ORANGE BABAS MARCELLA
A baba should be a buttery, yeast-risen cake, low in sugar, soaked in a seasoned syrup to flavor it and make it moist. Unfortunately, what most pastry shops prepare are rather large, fine-textured babas that develop an unattractively sodden texture after they are soaked, in what is usually a syrup flavored with inferior liqueurs or fruit juices. So, most people look at a baba and flee.
These babas are quite different from those described above. They are tiny, so their rich sweetness is a pleasant mouthful; they are a bit coarse-textured, so they don’t become soggy after being soaked; and the syrup is flavored with orange liqueur and orange juice, which contributes a fresher taste than the usual rum and spices.
I became acquainted with this delicious pastry when I visited South Africa for the first time in June of 2004. Afrikaners are the descendants of South Africa’s Dutch settlers and preserve many of their original culinary traditions. Koeksisters are widely available in the Cape Town area, and I tasted them at several different pastry shops. These are a bit of a production to prepare, and are best done by a two-person team. One can do the frying while the other attends to immersing the hot koeksisters in the cold syrup. They must be soaked with the syrup immediately after they are fried, so that they will absorb it well and won’t be dry. Your reward for all this work is the intriguing taste and texture of these exotic pastries.
Fruit slices such as these made with pears are a standard in many pastry shops in France. Sometimes they are made with puff pastry, but this one is made with a tender sweet dough —a perfect complement to the melting texture of poached pears. This is an easy way of making individual tarts because you don’t need any special equipment aside from a jelly-roll pan.
Coffee Rum Éclairs
Although chocolate éclairs are the traditional popular favorite, I have always been partial to éclairs filled with coffee-flavored cream and covered with coffee icing. Remember, with these you can plan ahead. You can bake the éclair pastry and freeze it on one day, make the filling the next, then reheat, cool, fill, and ice them on the third day. Such a division of labor makes preparing a pastry with many steps easy.
Pear and Almond Dumplings
Most fruit dumplings are constructed by wrapping a piece of fruit in a square of dough. This one is a little different—the fruit and a dab of almond filling are sandwiched between two layers of puff pastry, and the dough never shrinks, falls away, or does anything but rise to flaky perfection around the fruit.
Molded Chocolate-Filled Napoleons
This was a specialty of my teacher chef Albert Kumin, who used to make it with a Grand Marnier flavored mousse at the Four Seasons restaurant in New York when he was the head pastry chef, about 50 years ago. I like to use this light chocolate mousse to fill it, and I’ve retained the orange liqueur as a flavoring.