Sweet and usually alcoholic, savarins held a place in cake lovers' hearts for centuries. Now, as Michael Raffael reports, they have been given a new lease of life
Once, making a savarin dough by hand was a treat dreamed up by sadistic pastry chefs and catering lecturers for the young and innocent. A yeast dough, it requires long, energetic, even painful, beating before it has the elasticity and silkiness to turn it into a light, open-textured cake. The purpose of this labour-intensive chore is to develop the gluten in the flour.
The savarin is designed for its ability to soak up syrup. Almost exclusively, chefs used to drench it in a rum-flavoured stock syrup.
The mould that gave the dough its name, like a large doughnut-with-a-hole, went out of fashion with the demise of the sweet trolley. Its size and shape were no longer practical.
Tom Kerridge is the chef and co-owner of the Hand & Flowers in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, winner of the 2007 Catey Newcomer Award, and what he has done for savarin is to give the basic dough a new lease of life. He makes individual portions in a size and shape thatÁ¢ÂÂs adapted to plate service. He impregnates them with an amaretto syrup rather than rum. And instead of the pastry chefÁ¢ÂÂs standby apricot glaze, he coats the surface with spiced honey, adding fresh thyme leaves to balance the flavour of the goatsÁ¢ÂÂ cheese ice-cream served with it.
His approach provides a new blueprint for handling a classic technique that has stood the test of time in an applied and modern way.
A little history
Dishes evolve, and savarins are no exception to this rule.
According to Le Compagnon PÁÂ¢tissier, a professional French pastry textbook, the savarin is a Polish invention. Early in the 18th century Stanislas Leczinski, king of Poland Á¢ÂÂ" or, more likely, his anonymous chef Á¢ÂÂ" had the idea of pouring rum over a kougelhopf, a Germanic yeast cake with a hole in the middle. A fan of The Arabian Nights, the king baptised the turban-shaped creation Á¢ÂÂAli-BabaÁ¢ÂÂ, later contracted to baba.
A century later, another Polish pÁÂ¢tissier, a Monsieur Stohrer, based in Paris, sold babas soaked in rum syrup rather than pure alcohol from his shop, Au Baba. At this stage, it still contained raisins, like the original kougelhopf.
Later in the 19th century, two brothers by the name of Julien cut out the fruit, designed a large, differently shaped mould and named their cake savarin, after the French gastronome, Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin.
Made from the same yeast dough, the savarin (also known as the baba) was a popular pastry item in various shapes Á¢ÂÂ" bouchons (like Champagne corks), marignans (barquettes) and pomponnettes (mini-brioche shapes). It found its place on restaurant sweet trolleys for generations before slipping out of fashion, partly because of plate service, partly because it had become a clichÁÂ©.
The savarinÁ¢ÂÂs current revival shows that it is both practical and easily adapted to various flavoured syrups and glazes, and that it can be produced in a wide variety of shapes.
Although his pub-restaurant won the 2007 Catey Newcomer Award, Tom Kerridge is no novice.
The first Michelin-starred chef he worked under (albeit briefly) was Ramon Farthing at Calcot Manor, in 1991. Since then, he has worked in kitchens and for chefs where the cooking was modern but never far from its classical roots.
After spells at Stephen Bull St MartinÁ¢ÂÂs Lane, Rhodes in the Square and OdetteÁ¢ÂÂs, and a spell in the Capital pÁÂ¢tisserie, Kerridge became head chef for two years at AdlardÁ¢ÂÂs in Norwich.
In 2005 he opened the Hand & Flowers with his wife, Beth. It has resisted pricing itself into stellar orbit despite winning a Michelin star.
Kerridge relies on ingredients such as plaice and rabbit, but handles them with a blend of judgement and skill. He produces imaginative pub food without frills, prepared to the highest level.
Amaretto savarin with poached peach, goatsÁ¢ÂÂ curd ice-cream and honey
8 eggs, medium-sized
35g fresh yeast, creamed
500g strong flour
175g butter, melted
Equipment Mixing bowl with dough-hook attachment.
Method Put the eggs in the mixing bowl first. This prevents any of the dry ingredients catching on the sides of the bowl.
Add the yeast, flour, salt and sugar (1). Knead with a dough-hook attachment at slow to medium speed for about 10 minutes, to form a supple, shiny dough.
Keep working the dough and pour in the melted butter in a steady stream. Continue to knead. The dough will separate and then come back together.
The dough is ready after about 20 minutes, when it will have a silky, glossy appearance and an elastic, almost dropping texture (2).
Transfer the mixture to a clean bowl and cover with film.
