Babas have a unique charm. One of the oldest desserts in the French repertory, these egg-shaped knobs of baked brioche dough are bathed in sugar syrup until they are sweet and moist. Usually babas are made from plain dough and soaked in rum-flavored syrup. Here, they are distinguished by flecks of toasted ground hazelnuts and a syrup laced with coffee and hazelnut liqueur.
The food processor shortcuts the job of making the dough. Traditionally, the butter is softened and kneaded into the dough bit by bit, which requires time and patience. In the processor, the technique is reversed. First, chilled butter is cut into the dry ingredients, as for pie crust.
Then the mixture of yeast, sugar, water and beaten eggs is added to the machine with the motor running, and dough is thoroughly kneaded after 30 seconds of processing. The dough can be set aside to rise in a bowl, or transferred to a plastic bag and refrigerated overnight.
Once the babas are baked, they should be immersed in syrup while still warm so that the liquid will be absorbed. If prepared in advance, store and reheat babas in the syrup, then drain them well before serving.
3/4 cup hazelnuts
1 1/2 to 1 2/3 cups unbleached flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut in 6 pieces
1 1/2 teaspoons dry yeast
1 3/4 cups plus 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons warm water
2 eggs, at room temperature
3 tablespoons softened unsalted butter
3 cups water
1/2 cup strong brewed coffee or espresso
1/2 cup hazelnut liqueur
2 cups chilled whipping cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar
Place hazelnuts in cake pan and bake at 350 degrees until lightly browned, about 8 to 12 minutes. Remove from oven and immediately rub in dry cloth towel to remove skins. Set aside to cool. Transfer nuts to processor fitted with metal blade. Pulse until coarsely chopped, then set aside 1/4 cup chopped nuts for garnish.
Process remaining hazelnuts until powdery. Add 1 1/2 cups flour, salt and chilled butter. Process until butter completely disappears.
Place yeast, 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar and warm water in large measuring cup and stir well, then beat in eggs with fork. Set mixture aside.
With motor running, add yeast mixture in steady stream, then process until dough is sticky and smooth. If dough seems liquid, process in remaining flour by tablespoons.
Rinse inside of zipper-lock plastic bag with warm water. Add dough to bag and press out air. Seal and refrigerate overnight. (Or, rinse mixing bowl with warm water, add dough, cover tightly with plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature until dough doubles, about 1 1/2 hours.)
Generously coat 8 timbales (1/2 cup each) or cups of popover pan with softened butter. With wet hands, pinch off 8 pieces of dough (about 1/3 cup each), press each into egg-shape and transfer each to timbales or tin. Cover molds loosely with cloth towel and set aside for 30 to 40 minutes, or until dough has risen to tops of molds.
Place molds or tin on jellyroll pan. Bake at 400 degrees about 20 minutes, or until babas are puffed and golden brown. Remove babas from molds and place in deep bowl.
Combine remaining 1 3/4 cups sugar, 3 cups water and coffee in saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Simmer syrup until sticky when drop is tested between fingers, about 10 minutes. Stir in hazelnut liqueur.
Pour hot syrup over babas, basting until swollen and shiny. (Can cool, cover and set babas aside in liquid overnight.) Transfer babas to baking dish, cover with foil and reheat at 300 degrees 15 to 20 minutes, basting occasionally with any excess syrup.
Chill processor container and metal blade in freezer. Return bowl and blade to base, add 1 cup cream and powdered sugar. Process until cream begins to thicken, then add remaining 1 cup cream through food chute and process until cream is whipped to firm peaks. Serve babas warm with whipped cream and sprinkle each with nuts. Makes 8 servings.