Baba al Rhum

by rebecca deangelis

It’s curious that a dessert with Polish lineage named for Ali Baba (of the Forty Thieves) is a favorite dessert in Naples. But somehow, these little cakes are ubiquitous in the southern Italian port town. 


Traditionally, the baba is soaked in either a rum or limoncello-based syrup then sliced and filled with pastry cream or ricotta cream. Feel free to add fruit or Nutella.



For the syrup: 


In a medium saucepan, combine all of the ingredients, less the rum. Bring to a boil and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and let stand for 30 minutes. Add the rum and stir through. Strain through a fine mesh strainer and discard the solids. Cover the liquid to keep warm for soaking the baba. 


For the cake:


Preheat the oven to 325F.


In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the warm water and yeast and let sit until foamy. Then let the mixture rise until it's doubled in size, about 20 minutes.


Using the paddle attachment of the stand mixer, add flour and mix until incorporated. Add the eggs one at a time until incorporated. Then add sugar, salt, and zests. When a soft dough forms, slowly beat in the butter. Remove the paddle and cover bowl with plastic. Let the dough rest for 20 minutes.


Butter and flour a 9-inch bundt cake pan (unless you happen to have a baba mold). Place the dough in the pan, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise again in a warm, draft-free place until it has nearly reached the top of the mold, about 30-40 minutes.


Place the bundt pan on a sheet tray and bake on the middle rack of the oven for 30 minutes, or until the top of the baba is golden brown and the sides have begun to pull away from the pan. Allow to cool for 15-20 minutes. In the meantime, make or reheat syrup.


Make sure that the syrup is nice and hot, then submerge your cakes in the syrup. Weigh the cake down with a small plate ensure the cake is fully submerged and absorbs the syrup. Soak for 10-15 minutes. Delicately remove the cakes and place on a tray to cool. 


Cut the cake in half and pipe the bottom half with cream. Replace the top then transfer to a cake platter or stand.