The history of babà and its delicious recipe

A delicious pastry product Neapolitans are famous for.

Have you ever been to Naples at least once in your life? No? You must go to! Maybe you don’t know that this city is not only well-known for being the native land of pizza, but sweets lovers surely know that Naples is also famous for another palate treat: the babà.

Babà boasts centuries of history

Similar to a champagne bottle cork, babà looks like a golden-coloured mushroom and it’s usually glossy and sometimes filled with pastry cream or whipped cream. Even though it’s famous to come from Naples, it was actually invented far from southern Italy.

I would start saying “Once upon a time…” since this story takes place in France in the 18th century and its protagonist is a king. Yes, you have well read, a king and not farmers, as most survived recipes have rural origins. There was a Polish king, Stanislaw Leszczinski, who after being defeated by Russia was forced into exile to France. Since he was King of France’s father-in-law, he obtained a whole territory, the Duchy of Lorraine. It is said he was very fond of sweets but the only treat he was given was the Alsatian Kugelhopf, a yeast cake made with raisin, butter, sugar and flour. Given that he found it to be too dry, he once tried to soak it in Madeira wine and since then he kept on eating it like this, or just making chefs add saffron and raisin in the dough, two ingredients he came to know when he was a prisoner in Turkey. In Paris, it became trendy to soak it in the rhum instead.

Being a great estimator of the “One thousand and one nights”, he decided to name this new delicacy after the novel ‘s character’s name, “babà” and the rounded shape should remind of the Saint Sophie church’s cupola in Istanbul.

The babà recipe started to travel when the king’s pastry chef, Stohrer, moved to Paris and opened a laboratory in rue Montorgueil, which is now still there.
In the first half of 19th century, the Brillat-Savarin brothers invented a circular babà, soaked into an alcoholic mixture and brushed with apricots jam.

It finally reached southern Italy only when Stanislaw’s heir, Maria Carolina, married to the Kingdom of the two Sicilies’ king, introduced French food and trends in Naples. And the babà must have been much appreciated if Neapolitans now claim babà as theirs.

Babà with Grand Marnier

Image credits by Ralph Daily, Creative Commons license.

Babà recipe

Now, it’s time for you to try your hands at it. The ingredients for the dough are:

  • 240 gr flour
  • 4 eggs
  • 40 gr sugar
  • 80 gr butter
  • 20 gr yeast
  • salt

And for the syrup, they are:

  • 30 cl water
  • 160 gr sugar
  • 150 cl rhum

Melt the yeast in some water and add to a third of flour. Knead and form a little ball of dough and leave it to rise. After rising, add eggs, butter and then the rest of flour, sugar and salt. Knead again and leave it to rise until the dough is twice in volume. At this point, fill half of some little cylindrical moulds with the dough and cook for at least 15 minutes at 180°C.

After letting babàs dry a little bit, soak them into a syrup previously made by cooking water and sugar and then adding rhum. Now, all you can do is just eating! Enjoy your babà!

Little advice: try it soaked into Limoncello and topped with lemon pastry cream and let me know what you think of it!

Sources - Babà - Baba' al rum - La storia del Babà - Storia del Babà napoletano: dal nome alla ricetta già fissata nel 1836 - Storia del Babà

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