Page-level ads

Recommended for you

Friday, August 17, 2012

What is Rum Baba or Baba au Rhum, and what is a Savarin or Savarin au Rhum?

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman 
The players behind the Baba au Rhum, Rum Baba,
and the Savarin au Rhum, the Rum Savarin:
King Louis XV of France and his wife Queen Marie.
Queen Marie is the daugher of tanislas Leszczynski
Stanislas Leszczynski Duke of Lorraine and Bar, France; 
Stanislas was formerly the King of Poland and Grand-Duke of Lithuania;
An unknown Polish countrywoman 
The assistant cook in Duke Stanislas’s castle in the Lorraine;
François Vatel the chef who created Chantilly cream
and last but not least  
Jeanne Anthelme Brillat-Savarin,

The first philosopher of food.

Baba au Rhum, Rum Baba.      
Photograph courtesy of Anonymous.         
Order a baba au rhum, a rum baba and you will, usually,  be served an individual sponge cake made with added dried fruit, mostly raisins; the cake will have been soaked in rum and served with an apricot sauce.  The original baba au rhum was a whole sponge cake cut into slices for the diners and some restaurants still make their baba au rhum the traditional way.
The best French rum used for the baba au rhum will have come from France’s Caribbean overseas island région of Martinique. If you travel to Martinique or the, relatively, nearby islands of Guadeloupe, remember that while they are in the Caribbean they are as much a part of France as Paris. You will need Euros to buy their rum or a baba au rhum when you visit.
            French AOC (AOP)  Rhum, rum, from Martinique
        Photograph courtesy of SBPR
The best apricots for the indispensable apricot sauce will have come from  France’s  main apricot growing régions of Languedoc-Roussillon, Provence and the Rhône-Alps.
The original Baba au Rhum
The original Baba au Rhum was created, according to tradition, for Stanislas Leszczynski (1677 – 1766) Duke of Lorraine and Bar in Northern France (1737-1766). Before Stanislas became a French Duke he had formerly been King of Poland, as well as the Grand-Duke of Lithuania; he came to France when he lost the job of King of Poland for the second time. N.B. Job prospects are not good for kings who have been fired, especially twice; however, Stanislas had an unemployment insurance policy that was a job seeker’s dream. Stanislas was the father of France’s Queen Marie and that made King Louis VX of France his son-in-law; King Louis made his unemployed father-in-law Duke of Lorraine and Bar, who could ask for anything more?
The Duke’s banquet.
The new Duke ran his palace in the royal manner that he had learned while the King of Poland. At one of his first banquets Stanislas chose for the dessert a traditional Polish sponge cake made with dried fruit, mostly raisins.  The cake would be served, by tradition, doused in a sweet Hungarian Tokay wine and covered in an apricot sauce.
A whole Rum baba cake waiting to be soaked in rum.
Photograph courtesy of Biles and Books
In the château's kitchens, the cook’s assistant was a Polish countrywoman whose name was lost in  the smoke of the palace kitchens. 

The Baba au Rhum
Before the days of political correctness I would not have written countrywoman, I would have written peasant. However, today  the cook's assistant, is a Polish countrywoman, who had come to France from Poland with Stanislas’s retinue of retainers and servants. When she  discovered that the kitchen’s stores were out of the required sweet Hungarian Tokay wine, she, like any experienced cook was unfazed; in the absence of sweet Tokay wine, she added rum to the sponge cake, and the rest is history. The Duke so enjoyed the new recipe that he named it Baba au Rhum, "The Country Woman with Rum".

Today most restaurants serve rum baba as individual sized sponge cakes rather than as a whole cake.  These individual sponge cakes are soaked in rum and served with an apricot sauce just as a whole cake would be.

Rum Baba and Ali Baba 

The Patisserie Stohrer is an excellent cake shop in Paris, and  gives the honor of the creation of Rum Baba to its founder, Nicholas. Nicholas Stohrer was was part of Stanislaus daughter’s Polish retinue when she married King Louis of France.  Stohrer’s makes excellent Rum Babas and many other pastries. However, assigning the creation of the dish to himself, the wine originally used to Malaga wine, and the name to Stanislas Leszczynski' supposed love for the story of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves and the use of crème
pâtissier is problematic. At worst it may be case of Lèse-majesté; after all Stanislas Leszczynski was, or had been, Nicholas Stohrer's King

To read Stohrer's claim to the dish and for their patisserie shop's address to enjoy an excellent Baba au Rhum copy and paste their English language web site in your browser, or click on:   
The  Savarin or Savarin au Rhum

The Savarin au rhum, the rum Savarin, is a baba au rhum with added Chantilly cream. The creator of the Savarin is disputed; however the origin of the name Savarin in not. The Savarin was created long after Duke Stanislas had passed on.  An order for a Savarin au rhum  should bring you a baba au rhum, often with a hole in the center, covered or filled, with Chantilly cream.  Chantilly cream was created by the chef François Vatel.  François Vatel is same chef who went overboard when presented with an inadequate delivery of fish for a banquet  held for  the Sun King, King Louis XIV . Unable to take the shame François Vatel fell on his sword and killed himself. The rest of the fish delivery arrived two hours later!
Savarin au Rhum.
Photograph courtesy of joanneteh-32
France’s earliest, well-known writer for French foodies, was Jeanne Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755 -1826).  Brillat-Savarin was in the late 1700’s an attorney, and an even more famous gourmet; he is called the first philosopher of food, and his most famous work was entitled the Physiologie du Goût, The Physiology of Taste.

