Those who are questioning the lifestyle in Egypt centuries ago should glimpse at its cuisine. It says it all.
Growing up in Alexandria, Egypt, I was lucky to watch the pleasant traces of a bygone cosmopolitan era, when Alexandria used to be a safe Heaven for various western expat communities such as Greek, Italian and Armenian, just to name few.
The salient contributions of those expats enriched the economic, social and cultural life and had its inevitable, vast impact on the country’s gastronomy. Lamentably, the fifties and the sixties of the nineteenth century witnessed the exodus of these communities. They fled Egypt, fearing the loss of their lives and fortunes, and that is a whole different post.
As a child, my grandparents used to treat me almost every weekend at a fine western bakery. My favorite was “Manna.” My guess is that it was founded by an Italian artisan who later sold it to a local Egyptian who successfully managed to sustain both the spotless reputation and the immaculate quality of its products.
At Manna’s, a plethora of mind-blowing and freshly made gateaux were aesthetically showcased. They were individual yet sizeable cakes, and choosing one, among many tempting ones, was an exciting challenge that always held a nice surprise at the end. After so many trips over the years to the same bakery, I had finally identified a favorite: Savarin (also known as Baba).
My childhood gateau de Savarin, as I knew it, was a syrupy and airy yeast individual cake, horizontally split in half to encase juicy, fresh seasonal fruits topped by a tangy cloud of whipped crème fraîche.
Traditionally, Savarin should be soaked in a simple syrup mixed with Rum. Yet, for religious reasons, only the non-alcoholic version was found at Egyptian bakeries.
Years away from my home town and country of origin, I watched how Savarin has morphed into some sort of remote sweet memory, up until a God-sent cookbook brought it back to life.
“FRENCH, The Secrets of Classic Cooking Made Easy” was one of the best gifts/books I received. A friend of mine who owns and runs an independent English book store in Paris offered it to me almost a decade ago, yet I keep going back to it to check French techniques and recipes.
While browsing the book, a picture of my childhood sweet treat: Savarin lit up. The book had the full story behind the creation of Savarin. Historically, it was created by the Parisian patissier “Auguste Julien” in honor of a renowned French politician, lawyer, and gastronome, Jean-Anthelme Brillat Savarin.
With plenty of excitement and few simple ingredients found in the pantry of a casual baker, I went ahead and bake it! And I am thrilled I did. I was pleasantly surprised with a no-fail recipe and sophisticated showstopper cake. Since then, Savarin became a celebrated grand finale to many formal and informal dinners chez moi.
For formal dinners, I prefer baking it in individual mini bundt molds. I serve it, nested in a pool of boozy syrup and decorated with fresh red fruits. A non-alcoholic and family-friendly version is possible, as orange juice could substitute liqueur.
In my recipe below, I added two whole cloves and Cointreau (orange liqueur) instead of Kirsh (cherry liqueur) to my simple syrup. Additionally, I mixed in the batter some orange zest to enjoy a refreshing aroma when the cake is baked.
Adapted from “FRENCH, The Secrets of French Classic Recipes Made Easy”
For the cake:
1 tablespoon yeast
1/4 cup superfine sugar, divided
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
4 eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
Fresh fruits to decorate
1 1/4 whipping cream, sweetened to taste and whipped to serve
For the syrup:
1 1/4 cup caster sugar
2 1/2 cup water
2 whole cloves
2 tablespoons Cointreau (optional)
For the glaze:
Orange jam, melted
1- Proof the yeast. Add the yeast, water and one tablespoon of sugar in a small bowl. Stir and cover with a clean towel or plastic wrap. Keep in a warm place for a few minutes until frothy.
2- Butter or oil spray a 9-inch ring mold or 12 individual mini-ring molds. Add the flour, and remaining superfine sugar in a food processor fitted with a metal blade. With the machine running, slowly add the yeast mixture, beaten eggs, orange zest, and vanilla extract. Scrape down the sides and continue mixing until a soft and elastic dough forms. Add the butter and pulse about 10 minutes, until all the butter is incorporated.
3- Place pieces of the dough spaced in the mold to allow space for the rising dough. Tap the mold gently to release any air bubbles. Cover with a dishtowel and leave in a warm place to rise for about 1 hour. The dough should double in volume and come to the top of the mold.
4- Place the cake on a baking sheet and put it in a preheated 200° oven. Immediately reduce the temperature to 180° and bake for 25 minutes or until the top has a rich golden color and springs back when touched. Unmold the cake onto a wire rack and let it cool down.
5- Make the Syrup. Mix the sugar, water, orange juice, cloves and bring to a simmer for few minutes until slightly thickened. Remove from heat and let the bubbly syrup set for few minutes and then add the Cointreau.
6- Pour the hot syrup over the cake while it is still warm.
7- Melt some orange jam on low heat and brush the cake with it to give it a shiny vibrant look.
8- Serve the cake cold with whipped cream and decorate it with fresh fruits.
- According to “Bake with Julia Book”, the difference between Savarin cake and Baba Au Rum is that the latter has raisins in it.
- Serving some extra boozy syrup next to the cake always makes guests happy.