If you’re a fan of sweet, boozy treats, chances are you’ve come across rum baba cakes. But have you ever wondered about the history of these delightful desserts?
A Brief Overview of the History of Pastry
Pastry has been around for centuries, and has evolved in various forms across cultures and continents. In ancient times, Egyptians and Greeks baked sweetened breads and cakes, and the Romans were known for their love of honey cakes. Pastry as we know it today started to take shape in medieval Europe, where bakers experimented with ingredients like butter, sugar, and eggs to create delicate, flaky crusts for pies and tarts.
The Origins of Rum Baba Cakes
A Polish Delicacy?
While rum baba cakes are often associated with Italy and France, some food historians believe that they actually have their roots in Poland. According to this theory, a Polish king in the 17th century had a sweet tooth and asked his court bakers to create a new pastry that would satisfy his cravings. The bakers came up with a cake made from yeast dough, which they soaked in a syrup made from sweet wine and topped with whipped cream. Over time, the wine was replaced with rum, and the cake became known as babka, which means “grandmother” in Polish.
The Italian Connection
Another theory about the origins of rum baba cakes points to Naples, Italy, where a similar dessert called babà al rhum has been popular since the 18th century. Legend has it that the dessert was created by a pastry chef named Gennaro Lombardi, who served it to King Ferdinand IV of Naples. The king was so impressed that he declared the dessert his favorite, and it quickly became a hit throughout Italy.
The Rise of the Yeast-Raised Baba
One of the key innovations in the history of rum baba cakes was the introduction of yeast as a leavening agent. This made the cakes lighter and airier than the original babka or babà, which were often heavy and dense. The yeast also helped the cakes rise and absorb more of the rum syrup, creating a tender, moist crumb that became the hallmark of the modern rum baba cake.
Rum Baba Cakes Around the World
The Baba in Eastern Europe
While rum baba cakes are often associated with France and Italy, they’re also popular in Eastern Europe, where they’re sometimes known as savarins. These cakes are typically made with a rich, buttery dough that’s soaked in syrup and served with whipped cream or fruit. In some regions, the cakes are even served as a traditional Easter dessert.
Baba au Rhum in the French Caribbean
The French Caribbean is home to its own version of rum baba cakes, known as baba au rhum. These cakes are typically made with a dense, pound-cake-like batter that’s soaked in a syrup made from dark rum and brown sugar. The cakes are often served with whipped cream or fresh fruit, and are a popular dessert during the holidays.
Baba al Rhum in Latin America
Latin America has its own take on rum baba cakes, which are known as baba al rhum or baba borracho. These cakes are often made with a light, sponge-like batter that’s soaked in a syrup made from rum, sugar, and spices. They’re typically served with whipped cream or fruit, and are a popular dessert during festive occasions like weddings and quinceañeras.
How to Make Rum Baba Cakes
The Classic Recipe
Making rum baba cakes from scratch can be a bit time-consuming, but the end result is well worth the effort. Here’s a classic recipe to get you started:
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 tbsp sugar
- 1/4 oz active dry yeast
- 1/4 cup warm water
- 4 eggs
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup dark rum
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup sugar
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour and sugar.
- In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water.
- Add the yeast mixture, eggs, melted butter, and salt to the flour mixture. Mix until the dough comes together.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10-15 minutes, until it becomes smooth and elastic.
- Place the dough in a greased bowl and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Let it rise in a warm place for 1-2 hours, or until it doubles in size.
- Preheat your oven to 375°F (190°C).
- Grease a large bundt pan or several smaller cake pans.
- Divide the dough into small balls and place them in the prepared pan(s).
- Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the cakes are golden brown and cooked through.
- While the cakes are baking, make the rum syrup. In a small saucepan, combine the rum, water, and sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes, until the syrup has thickened slightly.
- When the cakes are done, remove them from the oven and let them cool for a few minutes.
- Using a toothpick or skewer, poke holes all over the cakes. Spoon the warm syrup over the cakes, making sure to get it into all the holes.
- Let the cakes sit for at least 30 minutes, or until they’ve absorbed all the syrup.
- Serve the rum baba cakes with whipped cream, fresh fruit, or a dusting of powdered sugar.
Variations and Twists
While the classic rum baba cake is delicious on its own, there are plenty of ways to customize and add your own twist to the recipe. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Add some citrus: Zest some lemon or orange and add it to the dough or syrup for a bright, tangy flavor.
- Try a different liquor: While rum is traditional, you can experiment with other spirits, such as brandy, whiskey, or even tequila.
- Top with fruit: Fresh berries, sliced peaches, or even canned pineapple can make a delicious and colorful topping for rum baba cakes.
- Make a boozy cream: Whip some heavy cream with a splash of rum or other liquor and use it as a topping or filling for the cakes.
- Serve with ice cream: A scoop of vanilla or rum raisin ice cream can be a perfect accompaniment to warm, syrup-soaked rum baba cakes.
While making rum baba cakes does require some time and effort, the recipe is not overly complicated and can be mastered with practice.
Yes, you can experiment with other types of liquor, but keep in mind that the flavor and texture of the cake may be affected.
Yes, rum baba cakes can be made a day or two in advance and stored in an airtight container. Just be sure to add the syrup and toppings right before serving.
While the two desserts are similar, savarins are typically made with a richer, buttery dough and may be topped with whipped cream or fruit.
Rum baba cakes are not traditionally associated with any particular holiday or occasion, but they are often served at weddings, parties, and other festive events.
The history of rum baba cakes is a fascinating journey that spans centuries and continents. From the Middle East to Europe to Latin America, this delicious dessert has evolved and adapted to suit the tastes and traditions of countless cultures. Whether you stick to the classic recipe or experiment with your own variations, rum baba cakes are a sweet and satisfying treat that are sure to delight and impress your guests.