Front cover of a 1926 edition  of an English translation
of  the Physiology of Taste
 Jean Anthelme Brillat Savarin
Photograph courtesy of Idolector
It matters not that Brillat-Savarin was not the first to add Chantilly cream to a baba au rhum; it was named after him, at a later date, and that is not disputed.   While Brillat-Savarin lived, many dishes were named after him and the Savarin au Rhum is the only one that is still seen on modern French menus. After Brillat-Savarin’s death other dishes and products were also name after him;  the one that is seen most often is the Savarin cheese, a triple crème, 75% fat, cow’s milk cheese, from Normandy; it  is a 1930’s recreation of an older Norman cheese. The cheese’s popularity shows that Brillat-Savarin  is still honored in France 200 years after his death; Brillat-Savarin’s place of burial is the Pere Lachaise cemetery, in Paris’s 20th arrondissement, and  a place of pilgrimage for foodies.
Tombstone of Brillat Savarin.
Photograph courtesy of mteson
One of Brillat-Savarin’s most famous quotes from his book The Physiology of Taste would,
 I think, have made a good epitaph.
"The discovery of a new dish does more for the 
happiness of mankind than the discovery of a star."     

The story behind King Louis’s gift of Lorraine and Bar
to his father-in law Stanislas
 and Stanislas’s rule in the Lorraine.
King Louis VX, apart from keeping his wife happy by finding a job for her unemployed father he also wanted to keep Stanislas a long way from Paris and court intrigues.   In 1737, King Louis swapped the then French-owned region of Tuscany, now part of Italy, for the still French région of Lorraine.  Lorraine is situated in the north of France and borders Lichtenstein and Germany; at that time Lorraine was owned by the German Emperor Francis III of Hapsburg-Lorraine. 
Stanislas Duke of Lorraine and Bar was to rule with the provision that Lorraine returned to France upon his death.  Included in the job’s fringe benefits was the Château de Lunéville, the hereditary home of the Dukes of Lorraine; this château is, in fact, a palace, and is called, with good reason, the Versailles of the Lorraine.  King Louis’s wife was happy, and her father was occupied; more to the point, for King Louis, his father-in-law was far enough  from Paris so that he  would not be visiting terribly often!  If you look at the map of France, the city of Nancy is 300 kms from Paris, today just 90 minutes door-to -on a French TGV train; however, in the 18th century those same 300 kms were about a week’s ride, or more, in a bumpy carriage pulled by horses. Included in the travel plans  would be the nights spent in  inns, many with little to offer in the way of amenities.  In the winter the roads were often impassable, and travel by water was not much faster and still required nights in the inns on land.
Lunéville, where Stanislas’s palace is situated, is just outside the city of Nancy, today the Prefecture, the départemental capital, of  Meurthe-et-Moselle, in the région of the Lorraine.  The city of Nancy has over 400,000 inhabitants and remembers Stanislas  by the three outstanding and beautiful, and very large, public squares built by his order during his thirty-year insightful and, for the times, compassionate rule.  Stanislas’s works have put Nancy on the UNESCO World Heritage List, and the most famous of the squares is called the Place Stanislas.  If you visit Nancy, remember that, in the evening, your dessert must be a baba au rhum, or a Savarin au rhum; and do not forget to raise a glass to the good Duke Stanislas.


The Château de Lunéville
Photograph courtesy of Meurthe and Moselle Tourisme.
Sadly; in 2003, the Duke's château in Lunéville was damaged by fire; however, within three to four years, that will be fifteen or so years after the fire, the promised restoration should be completed, and then we may, instead of a few rooms, visit the whole of his amazing château.
Another story about  King Louis XV for the history aficionados; King Louis did more than just swap Tuscany for the Lorraine. Later, in 1760, King Louis's  armies conquered Corsica and also made that island  part of France.   That same year, that Corsica became part of France, a future ruler of France was born on the island; Emperor Napoléon 1 was born on Corsica in 1760.  Then 150 years later Emperor Napoléon 1’s  great-great grandnephew would change law enforcement in the USA for all time.  For more about that read the post Napoléon Bonaparte and the FBI !

For more about François Vatel read the post: The Chef Who Created Chantilly Cream- François Vatel.

Bryan G Newman
Behind the French Menu.
Copyright 2011,2012, 2013, 2014.
For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman.