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Anne Willan, renowned food historian and prolific writer,
 has had a love affair with France for decades. La Varenne,
 her famous ‘Ecôle de Cuisine’, opened in France in 1975,
 becoming a magnet for aspiring cooks. Laterly La Varenne
 was housed at her Château du Feÿ in Burgundy.
Here she honours her beloved Chef Chambrette. 


We mourn the loss of our Chef Chambrette and we pay tribute to his memory by sharing his signature recipe for Rum Babas with you, below. From the beginning, Chef Chambrette anchored the teaching staff at La Varenne Cooking School in Paris.  He was always unstinting in sharing his favorite recipes and his Rum Babas were legendary.  For many years, they were a taxing exam dish at La Varenne.  Rum Babas are not just a simple yeast cake - finesse is required to get them just right.


The End of an Era - Remembering Chef Chambrette


Rum Babas




Makes 12 medium babas

3 tablespoons/45 ml lukewarm water
1 tablespoon/10 g dry yeast
2 cups/250 g flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon/15 g sugar
3 eggs, beaten to mix
3/4 cup/200 g dried currants
3 tablespoons/45 ml dark rum
1/2 cup/110 g butter, softened, more for the molds


Rum Syrup
2 cups/400 g sugar
3 cups/375 ml water
11/2 cup/125 ml dark rum, more to taste


Decoration (optional)
3 to 4 candied cherries
3 to 4 slices of candied orange peel

Twelve 7-tablespoon/100-ml/2" baba molds.


To make the babas, put the lukewarm water in a small bowl, sprinkle over the yeast, and leave until dissolved, about 5 minutes. Sift the flour, salt, and sugar into a warmed bowl, make a well in the center, and add the yeast mixture and eggs to the well. With your hand, stir the central ingredients, and then gradually draw in the flour to make a smooth dough. It should be very soft. Cup your hand and knead the dough in a slapping motion against the side of the bowl. Continue until it is shiny and very smooth, about 5 minutes. Alternatively, mix and knead the dough in a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and leave the dough to rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Meanwhile, soak the currants in the rum.


Generously butter the molds, chill in the freezer until set, and butter a second time. When the dough has risen, knead it lightly to knock out the air. Add the softened butter and continue beating with your hand until the butter is incorporated, 1 to 2 minutes. Beat the currants and rum into the dough. Using 2 teaspoons, drop the dough into the prepared molds, filling them about a half full and without letting dough drip onto the sides. Set the molds on a baking sheet, cover them with adrycloth, and let the dough rise until the molds are full, 30 to 45 minutes. Heat the oven to 400˚F/200˚C.


When risen, bake the babas until they are golden brown and have started to shrink from the side of the molds, 20 to 25 minutes. Unmold and leave them to cool on a rack. If you can bake the babas a day ahead and leave them uncovered overnight, so much the better. They will dry and absorb more syrup.


For the syrup, heat the sugar and water in a sauté pan or wide, shallow saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar is dissolved. Bring the syrup to a boil and boil rapidly for 2 to 3 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in 1/4 cup/60 ml of the rum. Drop the babas into the hot syrup. Turn and baste them so they absorb as much as possible, almost doubling their original size. Transfer them to a platter or individual plates with a draining spoon, layering them on their sides. If you need to soak the babas in 2 batches, reheat the syrup before adding the second batch. Reserve any leftover syrup. The babas may be soaked 4 to 6 hours ahead and kept tightly covered at room temperature.


To finish, if you like, decorate each baba with a nugget of candied cherry, surrounding it with small pieces of candied orange peel.  Sprinkle each baba with 1 teaspoon of neat rum to add fresh flavor. If any syrup remains, lace it with a bit more rum and serve it in a pitcher with the babas.


Find Rum Baba Molds
About La Varenne
About Anne Willan



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