Babas are a classic dessert dating back to the early 1800s. Classically, it’s an enriched, yeasted batter baked until golden, then soaked in a boozy syrup (rum, traditionally, but bourbon this time). I still use yeast for flavor, but I add baking powder to produce an even lighter, loftier baba (which can soak up more syrup). I add orange zest and vanilla bean to make up for the dried fruits that often stud a classic baba. The result is a tasty nod to the classic version, with a flair all it’s own. —Erin McDowell
Test Kitchen Notes
For more details on the process, see the full article. —The Editors
6 babas (can vary slightly depending on the size of your baking vessel)
softened unsalted butter, as needed for greasing the mold
large (170 g) eggs, separated
(99 g) granulated sugar, divided
(57 g) whole milk
(42 g) unsalted butter
vanilla bean, scraped
1 1/4 cups
(150 g) all-purpose flour
(8 g) baking powder
(4 g) instant yeast
(3 g) fine sea salt
zest of 1 orange
Soaking + Finishing
(170 g) bourbon
(113 g) water
(106 g) dark brown sugar
zest and juice of 1 orange
vanilla bean, scraped
apricot jam, as needed for finishing (optional)
whipped cream, as needed for serving (not optional)
Preheat the oven to 350° F. Butter and flour the cavities of a popover pan (mine has 6 cavities; you could also use muffin cups, which will yield closer to 12 babas).
Make the babas: In the bowl mixer fitted with the whip attachment, whip the egg yolks and 1/4 cup (half) of the sugar until it’s pale and very thick (ribbon stage), 3-4 minutes. Set aside. You’ll need the mixer bowl again later (clean) – so wash it quick now if you don’t have a spare (or you can use a hand mixer + a regular bowl later).
In a medium pot, heat the milk, butter, and vanilla bean scrapings until the butter is just melted; the milk shouldn’t be too hot. Test it with your finger, it should feel warm, not hot. If it’s hot, let it cool a bit before proceeding.
Add the milk/butter mixture to the egg yolks and stir to combine. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, yeast, salt, orange zest to combine.
Add the flour mixture to the yolk mixture and stir to combine.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whip attachment, whip the egg whites on medium speed until they start to get frothy, 1-2 minutes. Slowly stream in the remaining ¼ cup sugar and continue to whip on medium high speed until the mixture reaches medium peaks, 2-3 minutes more.
Add about 1/4 of the egg whites into the batter. Mix to combine; this will help “temper” or lighten the batter. Fold in the remaining egg whites in 2 additions, very gently, just until incorporated.
Fill the prepared pan 2/3 way full (if you’re using muffin cups, fill the cups just over 3/4 of the way full.
Bake until the babas have risen very tall and are evenly golden brown, 20-23 minutes.
While the babas bake, make the soaking syrup: in a medium pot, stir the bourbon, water, dark brown sugar, orange zest, orange juice, vanilla bean, cinnamon stick, and cloves to combine. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Set aside.
When the babas are baked, unmold immediately. Let them cool for a few minutes (no more than 10), then soak them in the syrup while they are still warm. Be generous – really dunk them. After you’ve dunked each one, dunk them all again—by the time you’re done, the syrup should be gone.
If using, warm the apricot jam in a small pot, then use the warm jam to glaze the babas. Serve warm, with whipped cream.
I always carry three kinds of hot sauce in my purse. I have a soft spot for making people their favorite dessert, especially if it's pie. My first cookbook, The Fearless Baker, is out on October 24, 2017.