I already know what youâ€™re thinking.
In my defence, I had not planned on making a dessert for SHF#18 that had rum in it. I had been planning something with a lovely limoncello as part of this monthâ€™s focus on Lori Longbothamâ€™s Lemon Zest. But it was not to be. You see, a few days ago, I was consulting Dorie Greenspanâ€™s Paris Sweets, when I inadvertently turned to a page with a recipe for Ali-Babas. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Ms. Greenspan, she is a food writer extraordinaire. She is a contributing editor for Bon AppÃ©tit and she has written several acclaimed cookbooks including a collaboration with the great Julia Child on the book Baking with Julia. While I havenâ€™t ever made anything from Paris Sweets, I was instantly smitten with the book. It’s charming and precious in the way that only a book about the pÃ¢tisseries of Paris can be.
So there I was, flipping pages absent-mindedly, when the heading Ali-Babas came jumping out at me. Without even reading the recipe I knew that this would be my entry for SFH #18.
Let me explain.
I was not the most outgoing of children. I was bright and studious, but shy. I preferred to observe from the background rather than claim centre stage. Books were the great interest of my childhood. My nose was always buried in a book and thankfully I had a mother who nourished that activity.
Among my favourites, was a book called The Arabian Nights. I had a version written for children that I consumed over and over again. All the while I imagined that I was a part of that magical world. At night, in bed, I would turn towards my window and wish for a flying carpet to stop right outside so that I could hop on and fly off to an adventure. My mindâ€™s eye delighted in visions of flowing veils, colourful jewels, gleaming lamps and exotic foods.
But without question, the story that I loved the most was the story of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. In short, the story is about a man named Ali Baba who discovers a secret treasure belonging to a band of forty thieves. The treasure is hidden in a cave that is sealed by magic. To open the cave you must say â€œOpen, SesamÃ©â€ and to close the cave you must say â€œClose, SesamÃ©â€. Being the imaginative child I was I would walk up to doors and quietly intone â€œOpen, SesamÃ©â€. Of course they never opened but I didn’t care. I was a kid and I was having a ball.
Seeing a recipe for Ali-Babas brought back so many of those delightful childhood moments when the world is a huge, open place where all sorts of wondrous things can happen simply by wiggling your nose or clicking your heels together. Ah, youth!
In Paris Sweets, Greenspan explains that the recipe for Ali-Babas comes from PÃ¢tisserie Stohrer, the oldest pastry shop in Paris. It is believed that the recipe for Ali-Babas was created early in the 18th Century by Nicolas Stohrer in honour of the exiled King of Poland, Stanislas Leszczynski. Apparently the original version included saffron, wine, grapes, raisins, angelica and candied lemons, which were all kneaded into the dough. The resulting pastry was then soaked in a syrup of saffron and wine.
Over time the Ali-Babas made at PÃ¢tisserie Stohrer have changed to resemble a baba au rhum. It is a yeasted pastry that is soaked in a rum syrup. The top part is then sliced off and a lovely dollop of pastry cream is added. The top part is then perched atop the pastry cream like a crown.
While it wasn’t a difficult pastry to make, it does take some time so you’ll want to prepare in advance. I enjoyed every step, especially the part where I got to soak raisins in rum and then flambÃ© them. That’s the kind of adventure the little girl in me who read The Arabian Nights just loves.
It goes without saying that the Ali-Babas were delicious. Dripping with rum syrup, the vanilla pastry studded with raisins is a glorious match. Having eaten one, I am now ready to go in search of hidden treasure, armed with the magical words that will help me in my quest.
Adapted from Paris Sweets by Dorie Greenspan.
For the vanilla pastry cream:
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 moist, plump vanilla bean, split and scraped
- 6 large egg yolks
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup cornstarch, sifted
- 3-1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 3 pats, at room temperature
- Bring the milk and the vanilla bean to a boil in a small pot. Turn off the heat and allow the milk and vanilla to infuse for at least 10 minutes, or up to an hour.
