11 October 2012

Deux gâteaux : le « savarin » et le « baba »

My old friend CHM and also Bob R. asked about my savarin recipe, and differences between a savarin and baba au rhum. Now, I don't have CHM's 80+ years of experience of French food — my experience only goes back 40 years, and only a part of that is direct experience with home cooks in France. He grew up with a French mother and grandmother who cooked the classic French way, from what I understand.

A savarin cake I made in a real savarin mold back when
we first arrived in Saint-Aignan nine years ago.

Here's some information about the savarin from my point of view, based on what I have been reading in two classic French cookbooks, the encyclopedic Larousse Gastronomique and the home cooking classic Je sais cuisiner (by Ginette Mathiot, 1970 ed.).

Ginette Mathiot says: « Le baba se fait comme le savarin, mais on incorpore au dernier moment les raisins de Corinthe qui ont été lavés et épluchés. » — "The cake called a baba is made the same way as a savarin cake, but at the last minute currants (tiny Corinthian raisins) are added to the dough." So Mathiot implies that the savarin came first, and the baba au rhum was a version of it. (Raisins épluchés might sound like "peeled grapes" but I think it must mean raisins without any of the little hard bits of stem that might be left attached to them.)

 This time I baked the savarin in a pyrex ring pan.

The Larousse food and cooking encyclopedia says just the opposite is true. The baba was the original recipe, and a Parisian pastry chef developed the savarin much later:
Baba — Gâteau fait avec une pâte levée mélangée de raisins secs et imbibée, après cuisson, d'un sirop au rhum et au kirsch.

...un maître pâtissier parisien, Julien, en supprimant les raisins de la pâte, en donnant une autre forme à l'entremets, et en modifiant le sirop de trempage (sirop qui resta longtemps un secret de sa maison), créa le brillat-savarin, qui devint le savarin tout court.

Baba — A cake made with risen dough mixed with raisins and imbibed, after it's cooked, with sugar syrup flavored with rum and kirsch.

...a master pastry chef in Paris named Julien, by eliminating the raisins from the dough, giving the cake a different shape, and modifying the soaking syrup (the recipe for which long remained a trade secret), created the brillat-savarin cake, which came to be called, simply, the savarin.
My ring pan made a cake with a gigantic hole in the center. Scroll down a ways
to see the good picture of the cake that I posted yesterday,
where it looks like a big doughnut.

The savarin I made was based on Ginette Mathiot's recipe:

Here's my translation/adaptation of the savarin recipe, with both grams and U.S. measures. I've slightly increased the flour (by rounding up) and the sugar, and I've reduced the amount of yeast (the amount I used was plenty). Tablespoons and teaspoons are level measures using U.S. measuring spoons:

250 g flour (2 cups)
125 g softened butter (9 Tbsp.)
30 g sugar (4 Tbsp.)
3 eggs
20 ml lukewarm milk (7 Tbsp.)
8 g salt (1 tsp.)
15 g baker's yeast (I used just 1½ packets or about 8 grams)

Pre-heat the oven to 375ºF / 190ºC.

Put the yeast into the lukewarm milk to proof. Sift the flour into the bowl of a stand mixture and then pour in the yeast/milk mixture. Mix at low to medium speed with the paddle attachment, adding the eggs one at a time, until all is well blended. Let the mixer run for about 5 minutes. Cover the bowl and leave the dough to rise for two or three hours in a warm place.

When the dough has doubled in volume, add the softened butter, sugar, and salt, and mix everything together for another 5 to 8 minutes. The dough should be perfectly smooth.

Pour the dough into a buttered ring or bundt pan, filling it about two-thirds full. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes (the French recipe doesn't specify a cooking time) or until the cake has risen and browned nicely.

While the cake is cooling, make a syrup with 2 cups of water, half a cup of sugar, and a cup of rum, kirsch, Triple Sec, or some other alcohol or flavoring (you could make a vanilla syrup, for example). Poke some holes in the warm cake with a skewer and gradually pour the hot syrup over it so that it all soaks in (I took the cake out of the ring pan before imbibing it). Serve warm or at room temperature.
I'll leave the baba recipe for later. I guess next time I should make that — after I've gone and bought some good rum.


