Rum baba is one of those desserts people either love or hate. If you grew up with syrup-soaked cakes, you’ll adore it. If not, probably not. French restaurants make a big production of their babas au rhum, hauling a cart of exotic vintage rums over to the table and letting the diner choose the rum to be poured over the baba.
In Italy, you can find a rum-soaked cake in any bar, to accompany a strong espresso for a late-morning pick-me-up. The Italians and the French are still arguing about who taught what to whom when.
You can make a big baba, but I like small individual ones. A little whipped cream is good alongside, or vanilla or cardamom-flavored ice cream. Babas are also good with fresh orange sections, strawberries, or sliced mango.
The babas and the syrup can be made a day ahead, then assembled for serving. To restore the fresh-baked taste, crisp the babas in a medium oven for 15 minutes, then cool before soaking them in the rum syrup.