Babas al rhum, is a favorite dessert in Naples, found in most pasticcerie, filled with whipped cream, or crema pasticciera (custard cream), or cannoli cream—or just oozing with syrup.
In this recipe, I give you a limoncello syrup to soak the babas, and you can fill them with ice cream or whipped cream, the ricotta filling for cannoli, Espresso Zabaglione, or the Limoncello cream for Tiramisù.
If you don’t have baba molds, you can bake the cakes in small (not mini) muffin pans. You could also use two small Bundt pans.
- For the dough:
- 1 package (2 teaspoons) dry yeast
- 2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
- ¼ pound (1 stick) butter, softened plus more for the bowl and molds
- For the syrup:
- 3 cups sugar
- 1 cup limoncello
- 1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
To make the dough, dissolve the yeast in 2 tablespoons warm water in a small bowl and let it sit for several minutes to and start to bubble. Put the flours, salt and sugar in the bowl of the food processor and run the machine for a few seconds to blend the dry ingredients.
Mix the beaten eggs with the dissolved yeast. With the food processor running, pour all the liquid into the flour and process for 20 seconds or so. A stiff dough will gather on the blade and clean the sides of the bowl. Now drop in the soft butter and process for another 20 to 30 seconds until it is full incorporated. Turn the soft dough out, knead by hand briefly to form a smooth round and drop it into a lightly buttered bowl. Cover it with plastic wrap and let the dough rise for 30 minutes or so—it does not need to double.
Butter the baba molds. Deflate the dough and cut it into 12 equal pieces (about 2 ounces each). Roll each piece into a round to fill bundt forms or into a short rope for tube forms. Let the babas expand to fill the molds, about 30 minutes or more.
Meanwhile, heat the oven to 400°, arranging two racks if necessary. Bake the babas for 15 to 20 minutes or until they are dark gold on top; shift the pans on the racks for even baking. Turn them out of the pans and cool.
To make the syrup, bring the water, lemon juice and sugar to a full boil in a wide pot, add the limoncello and boil for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and immediately push as many babas as will fit into the hot syrup and weight with a plate or pot cover to keep them submerged. When they have soaked up enough syrup to expand, about 10 minutes, remove them from the pot and drain on a wire rack set over a dish. If you have more babas to soak, heat the syrup to the boil again, then submerge another batch.
Serve the soaked babas within a short time or set them in a pan, sitting in a shallow layer of syrup to stay moist. For serving, slice them in half lengthwise and spoon in your filling. If you like, drizzle some warm syrup over the top.