I cannot think of a better way to describe the dessert presented to you in this post than what it is now—pound cake babas. The stout, cylindrical shape of these miniature cakes as well as a touch of rum in the sweet citrus glaze they are brushed over with is definitely reminiscent of a classic Russian rum baba. Yet, the texture is that of a pound cake—rich and dense.
But just like the traditional recipe for pound cake can be adapted in many ways to vary the flavor and texture, the baba isn’t always yeast born and rum soaked. In fact, in the modern Russian pastry world there are copious versions of yeast-free babas that heavily rely on the usage of dozens of eggs as their leavening agent. In many cases, beating eggs or egg whites and yolks separately at high speeds for prolonged periods of time yields a light, fluffy batter that transforms itself into a featherlike texture once the product is baked.
However, there are recipes where eggs are not only responsible for the texture but they also provide most—if not all—of the structure in a cake.
Examples of such cakes would be those that use very little of the traditional white flour or none whatsoever—the so-called flourless and almost-flourless cakes. Gluten-free flour conversions are a breeze in egg-leavened recipes since it’s not alternative flours that are the backbone of a recipe but rather egg proteins. And now that you have your proteins covered, all you have to do is think starch(!) for a tender, moist crumb.
On the other hand—and this is where it gets tricky—the correct handling of eggs and egg mixtures is of paramount importance when dealing with eggs as a leavener. This is especially true of egg mixtures where eggs are diluted with other ingredients, like sugar, cream, etc. Allow these mixtures gentle heat and a longer time to thicken if you have to cook them.
And now that I got some of this fascinating chemistry stuff out of my system, let’s talk garnishes. That final artistic touch that is capable of turning around a piece of brown bakery into an eye-catching work of art. Are they easier? Perhaps to make but not when it comes to picking the right one for the dish. I had the hardest time deciding how to adorn my pretty plain-looking babas. With a touch of simple elegance in a light sprinkle of powdered sugar? Or with an all-out sticky, runny glaze that’s packed with the floral flavor of a Meyer lemon and is so . . . so irresistible to sink your teeth in once crusted over? Or should I stay true to the roots and soak them in rum until heavy and moist?
And then I stumbled across this recipe for candied citrus slices and thought they might just be the fix.
And then . . . the fresh leaves that my Meyer lemons came with . . . If you crease a leaf in several places, it’ll release a fine citrus aroma and could double as a color pop on top.
Decisions, decisions . . .
It finally dawned upon me that it wasn’t one cake I was racking my decorator’s brains over but almost a dozen of them! I could use all of those garnishing options . . . for different people in my life. In other words, there will be something for everyone.
And that’s the beauty of small bites for you.
Recipe for Olga’s Original Meyer Lemon Pound Cake Babas*
1. 6 large eggs, at room temperature
2. 3 large egg yolks, at room temperature
3. 1 ½ (300 g) cups ultrafine pure cane sugar
4. 7 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled down to room temperature, plus another tablespoon for greasing the pan, softened
5. 1/3 cup (40 g) tapioca starch
6. 1/4 cup (30 g) potato starch
7. 2 1/2 tablespoons (20 g) sweet rice flour
8. 1 1/3 tablespoons (10 g) powdered dry milk
9. 1 teaspoon finely shredded Meyer lemon zest (from about 1 medium lemon)
10. 3 teaspoons Meyer lemon juice
11. ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Powdered sugar
2. Candied citrus slices
3. Citrus-Rum Soak (recipe follows)
4. Citrus Glaze (recipe follows)
1. In a small bowl, whisk flours and set aside.
2. In a double boiler set over medium-low heat, combine eggs, egg yolks, and sugar. Cook, stirring constantly to prevent mixture from sticking to the bottom of the pan, until smooth and thick, about 23-25 minutes.
3. Remove from heat and pour into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on medium speed for 10 minutes or until mixture gets pale and fluffy.
4. Add melted butter, flours, Meyer lemon zest and juice, and vanilla extract. Blend on low speed just until combined, about 1-2 minutes, scraping the bowl often. Your batter will be creamy and loose. Let stand 30 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Generously grease the cavities of a grand popover pan with 1 tablespoon softened butter and dust with white rice flour or gf all-purpose flour; shake out excess.
7. Fill molds with batter just under ¾ full. Bake for 20-22 minutes, until toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in pan. Invert onto a baking sheet and let cool completely.
8. Garnish as desired.
If you choose to go with the Citrus-Rum Soak, let the babas cool slightly. Once they are warm, set them on a rack over a baking sheet or a large piece of parchment paper. Using a toothpick, poke about 6-8 holes in the top of each baba, stopping about three-quarters of the way down. Combine 1/3 cup of the leftover syrup from the Candied Citrus Slices recipe with about 1 tablespoon (adjust it to your liking) gold rum. With a pastry brush, brush the soak evenly over the tops and sides of the babas until you’ve used it all. Let the babas cool completely, about 2 hours.
For Citrus Glaze, whisk together 1 cup powdered sugar, 2 tablespoons Meyer lemon juice, and 2 teaspoons Meyer lemon zest until smooth. Use immediately.
Makes 8 babas.
* developed at an altitude of 4500 feet above sea level