The origin of the babà cake is to be found in 18th century Poland, at the court of King Stanislao Leszczinski. The story recounts that the king spilt by mistake a bottle of rhum on top of a cake, made for him by his cooks, so creating the babà.
Stanislao personally chose the name for two reasons: firstly, to dedicate it to Alì Babà, the famous character from One Thousand and One Arabian Nights, a book that the king loved to read over and over again, and secondly, because the word “babà” is translatable as “old lady”, a reference to the softness of the cake which is particularly useful for tootheless people.
The babà made its way to Paris where it was greatly appreciated. It was then brought to Naples by the “monsù”, a distortion of the word monsieur, the French cooks who served the Neapolitan noble families.
In Naples the babà was then perfected, finding its distinctive peculiarities: the softness, gained by wetting it in water and sugar, and the distinctive mushroom-like shape. For these reasons, the babà today is considered an original specialty from Campania.
The cake is made with soft grain flour, eggs, butter or lard, salt, sugar, and yeast. It is put to rise twice and is cooked in the oven and it is wet with a solution of water and sugar, which has been aromatized with lemon or rum, before being served. The classic babà, as well as the chocolate and cream varieties, can be found in every workshop of the region.