Proving and baking
Leave the dough for about one hour in a warm (30Á¢ÂÂ'40ÁÂ°C) environment. It will increase in volume and there will be blisters on the surface (3). The mixture does not form a dome-like bread dough.
Piping into moulds
Except in catering colleges, few large savarin moulds now exist. Most kitchens will, like the Hand & Flowers, be preparing individual portions, either as rings (babas) or, as here, miniature cakes. Non-stick silicone moulds (such as Flexipan) are replacing conventional metal tins. In this case (see picture), the moulds are about 10cm x 4cm x 3cm.
Place the moulds on baking sheets. Fill a piping bag, with a plain tube or a 15mm-diameter nozzle, with the savarin mixture. Half-fill each mould (4). The above mixture will make 24-27 dessert portions, or fewer traditional babas.
Leave the piped dough for about 15 minutes in a warm (30Á¢ÂÂ'40ÁÂ°C) environment.
Preheat a conventional oven to 190ÁÂ°C. If your oven is forced-convection, set it to 160Á¢ÂÂ'180ÁÂ°C.
Bake the savarins like cakes for about 15 minutes. They are ready when they have coloured. Prick them with a skewer to test whether they are done Á¢ÂÂ" it should come out dry.
Turn the savarins on to a cooling wire.
Note on storage
Before they can be soaked with syrup, itÁ¢ÂÂs advisable to let the savarins cool and dry out. At the Hand & Flowers, Kerridge has found it more practical to freeze his savarins, defrost them before or during service, and soak them in hot syrup to order.
Ingredients 1 litre water
500g caster sugar
Method Put ingredients in a pan and boil to dissolve the sugar. As soon as the syrup has a rolling boil, take it off the heat, strain through a chinois (5) and cool.
Amaretto syrup (For soaking the savarins Á¢ÂÂ" enough for one batch)
500ml stock syrup (see above)
250ml amaretto liqueur
Method Put the syrup and the liqueur in a pan and boil. Use while hot.
Honey syrup with thyme
In traditional pÁÂ¢tisserie, babas and savarins were glazed with apricot jam. The flavoured honey syrup can be adapted to any recipe and has more finesse.
Ingredients 500g runny honey
1 star anise
3 bay leaves
200ml stock syrup
Fresh thyme leaves
Method In a steep-sided pan, boil the honey, star anise and bay leaves to 150ÁÂ°C, until almost caramelised (6, 7). Remove from the heat. Taking care to avoid any spatter or boiling over, pour in the stock syrup. Infuse and strain through a chinois (8).
The thyme leaves (9) are used during the assembly.
Soaking the individual savarins to order
(In traditional pÁÂ¢tisseries, a slightly denser soaking syrup was used for large savarins than for individual portions.)
Pour the hot amaretto syrup into a container, with a savarin (or savarins) (10). Cover and leave one side to soak thoroughly (11). Turn over and continue soaking (12). TheyÁ¢ÂÂre ready when they feel like a saturated sponge. (This is less than would have been the case in the past, when savarins and babas were always at risk from falling apart because of the quantity of syrup in them.)
During assembly (see below), spoon about one dessert spoon (12g) honey over each piece and sprinkle fresh thyme leaves on top.
Amaretto savarin with poached peach, goatsÁ¢ÂÂ curd ice-cream and honey
1 prepared savarin
1/2tsp ground almonds
1/2 poached peach
1 scoop or quenelle goatsÁ¢ÂÂ curd ice-cream
Put the soaked savarin on the plate. Arrange a peach half next to it. Make a small pile of ground almonds and stand the ice-cream on it to keep it in place. Spoon the honey syrup over the savarin and finish with fresh thyme leaves.
1 litre water
50g antioxidant (Sosa brand)
1 vanilla pod, split and scraped
10 ripe peaches
Whisk the water, antioxidant, vanilla and sugar together. Bring mixture to the boil.
Cut around the peaches from the top downwards, not across the waist. Twist slightly to halve (13), and remove the stone. Poach until tender Á¢ÂÂ" timing for this depends on ripeness (14). Cool and peel off the skin (15-17).
GoatsÁ¢ÂÂ curd ice-cream
Ingredients (Serves about 20)
800g goatsÁ¢ÂÂ curd cheese
200ml milk, warm
100g caster sugar
100g Pro-Crema (cream emulsifier)
Beat the curd until smooth. Whisk in the warm milk (18), then the other ingredients (19). Pour into a Pacojet and freeze.
Alternatively, churn in an ice-cream machine.
Á¢ÂÂ¢ Pro-Crema is part of the Spanish Sosa range of professional pastry ingredients available from Wild Harvest in New Covent Garden, London.