Monday, June 28, 2010

Babà and Frank Sinatra

The babà turned out perfectly.  It rose above the bundt pan (not the traditional mold, but one does make do), kept its height in the oven, and sucked up all the rum syrup (which we, in turn, sucked down).  I would have liked a bit more syrup.  Next time.

Since we ate the whole thing before taking a picture, I'll let you enjoy Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby singing 'Well, Did You Evah!' from the 1956 movie 'High Society' instead.  My father commented that he always hears the phrase baba au rhum as sung by Frank Sinatra (at 2:03 in this video clip).  That's my new goal--hearing Frank Sinatra while eating Babà, baba au rhum, or plain old rum baba a few times a year.  It's good to have goals.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010



Happy Franny Day!

Franny at the Bay

Today my daughter comes home from her exchange year in Italy.  Okay, it was really only 9 months, but it felt like a year.  Francesca was gone for her birthday cake and ours, Thanksgiving turkey and pie, Christmas fruitcake, and Easter hot dogs.  She even missed opening day (hence the Easter hot dogs), when the Red Sox did in fact beat the Yankees.

I think she has some making up to do.  Luckily, Baba au Rhum is on my 10 cakes in 2010 list.  Of course, I really should have written babà (the Italian spelling).  I sincerely hope Francesca forgives me.  And helps me make and eat a babà on Friday.

The babà is, by circuitous route, a Neapolitan specialty.  The Polish King Stanislas, exiled in early 18th century Alsace, is said to have introduced the idea of soaking a too-dry kugelhopf (babka in Poland) in rum.  Or Madeira (legends can be imperfect, messy even).  Legend adds that he named the new cake after Ali Baba, a favorite character of his.

The baba au rhum was eaten (happily, I imagine) in France, and about a hundred years later, the Parisian Julien brothers made some changes.  Dried fruits (often present in the baba) were removed; the cake was baked in a ring mold, and soaked in either rum or kirsch syrup.  It was also rechristened as ‘savarin’. 

An aside: I just learned savarin is my brother’s favorite cake; my mother made a bunch of large kirsch-soaked savarins to fete him at his recent birthday (one of those big, round-numbereded ones).  I was happy not to miss the party.

Somewhere along the line (with all those kingdom-uniting royal marriages), French cooks brought the baba to Naples.  I like to imagine it was served at the palace in Caserta, a small city near Naples.  Francesca lived only a kilometer or two from La Reggia, the Versailles-like palace in Caserta.  She had many picnics on those palace grounds.
Maybe the babà was never served at La Reggia.  It was, however, served to Francesca at many cafes in Caserta and Naples.  And later this week Francesca and I are going to serve it at our house.  Together.

For more on the babà , do check ‘The Babà, a star of Neapolitan pastry’ on the Luciano Pignataro wine blog.  He writes about Neapolitans and their language by way of the babbà (the Neapolitan word).  I especially liked the passage about the Neapolitan expression, “si nu’ babbà”:
Si nu’ babbà, when said to a person, indicates someone of a sweet and generous disposition, or else skilled in doing something particularly difficult…
And that’s my Francesca—sweet (as long as the Red Sox are winning) and generous.  And anyone who’s been an exchange student knows that besides being one of the best experiences of his life, it’s also difficult.  And Francesca did it well.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Danish Bakery Vending Machines

 © Wolfgang Sauber

I've been searching on the internet for mentions or pictures of Danish bakery vending machines, but can't find any.  I'm starting to wonder if I made up this memory.

But I don't think I did.  When I lived in Denmark, the small towns all had a bakery or two, with a distinct golden kringle sign hanging outside the door.  You could count on flaky pastries, always made with butter.  (Though in Denmark, you can't get a Danish--they're called wienerbrød there, which means Viennese Bread).

 And here's the memory.  Every bakery (or at least the ones near my Danish farm) had a little vending machine outside the front door.  When you went out for the evening, to parties or dancing, chances were good you'd be riding your bicycle home early the next morning.  And you'd be hungry. 

The bakeries, of course, weren't open at three in the morning.  But the bakers were already hard at work.  And one of the first things they baked each night were rundstykker, which translates simply as 'round pieces'.  As soon as the rolls came out of the oven, the bakers put some into the vending machines. 

Teenagers and young adults on their way home post-party would pick up a bag of rundstykker, and ride home to their kitchens.  The still warm rundstykker, with their thin crisp crust, shattered open to warm soft interiors.  We spread them with good Danish butter, made a pot of tea, and sat down to reminiscing of the evening already just a memory.

I hope the vending machine rundstykker isn't just a memory too. 

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

New Orleans Snapshots

Here are some remaining pictures from our January trip to New Orleans.  Not exactly timely--though it looked more like summer there and then than here and now!

Click on the albums to see more (but not many more) photos…

New Orleans Faces

Croissant d’Or, Former Home of Angelo Brocato

New Orleans Places

New Orleans Words

New Orleans Food

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