I have never had sweet tooth, and I definitely don’t bake, desserts are generally up to my husband who delights over anything saccharine. I figured that I would stick to this week’s neapolitan theme and would create a post on the babà, which originated in Poland, but have become one of Naples’ most traditional pastries.
The first babà I ever ate was in the wee hours of the morning when I was studying in Rome during college. There was a neapolitan bakery near my apartment which was open all night baking the cornetti to be fresh for Rome’s breakfast the next morning. Though it was delicious, the sticky fingers that I had at the end of my early morning snack discouraged me from ever ordering them again. Of course this was one of the individually sized babàs which are cone shaped with a little mushroom head. When I discovered on a trip to Naples years later that you didn’t need to eat them standing up with syrup dripping all over me and the floor, but with a fork, I was delighted. The cone-shaped babàs are the most well-known, but it is also common to find them in the pastry shops as a crown cake with a number of mini babàs nestled in the empty center. The sweet syrup that babàs are drenched in is either made with rum or only sugar and water.
I really hate to disappoint you, but the recipe below is one that I will probably never attempt, but for those of you out there who have a sweet tooth, enjoy!
from Naples at Table, Cooking in Campania by Arthur Schwartz
- 1 envelope actively dry yeast (2½ tsp)
- ½ cup warm milk
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature, separated
- 8 tbsp butter (1 stick), at room temperature
- 2 tbsp sugar
- ½ tsp salt
- 3½ cups cake flour, measured then sifted
For the syrup:
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 cups water
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 2 tbsp to ¼ cup rum
Dissolve the yeast in the milk and set aside.
Beat the egg whites until stiff and set aside.
In a heavy-duty electric mixer, using the paddle, cream the butter with the sugar and salt until the mixture is light colored and fluffy.
Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating to incorporate each before adding the next.
Add 1 cup of the sifted flour, ½ cup at a time, beating each additional until it is incorporated and scraping down the bowl and beaters between additions.
Add half the beaten egg whites and beat until incorporated. The dough will loosen up. Add another cup of flour, ½ cup at a time, again scraping down the bowl and beaters between additions. Beat in the remaining egg whites. Add the last 1½ cups of flour, ½ cup at a time.
Finally, beat the milk and yeast mixture into the dough and let the machine run about 90 seconds, until the dough loses enough of its stickiness to pull away cleanly from the bowl when scraped with a rubber spatula.
Turn the dough out into the bowl used to beat the egg whites. Cover with a towel and set aside to rise for 1 hour. It should be doubled in bulk.
Generously butter a 9-inch tube pan.
When the dough has risen, using a rubber spatula, dislodge the dough from the bowl and ease it into the tube pan, turning the bowl or the pan so that the dough stretches around to fill the pan. Using the rubber spatula, prod and poke the dough so it fills the pan more or less evenly. Cover with a kitchen towel and set aside to rise for another 1½ hours. At this point, the dough should have risen to fill about ¾ of the pan.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Bake for about 35 minutes, until the cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan. Remove and let the cake cool in the pan, on a wire rack, for about 10 minutes. Unmold the cake and place it in a deep dish.
While it cools more, make the syrup: Combine the sugar, water, and lemon zest in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Reduce heat and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Remove the syrup from the heat and add the rum. Allow to cool slightly before drenching the cake.
With a toothpick, make a couple of dozen tiny holes in the top of the cake. Spoon syrup over the cake very slowly. As syrup accumulates in the platter, spoon back over the cake. Use all the syrup.