She struggled into the packed room clutching a very large white box. “I don’t know what happened” she said. “I ended up making 3 cakes”. She opens the lid to reveal a beautiful towering cake which later proves to have no less than six layers.
There are sixteen of us squeezed into a very pleasant room at the back of Peppers Cafe in Gloucester. We were given the theme last month, but the secret location was communicated by our organiser Julia, just a few days before. This is the Clandestine Cake Club. Today there are 180 such local clubs not only in the United Kingdom but worldwide and as far away as New Zealand with more than 16,000 members. The clubs are the brainchild of Lynn Hill who around 5 years ago set up a secret cake club in her home town of Leeds.
The clubs are very inclusive. There’s no judgement on the cakes, few rules (except no cupcakes) and participants freely give each other advice. The youngest member of the Gloucester club is just 10. She attends with her granny. She dreams up an idea then bakes it at her granny’s house.
With 10 cakes on offer, it would be difficult to do them all justice. So we all take a small slice. At the end of the afternoon, we take a piece of each home in the box we’ve brought with us!
I’m really not a cake maker. Bread is my thing and I particularly love making sweet doughs. Our theme was berries. What could I make?
I turned to Fou de Patisserie for ideas. If you read French, this publication is an absolute must if you like patisserie. Every two months, France’s finest patissiers and bakers share their creations. Some recipes are shown step-by-step, and there are plenty of tips for successful bakes. However, there is no concessions. These are top notch creations often with a very long lists of ingredients.
The babas caught my eye. Not just rum babas, but ones flavoured with plums, strawberries and event chestnuts. I was hooked! The fact that I’d not made a baba before didn’t put me off. Try anything once!
The original rum baba was said to have been invented in 1730 in rue Montorgeuil by Nicholas Stohrer who was patissier to Stanislas the 1st, King of Poland. He was said to have invented the recipe to rescue a mix that was far too dry.
This is my interpretation of the French recipe which was devised by Guy Krenzer of Lenôtre. You do need a bit of patience with this one. Leave yourself plenty of time.
This will make 10 x 50 gr individual babas. You really do need a stand mixer eg Kenwood to make this. I used silicon moulds – you could use a muffin tin for a non-traditional look. You can also double the recipe and make one large baba. Fill with whipped cream or creme patissiere. Blackberries would make a great substitute for the strawberries.
250 gr strong white flour
10 gr fresh yeast
20 gr caster sugar
50 ml milk
2 whole eggs (approx 100 ml)
60 gr butter (preferably President or Lurpak)
5 gr salt
150 gr strawberries or blackberries
150 gr granulated or caster sugar
50 ml of flavouring (eg Grand Marnier, rum or Cointreau, creme de mur etc)
- Prepare your cases. First fill one with water to find out the capacity. Mine held 60 ml of water, so I decided to fill with 50 gr dough. If yours are larger, the dough should be 90% of the amount of water. Oil them well even if supposedly non-stick
- Place all the ingredients except the butter into the bowl of your stand mixer. Mix gently at the lowest speeds for 3 minutes.
- Increase to medium speeds for 2 minutes
- Turn back down to lowest speed and add the butter, cubed.
- When it has mixed in return to medium speed and beat for a further 3 minutes. At this stage, the dough will be stretchy and not break easily.
- Turn into a bowl, cover and refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight.
- Cut into equal pieces (eg 50 gr). Roll into balls. When you have made all the balls, roll a second time before placing them in the cases.
- To shape your babas, flatten the rolls slightly and put your thumb through to make a whole. Shape the dough so the shape is equal. Pop into the mould. I put my moulds into a muffin tray to make it easier to move them around.
- Leave to rise at least 1 hour in a warm room. The rolls should be covered with plastic which should not touch the top of the rolls. For example place a mug at each corner of the tray and drape plastic or cling film over.
- Pre-heat the oven to 180ºc.
- When they have risen, bake for 10-15 minutes until lightly golden (this will depend on your oven). Do not be tempted to egg wash the buns as this stops the syrup soaking in.
- When they have cooled slightly prick them all over with a toothpick and soak in the syrup for at least an hour.
- To serve, fill the hole with either creme patissiere or whipped cream and pop the strawberries on top.
For the syrup
- Cut your strawberries into small equal pieces, sprinkle over the sugar and mix well. If you are using blackberries, cook them in a little water for a few minutes. Leave overnight. Strain the syrup off the strawberries and set the berries aside.
- Make the syrup up to 300 ml with water. Bring to the boil and add the alcohol.
- Let it cool slightly and place in a dish large enough to take all the babas.
Find out more
Anyone can join the Clandestine Cake club. Just head along to their website, sign up and find a group near you. You could even set up one if there is none near you! There are also two Clandestine Cake recipe books to savour, the Clandestine Cake Club Book and the Clandestine Cake Club: A Year of Cake.
Clandestine Cake on Twitter and Instagram
Fou de Patisserie is issued as a print magazine and as an App. I have the IPad app – a more cost effective way of subscribing if you are not in France!