I first learned about baba au rhum from Martha Stewart's 1989 Christmas Entertaining. My mom bought it for me at the height of my adolescent domesticity. My grandmother made a rum cake that I was quite fond of, and that is what initially drew me in to the idea of a baba au rhum.
From Julia I learned that a savarin and baba use the same dough, but are baked in different shaped molds and soaked in different flavors of syrup. I'm not certain how specific those criteria still are - I suspect they may be more loosely defined these days, but she says a baba is baked in a crown type of mold and soaked in rum, while a savarin is baked in a doughnut-shaped mold and soaked in kirsch (cherry-flavored) liqueur.
My great-grandmother had these individual round molds and I have no idea what she used them for. I always assumed they were for jello because they are the smooth aluminum that isn't really for cakes. But they looked just like the sketch in the cookbook, so I decided to give them a try. They actually worked perfectly, after greasing them well with melted butter.
The dough has a delicious yeasty-ness that is made completely dessert-like from the sweet, boozy soaking syrup. I made these just for Will and I, as I already had desserts planned for all our entertaining events. I did a half-recipe which made six individual-sized molds. Because I had so many other sweets around the house, I didn't finish the last one until five days later and it was still just as good as the first day. The liqueur would probably have helped it last even longer, if I could keep my fork out them! I was worried that the liquid would cause the baked dough to dissolve and fall apart, but they kept their shape perfectly even for multiple days.
I didn't have any kirsch, so I used grand marnier. Julia says savarins are to be filled with whipped cream, and fruit marinated in the same liqueur syrup. We filled ours with creme and just gave them a dusting of orange zest and a bit of fresh nutmeg. The combinations are really limitless, and are totally unnecessary because they are so good on their own.
Savarin/Baba Doughserves 12
4 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1 tablespoon yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
Combine the yeast, sugar, salt, and eggs. Mix in the flour and the butter and combine well with the dough hook of the stand mixer. Knead until it is smooth and elastic - when it can be stretched to twice it's length and twisted once without tearing.
Roll dough into a ball and sprinkle with a teaspoon flour. Cut an X across the top of the ball and place in a bowl covered with a damp towel to rise. Leave in a warm place (80-100 degrees) 1 1/2 - 2 hours until doubled in bulk.
Butter baking molds. Deflate risen dough and divide evenly among molds. Allow to rise uncovered 1-2 hours in a warm place. Bake at 375 for 15 minutes until browned and shrunk from the sides of the cups. Unmold onto a cake rack.
2 cups water
1 1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup liqueur (rum, kirsch, grand marnier)
Bring water and sugar to a boil and stir until sugar is dissolved. Stir in liqueur and cool to lukewarm.
Place room-temperature baked babas in a single layer in a dish and pour lukewarm syrup over them. Turn them over or baste them with the syrup until it is almost all dissolved. (Julia says 1/2 hour, I left mine for 3 hours while I ran errands and they had completely absorbed the syrup when I returned. They were puffed and swollen and delicious and that is my recommended method - don't leave a drop of syrup to waste! Or, you can leave them for just 30 minutes, and use the leftover/drained syrup to soak fruit in for topping.)
To serve ring-shaped cakes, fill the center with whipped cream and garnish.