollects helping her grand-mère in her kitchen, and sometimes sneaking tastes when no one was looking.  Remembers family gathered around enjoying the Far for dessert, breakfast or for a coffee break.  Seated on benches around a heavy, wooden farmers table, or in grand-mère’s kitchen.

I feel blessed to have the recipe that Marie only shared with her granddaughters, sometimes strangers, but never her neighbours! 

Ms Couzelin, merci beaucoup pour ta recette.

{ Far Breton aux Pruneaux } from Ms Couzelin’s grand-mère, Marie

* Ingredients *
2 tablespoons rum
150g pitted prunes
150g plain flour / all purpose flour
½ litre or 2 cups whole milk
Pinch salt
100g sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

* Directions *
Heat the rum in a small saucepan and slowly heat the prunes for 2-3 minutes.  Set aside.  Preheat the oven to 200C or 400F. Butter a shallow 6-cup baking dish. Add the flour and salt to a large bowl.  Add half the milk and slowly whisk to a paste.  Whisk in the remaining milk until smooth.  Add the sugar and continue to whisk.  Crack the eggs and one by one, add to the batter.  Finally, add the vanilla.   Whisk until completely smooth.  Drain the prunes from the rum and scatter on the bottom of the dish.  Pour the batter on top.  Bake for about 35-40 minutes, or until risen, golden and a skewer comes out clean.