Babette's {Half} Feast

In the 1987 Gabriel Axel film Babette's Feast, our protagonist Babette wins the lottery, and proceeds to spend her entire winnings on one lavish French meal for her austere Calvinist employers. I'd do that. Wouldn't you?

Today is Christmas Eve, and I am planning our "half feast" for tomorrow. And, by "half feast," I mean half of Babette's Feast. We are skipping the blini with caviar and the turtle soup, and heading straight for the main course and dessert.

Markipedia's brother, David, and his wife, Becky, are here for the Christmas holiday and we want to have some fun in the kitchen together. This entails Mark and brother David reminiscing (mostly about all the dreadful pranks they played as kids), and Becky and I gabbing while cooking and having fun.

When we saw David and Becky at a June family reunion, and planned this Christmas visit, they had just re-seen Babette's Feast. I told them Mark and I had once joined with friends in New Hampshire to recreate her entire feast. My part of the meal had been to make the main course - Cailles en Sarcophages. For David and Becky, that offering sealed the deal for our main course for this Christmas. (The recipe for the quail in sarcophagi in my Cocoa & Lavender post: Dinner and a Movie.)

I did a little research on the wine Babette served with the quail, and found it was a Pinot noir. For my wine & food pairing article for the Provence WineZine this week, I found a Provençal Pinot to serve with ours. You can see the review HERE. Following the quail, I decided to serve a Baba au Rhum, just as Babette did.

When I perused the ingredient list for our half of Babette's meal, I realized that I, too, would most likely be spending my imaginary lottery winnings on the meal.

Quail. A black truffle. Madeira. Foie gras. All-butter puff pastry. A new 6-cup baba mold (a.k.a. Kugelhopf or bundt pan). Glacé fruits for decoration.

I now know why Babette spent all her winnings on that one meal. It was the one way she knew how to say "thank you" to those who had both employed and cared for her. In her mind, you cannot put a price on gratitude or kindness.

And cooking for others is one of my favorite ways of letting people know how important they are in my life. We were so glad that David and Becky were able to join us for Christmas, and making this meal for them was a real treat for me.

The baba turned out beautifully, and will be a dessert I will make often. It is - even with the whipped cream - a light dessert. The recipe below is based on one from Florence Fabricant (don't you love her name?), with my usual changes, and using Babette's presentation.

Happy New Year, dear friends! I look forward to sharing another year of culinary adventures!

~ David

Baba au Rhum

1/3 cup milk, heated to 105-110°F
1 package dry yeast
1 3/4 cups sifted flour, divided
6 tablespoons softened unsalted butter
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
4 eggs at room temperature
zest of 1 orange, in strips
1 cup dark rum
1 cup apricot jam
1 cup heavy cream
2-3 tablespoons confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
glacé fruits (I used red and green cherries for Christmas)

In a large stainless steel bowl, dissolve yeast in warm milk. Stir in 1/4 cup flour. Cover, and set aside in a warm place to rise until spongy - about 20 minutes.

Coat a 6-cup Kugelhopf pan with baking spray.

Using an electric mixer, cream the butter. Add in 2 tablespoons granulated sugar and 2 tablespoons flour. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time.

Whisk butter and egg mixture into the yeast sponge. Beat in remaining flour to make a thick dough-like batter. Spoon batter evenly into the prepared mold. Set aside in a draft-free place to rise until dough reaches the top of the mold - about 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350°F. While the baba rises, combine remaining cup of sugar with 2 cups water in a saucepan; bring to a boil. Remove from heat. Add orange zest and allow to cool to room temperature. Stir in 1/2 cup rum.

Bake baba about 40 minutes, until nicely browned on top. Remove from oven and unmold. Place cake in a pie plate and pour syrup over it. Using a pastry brush, brush the top and sides of the cake with the syrup that has accumulated in the pie plate. Not all the syrup will be absorbed. Transfer cake to a wire rack placed over the pie plate to catch drips.

Strain jam through a mesh sieve into a small saucepan; heat until quite warm. Brush the jam onto the cooled baba.

Mix cream, confectioner's sugar, and vanilla extract; whip until very stiff, then chill. Just before serving, fill the center of the baba with whipped cream; I piped it in from a pastry bag, but dolloping it on top is just fine. Decorate around base with glacé fruit.

To serve, slice the cake and drizzle with some of the remaining rum as each portion is plated.

Serves 8.

Labels: , , , , ,