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excerpt from chapter 8:


Hours later, the main course of the Royal Couple’s late-evening meal having gone up thirty minutes before, the Great Kitchen was shuttering itself at nine – as usual – while Carême, François and Thomas placed the finishing touches on Charlotte’s and Leopold’s dessert.

The original baba au rhum had come into being during the reign of Louis XV’s pretty Polish wife – the one who not so famously uttered the line that cut off Marie-Antoinette's head: “What, the peasants have no bread?! Let them eat brioche, ha-ha . . . . ”

She might have instead suggested they eat her favoured baba, baked in fluted moulds said to resemble the flaring skirts of contented old women, for as Carême knew the true Polish tradition, this slowly risen yeast cake was prepared with rye flour, and such staples were cheaper and more readily available to a France in crisis in the 1760s. But sadly, history cannot re-write itself except in wistful or deceitful ways – never the practical.

And the rum? Ah, the chef whose inspiration to take the somewhat plain-Jane baba of the tea table – which was, no doubt, a stale one by the time he got his hands on it – and spoon a luxurious dark rum syrup over the top, has been lost to culinary folklore.

Suffice to say, it was now an item a hungry Parisian proletariat could splurge for as an everyday treat from Carême’s pastry shop; the baba au rhum was famous throughout France – especially that chef’s rye flour version.

And glistening on one of the Pavilion’s silver platters was just such an example. Admiring it, Carême felt sure it would please the young couple sequestered at supper on the opposite side of the house. Whipped cream filled up the centre where the plain tube section of the baking pan had been, and on the exterior of the cake’s rum-burnished, mahogany crenulations, precise dollops of more crème were being hand-piped by François under Carême’s watchful eye.

“No; no,” François chided Thomas. For the ‘chucklehead’ was following in Distré’s wake with perfectly cut diamonds of candied angelica. “That’s crooked! Straighten it.”  



Edited by AC Benus
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