The holidays are a joyful time to gather with family and friends. But for those of us who have lost a loved one, it can also be a time of year that brings great sadness, as we feel the absence of someone who should be there.
Four years ago, I lost my mom. Christmas has not been the same since. I still cherish the holidays, but it’s hard to feel the kind of carefree exuberance that we all had when she was around. She took a little of the Christmas magic with her when she went, and it hasn’t been easy trying to bring it back. Luckily, she left me with a special baking tradition that helps me in that department – the department of Christmas exuberance and cheer, that is.
You see, each Christmas, my mom would make Baba Au Rhum. You’re probably wondering what in the world is a baba. Well. A baba, my dear friends, is a magical thing. It consists of a light, golden, brioche-like sweet bread that is generously (in the case of my mom’s version, very generously!) soaked in rum syrup. In fact, my mom always insisted that the baba must be soaked with the syrup all the way through, like a sponge. Her babas really packed a punch. My uncle jokingly likes to call them “little orbs of drunk” and I’m proud to say I’ve continued the annual tradition of getting everyone slightly tipsy on Christmas dessert.
Along with making babas for our family, the week before Christmas, my mom would make them for her knitting circle, a group that meets every week at the wool store where she worked. I decided I wanted to continue her tradition and whenever I’m home for Christmas, I bring a tray of Baba Au Rhum to her knitting comrades. And though I get a wave of sadness in my heart as I step through the door, I am always greeted with laughter and cheer, the familiar click of knitting needles, and a warm crackling woodstove. The babas are welcomed and savored, and the knitters’ fond memories of my mom warm my heart.
Sinking my teeth into a baba oozing with rum sauce was always one of the great delights of the season. But now there is something more. The flavors remind me of my mom’s twinkling eyes and her love of sharing delicious treats with family and friends, as well as her passionate belief that food is something worthy of our time, our energy and, at times, even our political activism, as we ensure that what we eat is produced in ways that are healthy for us and for the planet. Through this special baba tradition she has passed on, my mom’s spirit lives on and a little bit of her Christmas magic is with us. Each year, I take great pride and comfort in making her babas as well as her tourtière recipe.
If you are missing a loved one this holiday season, my heart goes out to you. I encourage you to prepare one of the traditional holidays recipes they used to make. I can think of no better way to honor their memory and find comfort in the familiar flavors. May you all have a peaceful, joyful, and magical holiday season. See you in the new year!
Baba au Rhum
Baba au Rhum are sweet breads that are soaked in rum syrup.
Adapted from the Madame Benoit Cookbook
- For the Dough:
- 1 tsp granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup warm water
- 1 pkg (2 1/4 tsp) active dry yeast
- 2 cups unbleached white flour
- 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
- For the Dough add-ins:
- 1 tbsp granulated sugar
- 2/3 cup butter, at room temperature
- 2 tbsp dried currants
- For the Rum Syrup:
- 1 cup granulated cane sugar
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1 cup rum
- To make the rum syrup, place the sugar and water in a small heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil. Cook until you have a light syrup, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat. Cool completely before adding the rum. Stir well and transfer the rum syrup to a large bowl.
- To make the babas, whisk the 1 teaspoon of sugar into the warm water, in a small bowl, until it is dissolved. Stir in yeast; set aside for 10 minutes. Into a large bowl, sift the flour; make a well in the middle. Pour in the eggs and the yeast mixture. Using your fingers, gradually work the flour into the liquid ingredients until you have a soft dough. Knead in the bowl for 2 minutes. Cover with a tea towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 2 hours.
- Punch down the dough. Add the 1 tablespoon of sugar, the butter and currants. Work until combined well. Knead for 3 to 4 minutes. Fill greased baba molds (I use muffin pans, which is what my mom always did) half full with the dough. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk. Bake in a 450 F oven for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 F. Bake until the babas are golden, 20 to 30 additional minutes.
- Reserve and put aside about 1/2 cup of the rum syrup to drizzle over the babas at serving time. Remove the babas from the pan while still hot, and immediately immerse them in a bowl filled with cooled rum syrup. Roll the babas around so they soak up the syrup on all sides. Using a ladle helps. Alternately, place the babas in a single layer in a baking dish and pour the rum syrup evenly over them. If possible, allow the babas to absorb the rum syrup overnight, covering them to prevent them from drying out. The syrup should soak right through to the centre of the babas.
- Serve warm or cold with a drizzle of fresh rum syrup from the 1/2 cup that you put aside. Serve alone or with a dollop of freshly whipped cream.
Yield: makes 12 babas
Aube Giroux is a food writer and filmmaker who shares her love of cooking on her farm-to-table blog, Kitchen Vignettes.
Aube is a passionate organic gardener and home cook who likes to share the stories of how food gets to our dinner plates. Her work has been shown on television and at international film festivals. Her web series was nominated for a 2014 James Beard Award. In 2012, she was the recipient of Saveur Magazine’s Best Food Blog award in the video category.