A classic dessert of small yeasted cakes soaked in a vanilla kirsch syrup.
Planning ahead: The cooked babas can be frozen and then defrosted before soaking
For the dough
- 200 g strong white flour (see Chef's note 1)
- 70 g unsalted butter, diced, at room temperature (see Chef's note 2)
- 15 g white sugar (see Chef's note 3)
- 3 g vanilla paste
- 10 g fresh yeast (see Chef's note 4)
- 3 pinches sea salt (see Chef's note 5)
- 250 g medium eggs, beaten (see Chef's note 6)
- 8 ml water
For the syrup
- 300 ml water
- 100 g white sugar
- 1 vanilla bean, split lengthways
- 55 ml kirsch or framboise
- 1 piece orange rind, (skin only)
- 1 piece lemon rind, (skin only)
- 250 g fruit jam
- 250 g crème fraéche
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Proving time: 1 hour
To make the dough, place the flour, butter, sugar, vanilla, yeast and salt (separating yeast and salt as it will damage its ability to ferment, see Chef's note 7) in a bowl of an electric mixer with paddle attachment. Add 200g of egg and beat on minimum speed for 4 minutes.
Scrape the sides of the bowl using a plastic scrape card, increase to speed 2 and beat for 6 minutes, until dough becomes elastic (see Chef's note 8).
Scrape the sides of the bowl again. In five small batches, add remaining egg and the water, beating, until completely incorporated. Remove the bowl from the mixer, cover loosely with a towel to prevent air drying surface of the dough and a crust forming, and stand at room temperature for 30 minutes, to prove (see Chef's note 9).
Preheat oven to 170°C. Lightly butter and flour 20 x 5.5 cm moulds, then line the bases with small circles of greaseproof paper. With a scrape card or spatula, release the dough from the bowl and spoon into a piping bag fitted with an 8 mm nozzle. Pipe 30g of dough into each mould. Stand again for 30 minutes to prove, until the dough two-thirds fills the mould (see Chef's note 10).
Bake the babas for 20 minutes. Transfer to a tray to cool.
Meanwhile, to make the syrup, bring all the ingredients to a boil in a saucepan over a high heat. Remove from the heat and cool to 40°C.
Place four babas each in five separate bowls. Pour a little syrup over each, repeating several times. Transfer the soaked babas to a wire rack to drain and cool. Refrigerate until ready to serve with jam and crème fraéche.
1 This recipe requires a strong flour with a high gluten content, as do all bread recipes and dough. I am lucky to live by an excellent mill that I first used in 1981 when I opened my first bakery, Maison Blanc. It is our local mill, Shipton Mill, and to this day we still use them.
2 Room temperature butter incorporates much quicker into the dough, producing a silky smooth texture, avoiding lumps in the dough and an inconsistent bread.
3 The inclusion of sugar in the dough is to help the yeast ferment and produce carbon dioxide, creating wonderful bubbles and air pockets and giving a light and soft bread.
4 If fresh yeast is unavailable, then dried yeast can be used but use half the quantity. It is important to know that yeast is sleeping at 4°C, best active between 20–40°C and destroyed at 45–50°C.
5 Always use the best salt with the least refining. Never use salt with anti-caking additives.
6 Always buy organic or free-range eggs. They follow good husbandry practices and good ethical standards. The best-before date sets the shelf life of the egg, which is 21 days after it has been laid. Try to use fresh eggs.
7 Try to keep the salt and yeast separated until you are ready to combine the dough ingredients, as the salt can dry out the yeast, leaving it unable to properly ferment.
8 As you knead the dough, the proteins within the gluten are being worked, making them more elastic and resulting in a smooth dough. This happens as the moisture (the water) has been fully incorporated into the flour.
9 When proving the dough for the first time, the yeast starts to be active as low as 5°C, but for baking, the best proving is at around 22°C. The warmer the room is, the faster the proving time, but the taste won’t be as developed, nor will the volume. What’s happening at this stage is extraordinary, through the fermentation of the yeast, the sugars are converted into ethanol (alcohol), the alcohol is transformed into carbon dioxide, which in turn creates millions of bubbles expanding through the dough. When the dough is baked, the yeast dies off and the bubbles set, leaving a wonderful light, soft texture. A slow fermentation of yeast creates a better flavour and also a greater rise.
10 When proving the dough for the second time, the same chemistry is happening but this will increase the activity of the yeast, creating wonderful sweet and sour flavours and, of course, puffing out the dough.