Rumbaba is a type of yeast cake which is soaked in a rum syrup, yielding a very sweet, rich, strongly-flavored end product. This cake is native to Eastern Europe, where it has been made since at least the 1600s. Rumbaba is a common offering in the winter, when alcoholic desserts are viewed as especially fortifying, although it can also be served in the summer months. Many people eat rumbaba primarily in restaurants, because it can be challenging and time-consuming to make at home.
This cake is part of a larger family of alcohol-soaked cakes known as babas or babkas. These cakes were developed in Poland, and imported to France in the 1800s. Two different styles of rumbaba are commonly made today. One is a large cake in a tall mold which includes raisins, currants, or other dried fruit, in the traditional babka style. The other is an individual cake which is often filled with pastry cream or another rich filling, typically made in small molds like those used to produce madeleines.
Yeast cakes tend to be sweeter, richer, and more complex than cakes which are made with other forms of leavening. Rumbaba is no exception. Even before the rum syrup is used, the cake has lots of butter and eggs, making it a very rich and intense dessert. The cake is cooked, turned out on racks, and drizzled with the rum syrup while it is still warm to encourage the cake to absorb as much as possible. Some cooks also soak the cake in syrup to enhance the rummy flavor. The result is a moist cake with a heady alcoholic note.
Cooks who want a non-alcoholic version of rumbaba can use artificial rum or rum extract, which has much less alcohol than pure rum. For other cooks, the alcohol is part of the point of the cake, and gourmet rums may be used for a superior flavor and intensity. The cake may also be paired with candied orange or lemon peel. A garnish of whipped cream or pastry cream may be applied to rumbaba just before service in some regions of the world.
People also refer to rumbaba is rum baba, baba au rhum, father's cake, or savarin, depending on the region. Rumbaba is made in Turkey, France, Italy, Eastern Europe, and parts of the United States in restaurants and bakeries, and it is sometimes available in packaged form in supermarkets. Packaged rumbaba can sometimes be soggy, rather than simply moist, depending on how well it has been handled.