- Take a large bowl, and a second smaller bowl that fit within the larger one. Place ice cubes in the larger one and have it at the ready.
- In another saucepan, whisk the eggs, sugar and cornstarch until smooth. Slowly drizzle in the milk, whisking constantly. If the milk is hot go slowly as it may curdle the eggs.
- Once the milk and egg mixture are combine, remove the pod and set the pan over medium heat. Whisk until the mixture comes to a boil. Continue to whisk for a further minute or two. The mixture should be thick and creamy.
- Pass the cream through the sieve into the smaller bowl. Add water to the larger bowl and then place the smaller bowl in the ice bath. Stir frequently until the mixture has cooled to 140 degrees F (60 degrees C).
- Remove the mixture from the ice bath and whisk in the butter. Place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the cream and refrigerate until ready to use.
For the raisins:
- 1/2 cup moist, plump raisins
- 2 tablespoons dark rum
- Soak the raisins in hot water for about 5 minutes.
- Drain the raisins and place them in a small pot.
- Heat the raisins until they are very hot.
- Remove from the heat and immediately add the rum.
- Carefully, ignite the raisins with a match. Swirl the pot around until the flames extinguish. Be very careful and stand back when you do this!
- Let the raisins cool to room temperature.
- Once the raisins have cooled, stir them into the vanilla pastry cream and refrigerate until ready to use.
For the rum syrup:
- 1-1/4 cups water
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup dark rum
- Bring the water and sugar to boil in a small pan.
- Pour the syrup into a deep bowl (deep enough for you to be able to soak the Ali-Babas in) and let cool for 15 minutes. Add the rum and stir.
- Set aside until ready to use.
For the Ali-Babas:
- 1/3 cup water, at room temperature
- 1 packet (2-1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- Generously butter a 12-cup muffin pan (or 12 baba au rhum molds if you have them) and set aside.
- Stir the water, yeast and sugar together in the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer. When the yeast is dissolved, add the flour and salt. Using the dough hook, mix at medium speed until a moist ball forms. This should take about 2 minutes.
- Switch the attachments to the paddle. Add 2 of the eggs and beat at medium-low speed for 3 minutes. Add the remaining 2 eggs and mix until the eggs are incorporated. Once the eggs are thoroughly mixed in, increase the speed to medium-high and beat for 3 minutes.
- Add the cooled butter and beat for 5 more minutes on medium-high speed. The dough the should be fairly thin and smooth.
- Divide the dough evenly between the muffin cups. Each cup should be about half full. Cover the pan with a sheet of parchment or wax paper and set aside for about 25 to 30 in a warm place for the dough to rise. Once the dough has risen it should fill the cups about three-quarters of the way.
- While the dough is rising, place a rack in the centre of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C).
- Remove the paper, place the muffin pan on a baking sheet. Once you put the muffin tin in the oven place the handle of a wooden spoon in the door of the oven to prop it open slightly. Bake for 25 to 28 minutes. The Ali-Babas will be golden brown. Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes and then unmold onto a rack and allow to cool to room temperature.
To assemble the Ali-Babas:
- Take each Ali-Baba and make six small slits. One by one, drop the Ali-Babas into the syrup. Drench them thoroughly in the rum syrup and transfer to a plate.
- Refrigerate the Ali-Babas and thoroughly chill them, for at least 3 hours but not more than a day.
- Once the Ali-Babas are cold, take each one and slice off the top third. Top each one with a spoonful of the pastry cream and then cover with the top piece. Serve them immediately or wrap them tightly and refrigerate them for up to 6 hours.
Note: Each of the elements of this recipe can be made ahead. The syrup can be refrigerated for up to a week. The pastry cream can be made up to three days prior to use and kept tightly-covered in the refrigerator. The unsoaked Ali-Babas can be kept at room temperature in a container for 1 day or wrapped airtight and frozen for up to a month. Bring to room temperature before soaking. The rum-soaked Ali-Babas can be kept well-wrapped in the refrigerator for up to 1 day.