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When answering the test question: Name 5 yeast products
You can answer Rum baba, bread roll, hot cross buns, danish pastries and brioche.

I never knew anything of rum babas until I did my chef's course at TAFE. And I am falling in love with their elegant antiquity. The savarin tin that they are ideally cooked in, gives them that unique fluted shape that just looks funky to me. There is something old fashioned yet enduring about the rum baba.

For some reason, people seem to shy away from yeast cookery. But I have found that although it is not something you can 'whip up on the spur of the moment', making food that uses yeast can be good fun. And with minimal organisation, you can do the washing, or node, or do the washing up during the proving periods.

Some things to note about yeast: It is the only biological raising agent in cooking. In the end, it is the production of CO2 that does the raising, but it is the cute little yeasties that make it. That's why we need to proof at several stages during yeast cookery. First, you 'feed' the yeast and give it moisture. Food is usually either sugar or flour and moisture is usually in the form of (warm) water or milk. Milk will also provide some food. Note that excessive heat (above about 60°C) and salt are the enemy of yeast - they will die and that's just sad. On the upside, they don't mind being mixed, beaten, dropped, etc. seeing as what they are so small and everything.

At each point of proofing, the mixture will rise. The yeast are growing and breathing and producing that wonderful CO2 that aerates the product. So, feed your yeast, make it nice and warm (but not too hot, that will kill them) and give the yeast some time to grow. It will double in size. Put it into the product, leave it somewhere nice and warm and let the yeast do its thing. When you get back, it will have doubled in size again. Everyone is happy!

Happy yeasting!

(18 portions)

  • 500g (1 lb) bakers flour, sifted
  • 50g (2 oz) sugar
  • 20g (1 oz) fresh yeast (NB. dry or fresh yeast is ok, half the amount of dry yeast used)
  • 10g (.5 oz) salt
  • 1 cup milk, warmed (25-27°C)
  • 5 eggs (at room temperature)
  • 250g (8 oz) unsalted butter melted, but not too hot - please don't kill the cute little yeasties
  • lemon zest from half a lemon
  • 100g (3.5 oz) currants
  • The syrup

  • 2 cups water
  • 375g (12 oz) sugar
  • 1 orange, zest and juice
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 cloves
  • 50mL (2 fl.oz) rum


Make a ferment. Mix the yeast with the milk and a fifth of the flour. Choose a largish bowl, because the yeast is going to double in size during the proofing. Mix it well. The yeast should form a paste when mixed with the milk, then stir in the flour. Leave it in a warm spot, near a sun-drenched window or an oven for instance. Do your own thing while the yeast does its thing, about 30 minutes should allow it to double in size.

Add the rest of the flour, sugar, salt, eggs and lemon rind. Mix really well, beating the mixture thoroughly to develop the gluten. (Developing the gluten strengthens the structure of the flour and in turn, the product.)

Add the melted butter small bits at a time, and keep beating, that gluten isn't going to develop itself.

Add the currants to the mixture - mix some more.

Cover the bowl and allow to stand for 30 minutes in a warm place. The mixture will rise again, doubling in volume, so make sure it's a big bowl. It's a lovely mess it makes if it escapes from the bowl, but still somebody has to clean it up.

Grease your pan of choice. Ideally you will have savarin tins with their pretty fluting, but it is very unlikely. It can easily be made in a muffin tin, or small dariole moulds. Whatever it is, make sure it is greased.

Half fill each mould with the mixture, spreading it as evenly as possible. You guessed it, it's time to cover the mixture and leave it in a warm place for 30 minutes or so, until the moulds are full of mixture. They really do become very light and fluffy.

Bake at 225°C (440°F) for 15-25 minutes. The top of the babas should be brown. Turn out onto a wire cooling rack, place the cooling rack in a tray of some sort. We'll get back to that.

The syrup

Bring all the ingredients except the rum to the boil. Remove from heat, and allow the syrup to infuse the flavours. It's a good idea to do this when you put the babas in the oven. It allows time for the infusion, and means the syrup still has warmth when you soak the babas with it.

Strain the syrup and then add the rum.

Use a spoon to gently ladle the syrup onto the babas. There will be spillage, so that's why we have the babas on a cooling rack on a tray. It is best to do a round of one spoonful for each baba and then go back and repeat the process, allowing the syrup to soak into the baba.

Note that it is possible to make honey babas, tequila babas, cointreau babas, etc. as your heart desires - just change the rum for a different substance. Experiment!

Serving suggestion: serve the rum babas upside down with an apricot glaze and a swirl of cream on top.

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