In the spirit of Purim

Heavy with syrup and liqueur, savarins are the perfect choice for this holiday.

Cake 311 (photo credit: mct)
Cake 311
(photo credit: mct)
On Purim drinking spirits like liqueur and wine is a mitzva. One of my favorite ways to enjoy such alcoholic beverages is to use them to moisten cakes, especially light yeast cakes known as savarin.
My future brother-in-law, Prachya Levy, first introduced me to these delicious cakes when I was new in Israel.
“You must taste sabrina,” he said, “it’s my favorite cake.” I was used to homey American cakes and had never tasted a cake like it before. It was rich yet lighttextured, glazed with jam, filled generously with whipped cream and garnished with a candied cherry. And it was flavored with rum, which my mother never put in cakes.
The sabrina was moistened liberally with syrup, like Middle Eastern sweet pastries and unlike other cakes I knew. I found a recipe in a book for professional bakers, Cakes, Desserts and Ice Creams (in Hebrew) by Yitzhak Nikolai et al. Chef Nikolai flavored his dough with lemon zest, and his syrup with lemon and orange zests as well as rum. After moistening the ring-shaped cakes and glazing them with apricot jam, he added an additional layer of lemon fondant icing.
He noted that in Israel sabrinas are commonly prepared in basket-shaped molds, split in half like a sandwich and filled with whipped cream.
Years later at cooking school in Paris I realized that sabrina is part of a category of French cakes – babas and savarins, all made from the same basic dough. In France ring-shaped cakes are called savarins and individual bucket-shaped ones are known as babas.
Our chefs taught us how to make these tempting cakes. Their buttery batter is much easier to make than other yeastleavened doughs because it does not require kneading. You simply blend it in a food processor or beat it in a mixer or even with a wooden spoon.
After you bake the dough, you moisten it with syrup. If you’ve baked small cakes, you dunk them whole. To moisten larger ones, you set the cake on a rack and ladle the syrup over it. Next you brush the cake with heated jam or jelly and serve it with whipped cream.
Rum is traditional but I also love fruity spirits. For my strawberry savarin, I spike the syrup with clear raspberry brandy or clear cherry brandy called kirsch. I give my baba cupcakes extra kick flavoring the dough with candied orange peel soaked in orange liqueur such as Grand Marnier. For a chocolate variation, I flavor the syrup with chocolate liqueur and serve the cake with chocolate whipped cream, made by blending the cream with melted chocolate. Israeli cookbook author Carine Goren makes coffee sabrinas by flavoring the syrup with coffee, coffee liqueur, brown sugar, cinnamon and cocoa, and garnishing the cakes with coffee flavored whipped cream.
Unlike cinnamon rolls and other yeast cakes, which have a slightly chewy, breadlike texture, savarins and their relatives are light, moist, delicate cakes, perfect as an ending for a festive dinner. When serving them, you can follow a tip I learned in France. At the table drizzle each cake lightly with more spirits, a perfect finishing touch for Purim.
Makes 2 1/2 cups dough, enough for 12 to 18 servings, depending on size of molds
My favorite way to make this dough is in a food processor. To use a mixer or make the dough by hand, see the Notes following the recipe. These cakes can be baked in advance and, before being moistened with syrup, can be kept up to 3 days in an airtight container; or they can be frozen. After they have been moistened, the cakes can be kept, covered one day in refrigerator.
If you would like to bake the dough in a different pan from those specified, butter the pan well and use enough dough to fill the pan by one third to one half.
✔ 15 gr. fresh yeast, crumbled or 7 gr. dry yeast (about a Tbsp.)
✔ 1⁄4 cup warm water (41º to 46º)
✔ 1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. sugar
✔ 4 large eggs
✔ 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
✔ 1 tsp. salt
✔ 7 Tbsp. (100 gr.) unsalted butter, cut in small pieces, room temperature
Sprinkle yeast over water in small bowl, add 1 tsp. sugar and let stand 10 minutes.
To make dough in a food processor: Put yeast mixture, remaining tablespoon sugar and eggs in food processor fitted with plastic dough blade or metal blade and process until blended, about 5 seconds. Sift in flour and salt and process 30 seconds without stopping machine. If dough is not entirely smooth, transfer to medium bowl and slap dough a few times in bowl by hand.
Dough will be soft and very sticky.
Transfer dough to a lightly oiled medium bowl. Put butter pieces side by side on top of dough. Cover with plastic wrap or with lightly dampened towel. Let dough rise in warm draft-free area until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.
Beat butter into dough, with cutting and folding motion of wooden spoon. Follow individual recipes for shaping and baking.
• To make dough in a mixer: Sift flour into mixer bowl. Add 2 eggs, salt and 1 Tbsp. sugar. Mix with a dough hook or flat beater at low speed until a few Tbsp. of flour are drawn into egg mixture. Add yeast mixture and remaining 2 eggs and mix at low speed until dough is soft and smooth, about 10 minutes. Beat dough at medium speed until very smooth and most of it comes away from sides of bowl and wraps around hook, about 12 minutes. Mixer can also be used to beat butter into dough.
• To make dough by hand: Sift flour into large bowl and make a well in center. Add 2 eggs, salt and 1 tablespoon sugar to well and mix them using wooden spoon, gradually drawing in 2 or 3 tablespoons flour.
