Monday, October 20, 2014

Babas au birthday

Each year, as mid-August rolls around, I ask my husband what he would like for his birthday dessert. I don't say "cake" here because the man is from France and their idea of celebratory pastry does not include cake. While most people would be over the moon at a homemade carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, my man would take a look and say, "anything with veggies in it is NOT dessert".

His idea of celebratory sweets is much fancier than cake! And I have been challenged over the years. These things take prep work and planning, scheduling and cookbook-referencing. A few years ago, I winged it with a Paris-Brest and forgot to add the crushed praline to the whipped cream. quelle horreur! It was like forgetting to add the cream cheese to the frosting for the aforementioned carrot cake. Inconceivable!

I felt bad that last year's request for Omelet Norvegienne went unfulfilled (I couldn't find a recipe and later realized it is Baked Alaska!! Norway my ...!) so I substituted a tiramisu. Delicious, yes, but lacking in the spirit of the request and loving fulfillment equation. 

So, when he requested babas au rhum on this very significant birthday, I hit the books and did my research. I dug up a long-filed-away copy of a New York Times magazine article with a rum baba recipe from Helen Darroze. But that was a bit too, well, Helene Darroze, so I consulted Baking with Julia and made an amalgam of the recipes. Julia's babas and pastry cream, Helene's syrup.

It was one of those recipes for baked goods that sounds and looks like it will not work. Not enough flour, too much yeast, very liquid. But the dough rose well and baked up beautifully. 

I used mini-brioche molds and a mini-loaf pan.
Mini Me! Really, who doesn't love a cute baked good?!

The cream was a simple pastry cream flavored with rum. 
Eggs with sugar ready to incorporate with the hot milk.

Tempered eggs added to milk while whisking...

Add vanilla....

and finish by whisking in butter!

Cooling the cream.
 There were lots of steps, but pretty foolproof.
Helene Darroze's syrup used cardamom, cinnamon and cracked white pepper added to a sugar syrup. 

Assembly was fussy (remember, French) and the timing difficult to get right. I was also cooking a birthday dinner...

The babas needed to be soaked in the syrup (one recipe said 10 minutes while the other said 45!) to the point of softening but not disintegrating. I opted for tossing them around in a bowl and spooning the syrup over them again and again. I stopped when I saw crumbs in the syrup.

Then the pastry cream needed to be piped in through a hole in the bottom of the spongy, now syrupy cakes. I never know how to gauge the right amount of cream to pipe in. I erred on the conservative side and topped with more pastry cream and then added some whipped cream.

Stick some candles* on top and you've got a party!
* And don't you know that was the hardest part of this picture? Remembering where the birthday candles were. Every year this happens and I still don't know where they are. These are new candles purchased for the occasion. Big birthday required it, naturally!

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