SERVES 8 TO 10
This is the family recipe of Maria Giovanna Fasulo Rak, a restoration expert at the National Archives in Rome and author of La cucina napoletana in cento ricette tradizionali (Neapolitan Cooking in 100 Traditional Recipes). The mixing procedure is most unusual, but it is the only recipe of the many I have tried that gives the real Neapolitan texture. Beaten egg whites are incorporated into the dough, but not folded in, to retain their airiness, and the yeast is not beaten into the dough until the very end.
The mixing requires a heavy-duty mixer with a paddle to do it well and easily. Individual babÃ s au rhum, which are shaped like stout mushrooms and are submerged in bowls full of syrup, are also popular in Naples, but most cafés and pastry shops proudly display a huge crown of only lightly doused babÃ . After each portion is cut and put on a plate, it is doused again, moistening the cake more thoroughly.
With a toothpick or thin bamboo skewer, make a couple of dozen tiny holes in the top of the cake. Spoon syrup over the cake very slowly. As syrup accumulates in the platter, spoon back over the cake. Use all the syrup.
Serve with whipped cream or thin pastry cream, if desired.
1 envelope active dry yeast (2 1/2 teaspoons)
1/2 cup warm milk
4 large eggs, at room temperature, separated
8 tablespoons butter (1 stick), at room temperature
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 cups cake flour, measured then sifted
FOR THE SYRUP
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
Zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup rum
Optional: Heavy cream, whipped, or thin pastry cream
Dissolve the yeast in the milk and set aside.
Beat the egg whites until stiff and set aside.
In a heavy-duty electric mixer, using the paddle, cream the butter with the sugar and salt until the mixture is light colored and fluffy.
Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating to incorporate each before adding the next.
Add 1 cup of the sifted flour, 1/2 cup at a time, beating each addition until it is incorporated and scraping down the bowl and beaters between additions.
Add half the beaten egg whites and beat until incorporated. The dough will loosen up. Add another cup of flour, 1/2 cup at a time, again scraping down the bowl and beaters between additions. Beat in the remaining egg whites. Add the last 1 1/2cups of flour, 1/2 cup at a time.
Finally, beat the milk and yeast mixture into the dough and let the machine run about 90 seconds, until the dough loses enough of its stickiness to pull away cleanly from the bowl when scraped with a rubber spatula.
Turn the dough out into the bowl used to beat the egg whites. Cover with a towel and set aside to rise for 1 hour. It should be doubled in bulk.
Generously butter a 9-inch tube pan.
When the dough has risen, using a rubber spatula, dislodge the dough from the bowl and ease it into the tube pan, turning the bowl or the pan so that the dough stretches around to fill the pan. Using the rubber spatula, prod and poke the dough so it fills the pan more or less evenly. (You will not be able to get the top of the dough smooth. Don't worry about it.) Cover with a kitchen towel and set aside to rise for another 1 1/2 hours. At this point, the dough should have risen to fill about 3/4 of the pan.
Preheat the oven to 375ºF.
Bake for about 35 minutes, until the cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan. Remove and let the cake cool in the pan, on a wire rack, for about 10 minutes. Unmold the cake and place it in a deep dish.
While it cools more, make the syrup: Combine the sugar, water, and lemon zest in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Reduce heat and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Remove the syrup from the heat and add the rum. Allow to cool slightly before drenching the cake.
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