If you're looking for a luxurious dessert that'll seriously warm your cockles, how about a decent wedge of old-fashioned Rum Baba? This currant-studded, syrup-soaked stunner was taught to pupils of the National Training School for Cookery from it’s class book ‘High-Class Cookery Recipes’ between 1909 and 1912 and would’ve been served at many a grand dinner table by former pupils in one way or another.
To bring this tricky (but not overly so) Edwardian recipe back to life, we actually had to use 3 separate recipes; first, a recipe for a Savarin to make the dough, then the main Baba au Rhum recipe (both from High-Class Cookery Recipes, 1909) and then a final recipe for the rum syrup (Cookery Illustrated and Household Management, 1936). Believe it or not, the school didn’t provide a recipe for the syrup in the book. Perhaps pupils were tested on their ability to figure this part out for themselves… who knows! This was the closest in age recipe we could find for a rum syrup, and it worked perfectly.
Original Recipes: 'Savarin' and 'Baba au Rhum' (Book 2, 1909), and 'Rum Syrup' (Book 5, 1936)
Speed: 2 hours. | Serves: 8
For the Baba Cake:
227g Vienna Flour - 00 plain flour is a fine substitution for this
14g German Yeast - we used fresh yeast
¼ tsp. caster sugar
140ml warm milk
For the Rum Syrup:
170g caster sugar
1. Mix the yeast with 1 tsp. caster sugar and stir this into the warmed milk.
2. Sift the flour into a large bowl. Make a well in the middle and pour into this the milk mixture and mix together to combine. Put this in a warm place to rise until doubled in size (for us, this took about half an hour).
3. Once this has doubled, add in 2 of the eggs and 'beat well with the hands'.
Note: 'Beating' the eggs in 'well with the hands' is a squelchy, unusual business and it won't come together completely. Don't worry about that, it'll all come together over the next few steps.
4. Cream the butter and to this, mix in the 2 remaining eggs. Then, pour this into the dough mixture and 'work all very well together'. The best way to do this is by beating very well with a wooden spoon until this is fully combined and becomes a rather light and liquid consistency similar to runny porridge.
5. Butter a large baba mould (similar to a bunt cake tin, which is what we used) and sprinkle the currants around the base and sides. Pour in the dough, cover with a cloth and put in a warm place to rise again until the dough fills as much of the mould as possible.
Note: In our case, our mould was quite large and after leaving it to rise for an hour and a half (it stopped rising after about an hour), we realised that it wouldn't fill the whole tin.
The recipe does say that you can use smaller, individual sized moulds but as we went for the larger one we thought it best to only give instructions from this point onward if you were to make one large baba. If you make a batch of smaller babas, just keep an eye on the cooking time as this will of course be different (the recipe doesn't tell us how long to bake smaller cakes for).
6. Set to bake in the middle of an oven preheated to 180°C fan (350°F/Gas Mark 4) for about 20 minutes, or until cooked through. 15 minutes before this is done, make the rum syrup.
7. To make the syrup, put the sugar and water into a saucepan set over a medium heat and boil until this is reduced to about half the quantity, forming a light sugar syrup (about 15 minutes). Remove from the heat, and pour in the rum.
8. Turn the cake out of the pan and onto quite a large serving dish (levelling, if necessary) and baste well with the rum syrup.
"Serve hot and with some of the rum syrup poured over."
Original Recipes for 'Savarin' and 'Baba au Rhum'
'BOOK 2': High-Class Cookery Recipes for the National Training School of Cookery, 11th Edition (1909)
Author: Mrs Charles Clarke, Principal of the National Training School of Cookery
Publisher: William Clowes & Sons Limited (23 Cockspur Street, S.W. London, England, U.K.)
Original Recipe for 'Rum Syrup' (for 'Baba Rings')
'BOOK 5': Cookery Illustrated and Household Management (1936)
By: Elizabeth Craig
Publisher: Odhams Press Limited (Long Acre, London, W.C.2, England, U.K.)