Add remaining 2 eggs and yeast mixture to well. Stir to a soft dough. With cupped hand under dough, slap dough against bowl for about 1 minute or until smooth.
Small cakes can be dipped directly in the syrup and absorb it quickly. For large cakes, it is easier to ladle the syrup over them. The syrup is heated because hot syrup penetrates the cakes easily. The syrup can be made 1 day ahead and refrigerated.
✔ 11⁄4 to 11⁄2 cups sugar
✔ 2 cups water
Heat sugar and water in heavy saucepan over low heat, stirring gently until dissolved.
Bring to a boil over high heat.
Remove from heat.
Makes 12 servings
Be sure to use fresh, fragrant berries to go with this festive cake. This cake is moistened with neutral syrup, and then sprinkled with fruit brandy at serving time.
✔ Savarin Dough (see recipe above)
✔ Savarin Syrup (see recipe above)
✔ 3 cups strawberries, quartered lengthwise
✔ 1 to 2 Tbsp.sugar, to taste
✔ 1 Tbsp. plus 11⁄2 tsp. clear raspberry brandy or cherry brandy, or to taste
✔ 2 Tbsp. clear raspberry brandy (for sprinkling) Raspberry Brandy Whipped Cream:
✔ 1 cup heavy cream, well chilled
✔ 2 tsp. sugar
✔ 4 tsp. clear raspberry brandy
Transfer dough to mold. Using rubber spatula, smooth dough in mold to an even layer. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in warm, draft-free place 25 minutes. Remove covering and continue letting rise to top of molds, about 15 to 30 more minutes.
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 205ºC. Bake about 23 minutes, or until dough comes away from sides of pan, top is browned, and cake tester inserted into cake comes out clean. Unmold onto rack. Cool completely.
Prepare syrup. Reheat to a simmer before using and remove from heat.
Put cake, with firm crust side down, on rack set above deep tray. Very slowly and evenly ladle hot syrup over cake until it has absorbed as much syrup as possible. Let stand about 2 minutes.
Return syrup that dripped onto tray to saucepan. Reheat to simmer. Moisten cake and reheat syrup a few more times, until most of syrup is absorbed; do not overheat syrup or it will caramelize. If sides of cake appear dry, gently brush syrup over them. Drain cake 30 minutes on rack. Carefully transfer cake to a platter, using 2 wide slotted metal spatulas.
Sprinkle berries with sugar and with brandy and mix gently using a rubber spatula. Cover and refrigerate 15 minutes.
To serve, spoon berries into center of ring.
Just before serving, whip cream with sugar in chilled bowl with chilled beater until soft peaks form. Add 4 teaspoons brandy and beat until stiff.
Refrigerate cake and whipped cream until ready to serve.
As close as possible to serving time, slowly spoon 2 tablespoons raspberry brandy over cake, moving spoon over surface of cake several times. Using pastry bag and medium star tip, pipe flavored whipped cream around edge of fruit mixture and around base of cake.
Serve remaining cream separately.
Makes 16 cupcakes.
The amount of Grand Marnier to sprinkle on each of these cakes depends on your taste. If you like, split them and fill them with whipped cream like sabrinas, or serve whipped cream separately.
✔ 1⁄4 cup chopped candied orange peel, plus 16 diced pieces for garnish
✔ 2 Tbsp. Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur
✔ Savarin Dough (see recipe above)
✔ 2 tsp. grated orange zest
✔ Syrup for Savarins (see recipe above)
✔ 1 cup apricot preserves
✔ 2 Tbsp. water
✔ 8 to 11 Tbsp. Grand Marnier (for sprinkling)
✔ about 1⁄4 cup sliced almonds (for garnish)
In a small jar combine chopped candied peel and 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier, cover tightly and shake. Let stand while making dough. After mixing butter into dough, drain candied peel, reserving any Grand Marnier that was not absorbed. Stir candied peel and grated peel into dough.
Generously butter 16 cupcake or muffin pans or small fluted pans of about 1⁄2-cup volume. Spoon about 2 tablespoons dough into each. Cover and let rise for 25 minutes. Uncover and let rise to top of molds, about 15 to 30 more minutes.
Preheat oven to 205ºC. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until dough comes away from sides of pan, top is browned, and cake tester inserted into cake comes out clean.
Unmold onto rack.
Prepare Syrup. Reheat to a simmer before using and remove from heat. Set a cake rack above deep tray. Put one cake in hot syrup, with firmer crust facing down, and leave a few seconds. Ladle syrup over cake several times until it is moist throughout but not soggy; if left in syrup too long, it may fall apart. Remove carefully with skimmer or slotted spoon and drain on rack, with cake’s firm crust facing down. After moistening several cakes, reheat syrup if it becomes cool.
Drain cakes for 30 minutes on rack.
Heat preserves and water over low heat in medium saucepan, stirring, until completely melted. Strain into another saucepan, pressing on pieces. Put cakes on rack, flat side up. Sprinkle each slowly with 11⁄2 to 2 teaspoons Grand Marnier.
Reheat preserves until just beginning to bubble. To Grand Marnier reserved from candied peel, add enough Grand Marnier to obtain 1 tablespoon and stir into preserves.
Brush over cakes on all sides. Garnish each by making a flower with 5 almond slices as petals and a center of diced candied peel. ■
Faye Levy is the author of Fresh from France: Dessert Sensations and of Sefer Ha’ugot (the book of cakes), in Hebrew.