Rum baba

Rum baba

Babà al rum

The Amalfi Coast
Helen Cathcart

If you wanted to tell someone they were sweet you could say in Neapolitan ‘Si nu’ baba’, such is the love Neapolitans have for sweet treats. These small cakes were so called by the exiled King of Poland, Stanislas Leszczynski, after his favourite story Ali Baba and the Arabian Nights. Baba, pronounced bubbà, not barbar, are found in most bars and restaurants in Naples and the AmalfiCoast. Probably not the prettiest cakes on the shelf – they usually look like oversized mushrooms split in two, piped with thick yellow custard and topped with a glacé cherry – they are delicious nonetheless. I like the fact that you can make the baba, syrup and custard the day before and finish them off quickly for a dinner party. Use good-quality dark rum rather than rum essence, as this will make the difference between a good and poor version of baba. The soaking liquid can be kept in the fridge for a week. Miniature versions of baba are also sold soaked in limoncello syrup instead of rum and squeezed into glass jars. For children, make a non-alcoholic syrup using 500 ml water and 200 g caster (superfine) sugar flavoured with a few strips of orange peel.

The photograph shows the baba served at Villa Cimbrone in Ravello on a soup of crème Anglaise with pistachio nuts, silver sugar, rose petals, mint and jam.

For the dough


Quantity Ingredient
80ml milk
25g fresh yeast
or 12g dried yeast
250g strong white flour
pinch salt
20g caster sugar
3 eggs
100g see method for ingredients, soˆftened, plus extra for greasing

For the syrup

Quantity Ingredient
300ml dark rum
300g caster sugar
300ml water


  1. Start by making the dough. Heat the milk in a saucepan until tepid and stir in the yeast with a spatula or your fingers, blending it in well. Put the flour, salt and sugar in a bowl and add the eggs and yeasted milk. Mix with an electric mixer or food processor. Add the softened butter as you whisk and beat for about 5 minutes until smooth. Leave to rise in the bowl until doubled in volume. Meanwhile, grease 8 dariole moulds with butter.
  2. When the dough has doubled in size spoon it evenly into eight 7 cm deep and 5 cm wide dariole moulds, filling them to two-thirds full. Leave to rise again until the dough rises above the moulds and springs back to the touch; this will take 30–60 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180°C.
  3. Bake for 12–15 minutes, or until golden brown, well risen and cooked through. Remove from the oven and loosen the babas from their mould by running the blade of a knife around the inside of the moulds. Tip onto a wire rack. These can now be frozen and soaked at a later time.
  4. To make the syrup, bring all the ingredients to the boil and then remove from the heat. Stand the babas on a wire rack over a clean tray. Use a skewer to make about 12 long, thin holes in each one. Carefully spoon over the syrup until the babas are soaked through. Serve with custard and preserved fruits in alcohol, such as cherries.

A note on oven temperatures:

  • It has been assumed throughout that a fan-forced oven is being used. Please adjust your temperatures to 20°C higher if you are using a conventional oven.
The AmalfiCoast
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