Babà Napoletano – Neapolitan rum babà

  • Cake
  • medium
  • Makes 22
  • 1 hour 30 minutes


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Babà al rum are delicious sponge cakes soaked in a sticky, citrus-scented boozy syrup. Although Italians often link babà with the city of Naples, this much-loved dessert actually originated in the eighteenth century in Central Europe, namely in the Duchy of Lorraine. There, former King of Poland Stanislas Leszczynski, who had married the daughter of Louis XV, King of France, had the genius idea of soaking a dried out kugelhopf (a traditional cake from the area) in liqueur. The soaked cake was so well-received that, a few years later, in Paris, the court’s pastry chef Nicholas Stohrer modified it to produced what is now known as the modern babà au rum.

Babà was brought to Southern Italy in the nineteenth century by the monsù – chefs who had trained in France and worked in the kitchens of the well-off families of Naples. Soon enough, these deliciously sticky brioche buns became a local speciality. Despite their rather aristocratic origins, babà are now a very “democratic” sweet, present on Neapolitan tables at every special occasion and at all times of the year.

Usually baked in individual moulds, babà can also be done in a bundt pan and served in slices. Either way, they are finished with a generous dose of citrusy, rum-spiked simple syrup and a brushing of apricot jam for shine and extra stickiness. Want to make it even more Neapolitan? Swap the rum for limoncello.





  • 5g of active dry yeast
  • 2 tbsp of whole milk
  • 600g of strong white flour, plus extra for lining the moulds
  • 50g of caster sugar
  • 12 medium eggs, cold, lightly beaten
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 200g of butter, cubed, at room temperature, plus extra for lining the moulds

Rum and citrus syrup

  • 2l water
  • 1 lemon, zest
  • 1 orange, zest
  • 800g of sugar
  • 400ml of rum


Combine the yeast, milk and 30g of flour until you have a smooth ball of dough. Set in a bowl wrapped with cling film and leave to rise in a warm place for about 30 minutes, or until doubled in size
Place the remaining flour in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Add the yeast mixture and run on a medium-low speed. Add the sugar and eggs and let the mixer run for about 20 minutes, until the dough becomes elastic and starts to come away from the side of the bowl
Switch to the dough hook attachment. Turn the mixer back on and add the salt. Add the butter, one cube at a time, ensuring each cube is fully incorporated before adding the next one. After you add all the butter, keep working the dough for 10 more minutes, until the dough looks soft and is a pale yellow
Turn off the mixer, remove the bowl and wrap it in cling film. Leave the dough to rise in a warm place for 3 hours
While the dough rises, make the syrup. Place the water in a pot and add the lemon zest, orange zest and sugar. Place the over a medium heat and bring to a simmer. Once the sugar has dissolved, remove the pan from the heat, allow it to cool slightly, then add the rum. Reserve to one side
Grease and flour the moulds. Preaheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4
Knock back the dough. Take small portions, approximately 70g each, and place a ball into each mould. Leave them to rise in a warm place, until the dough grows into the mould and forms a dome on top
Place in the oven and bake for 30–35 minutes, until deeply golden brown. Remove and allow to cool in their moulds for about 10 minutes. Turn the cakes out of the moulds and place them on a rack to cool
To soak, heat the syrup until just warm. Remove from the heat and use a pair of tongs to dip each babà into the syrup, turning so they are thoroughly soaked on all sides. Gently squeeze out any excess syrup. Transfer the soaked babà to a cooling rack set over a baking sheet, turning occasionally so they soak evenly
To finish, brush the babà with apricot jam
To serve, drizzle the babà with a little more syrup. They are delicious with a dollop of whipped cream. The soaked babà can be stored in the fridge for up to a week, just make sure to bring them back to room temperature before serving
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