Where Good Apples Go When They Die: Baba au Calvados

If you're a regular reader of Fork, you've probably noticed I haven't been around much lately. This is because I am stuffing myself silly doing research on regional French food and drink. While I love Paris, get out into the countryside and French food becomes more approachable, cheaper and frankly better. (Take that last one with a grain of salt, knowing my penchant at home for cheap ethnic dives.)

After a mind-bendingly great lunch in Pont-l'Evêque, one of the archetypal small towns of coastal Normandy just five kilometers inland from the wealthy beach resort of Deauville, I walked over to a building marked "Cidrerie de Pont-l'Evêque." A fading note in the window said, "I'm down in the cellar," but no one was there. I walked next door, where a crusty old man was chatting over the fence, and asked after a bottle of Calvados.

"Une bouteille de Calvas, hein? Qu'est-ce que vous allez faire avec?," he growled in a thick Augeron accent. When I explained that I wanted to recreate the baba au Calvados I'd just had in a restaurant, he looked me over appraisingly, then walked up to the next house and called out, "Jean-Marie, this fat Belgian wants a bottle of Calvas to make baba!"

Jean-Marie came out of the house, looked me up and down ("je ne suis pas belge!"), told me where to get the apple brandy, and gave me the recipe. Now, I haven't tested this one, because I'm not staying in an apartment and I won't be home for another week, so if you do try it let me know if it works; I'm dying to recreate it.

Technical note: you'll need a scale for this one, because French people don't measure dry goods in cups.

Baba au Calvados

For the cake:

10 g fresh baker's yeast
2 Tbsp. warm water
250 grams cake flour
3 large eggs
90 g softened butter (about 6 1/2 Tbsp.)
50 mL whole milk (about 3 1/2 Tbsp.)
Pinch salt

For the syrup:

50 mL water (about 3 1/2 Tbsp.)
350 g sugar
70 mL Calvados (a scant 5 Tbsp.)

1. Dissolve the yeast in the warm water.

2. Add 50 grams of the flour, mix and let sit half an hour.

3. Beat in the milk, the eggs, a big pinch of sugar, the salt, the flour and the butter.

4. Knead the dough until it's no longer sticky, then cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place for 45 minutes.

5. Knead it a few more times, then form it into a long snake, put it in a buttered "crown" dish [a Bundt cake pan will probably work], cover with the damp cloth and let rise 1 1/2 hours.

6. Preheat the oven to 350ºF [he said 200ºC, which is 360ºF] and then bake the baba for 30 minutes.

7. Meanwhile, boil the water and sugar for the syrup. Let it cool for 10 minutes, then add the Calvados.

8. When the baba is done and cool, put it on its serving dish, poke the top several times with a skewer, and pour the syrup over it.

9. Top with chantilly (cream that's been whipped with sugar and vanilla extract).

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