  1. I've never seen a Pyrex ring mould, Ken.
    Did you buy it over here?
    Find it in a vide-grenier?
    Or bring it with you from the States?
    It looks a wonderful piece of equipment... must keep my eyes open for something like this... I've seen tin ones, but at least this could double as a vase, centrepiece with candles or flowerheads, etcetera, etcetera...
    Tim... not the cat...
    [only just noticed that she's signed on!]

  2. I suspect "éplucher" in the context of currants means the sticky business of making sure there are no seeds left in them, as well. I remember, as a child, spending an afternoon or so "helping" my mother make a traditional Christmas pudding, which involved just that (and various other peeling and chopping jobs). Not sure how many currants actually ended up in the pudding, but a tedious task deserves some instant reward, after all.

  3. I’ve never heard the word éplucher for raisins de Corinthe [black] or de Smyrne [white] before using them. Before soaking or after? I think what Ms. Mathiot means is what you say, but éplucher usually conveys the idea of peeling, like a potato or a carrot.

    That said, it’s interesting to know Baba came first and Savarin later. Baba has always been one of my favorite, not because of the cake, but because of the rum! The dosage of the alcohol is tricky. If you put too little, it’s very bland and if you put too much, it’s too strong.

    Happy baking!

  4. That pyrex ring pan came from the U.S.

  5. Thanks Ken, I'll have to try it. I'm first going to compare it to the kugelhopf recipe I use. One difference I can see immediately is the alcohol. My kugelhopf uses just a few tablespoons of kirsch. And my mold has a different pattern.

  6. Have a diabetic in the family whose wish for his death bed fluctuates between baba au rhum and a zlabia (filaments of dough fried and the soaked in honey -- Algerian specialty). Until then, nada.

  7. The Savarin is beautiful, but Oh Baba, I like that rum! It all looks yummy--going on my list to try.

  8. Actually, almost any cake can be baba au rhum, just add rum.

    1. LOL, Starman. I just made a nice prune cake. Now where's the rum?

  9. I remember learning how to make baba au rhum at college. I doubt if I have made them since - we would have used Australian rum on them, which is appalling stuff. I have eaten them occasionally since, but not my favourite dessert. Chm is so right - get the rum wrong and they are ghastly.

  10. Susan, let's just stay positive and remind ourselves that with good rum, and there's no shortage of that from the Caribbean islands, the baba au rhum can be quite tasty!

  11. This is a message for Tim. I'll post it here and on my 12 Oct. 2012 topic. I found a company (maginea.com) that sells the Pyrex ring mould (called a moule à savarin on the site) just like the one I have. Here's the link. Price: 12.50 euros.

  12. Ken

    Thank you for the recipe - Guess it would a good idea to do a Baba au rhum for the coming holidays in December ( our Thanksgiving was last Monday).

    Bonjour Cousin,

    You should do like we do in the islands- if the rum is too strong , a good sieste under a tree is recommended :-) During cold days , well, put the feet up in front of the TV set .

  13. Beaver, LOL. I wonder if I can find rhum mauritien ou reunionnais au SuperU de St-Aignan. Je regarderai la prochaine fois. (Sent from my Archos internet radio...)


  14. Salut Ken,
    Nous venons de passer une semaine chez une amie à Brignoles. Chez elle, sur son étagère à livres, se trouvait un exemplaire de "Je Sais Cuisinier". Dimanche, nous étions invités chez des amis qui habitent à Cagnes-sur-Mer. Là aussi, le même livre, même plus usé faisait partie de leur bibliothèque personnelle. Tu as raison; c'est vraiment un texte classique. Merci d'en avoir écrit.
    J'ai acheté le livre pour Jean et Anna.

  15. Bonjour Dean, as-tu acheté le livre de G. Mathiot dans son édition anglaise ou française ? Je n'ai pas encore vu la traduction, mais je n'ai pas vraiment envie de l'acheter, comme l'original me convient parfaitement (depuis 30 ans). C'est une amie qui me l'a offert en 1980 ou 1981 comme cadeau d'anniversaire ou de Noël — je ne me souviens pas exactement. Cette amie avait alors quelque 83 ans et faisit si bien la cuisine...

  16. L'édition que j'ai achetée (après avoir lu ton blog du 24 mai 2012) est écrite en français.
    Nous n'avons pas l'habitude de lire les recettes en français, donc on verra ce que ça va donner.


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