Babas are not unlike brioche: light, rich yeasted breads. However the formula has a little less butter. Fat tenderizes any dough that it’s added to, and that’s usually a good thing. Babas, however, get soaked with alcoholic syrup. Breads that are very, very tender will tend to fall apart under those conditions. That’s especially true if they’re tall and cylindrical like my babas will be, so they’ll need a little structure if they’re going to stand up.
Here I should point out that babas, like brioche, can be made in virtually any shape you wish. I think the traditional tall baba is a thing of beauty, however nowadays shorter, more muffin-like babas are more in vogue. Why? Well simply, without the height to worry about, pastry makers can soak them to the point that they’re practically pudding. In fact some baba recipes call for immersing them in syrup once they’ve cooled, until they’re completely sodden. I think that’s taking a good idea too far, but do what you like.
I’ve seen single, giant bundt cake-like babas, iced babas and stuffed babas. I’ve even seen “deconstructed” babas that are nothing more than thick brioche-like slices of baba served on a plate with a small pitcher of rum syrup on the side. That’s not my cup of tea, really, but it goes to show how creative you can get with with the classic baba if you feel like it. This recipe will fill either one large, 8-cup mold, eight traditional baba molds or just about any other mold you can think of.
For the dough:
2 1/2 teaspoons (1 envelope) instant yeast
9 ounces (1 3/4 cups) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 ounces (1/2 cup minus two tablespoons) whole milk
2 1/2 ounces (5 tablespoons) softened butter
Put all the dry ingredients in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle (beater) and stir on low to combine. Add the milk and turn the machine up to medium, then the eggs one at a time and continue stirring until the eggs have been incorporated. Keep beating on medium for about 4 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. With the machine running, add the butter about a tablespoon at a time, kneading until it’s all incorporated. Cover the dough lightly with plastic wrap and let it rise about 15 minutes.
Preheat your oven to 400. Lightly butter your mold(s) and put in the dough. Let the baba rise 30-45 minutes or until almost doubled in size. Bake individual babas about 12 minutes, a larger one about 30 minutes or until done (a sharp knife inserted into the center should come out clean). Remove the babas from the oven and allow them to cool on a rack. Meanwhile, prepare the syrup.
To assemble: Turn the cooled babas out on a rack placed over a sheet pan or platter. Brush the syrup onto the babas until they are noticeably heavier but not totally soaked. Let stand until ready to serve. To serve, place the babas on individual plates and paint lightly with apricot glaze. Warm the syrup, then spoon a few tablespoons over the baba. Garnish with fruit.