Anyone familiar with the man who is arguably France’s most famous gourmand will recognize the name Savarin. It was the name of Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, a French lawyer and food writer working in the early 19th century. This yeast risen “cake” was developed by Parisian pâtissier Auguste Julien in 1845 in his honor. In fact, it was initially called the Brillat-Savarin but later shortened to Savarin.
Jean-Anthelme B-S was born in Belley just west of the Swiss Alps, an area that has spawned an unusually large number of French chefs. During the revolution he was forced to flee the country with a price on his head. Apparently he had gained some attention with a speech he had made advocating capital punishment. However, when the revolutionaries decided to apply it to him he opted out and ended up in New York City teaching French and playing first violin in the Park Theater Symphony.
After three years in colonial purgatory he returned to a magistrate’s position and spent the balance of his long life eating and writing about what he ate. His food philosophy is best summed up as one that prizes the best ingredients prepared in a simple way that accentuates their flavor. And nothing could better describe the Savarin.
It’s a sweetened bread enriched with butter & eggs and anointed with a flavored syrup. This is where bread becomes cake. Serve it with whipped cream and fruit and it is transformed into a special occasion dessert. And if you come up short in the ring mold category you can substitute a bundt pan or use muffin tins for individual servings.
The prep may look involved but it’s really not. You can make the syrup days ahead and throw it in the back of the fridge. The cake may also be made ahead and frozen. If you do it this way you’ll only need to flavor and whip the cream, decorate with fruit and you’re done.
Although the directions are clearly outlined below you need to make sure that the cake is very slightly on the drier side but not dry. When done it should be golden brown and a toothpick should come out clean. And don’t worry about testing too many times. Those toothpick holes will come in handy when you pour the syrup over it.
When the cake is done you have the option of pouring the syrup in the pan and letting it soak or taking it out and brushing the syrup over both sides as I did below (and the reason is that I happened to make this Savarin in a hinged spingform pan that would have leaked the syrup. If you have a tube pan that is in one piece you can just pour it over).
And as Brillat-Savarin would have said: “The discovery of a new dish confers more happiness on humanity, than the discovery of a new star.” Serve this and you’ll see a starry glow shining from the eyes of your guests!
- For the bread:
- 1 tablespoon active dry yeast (one packet)
- ¼ cup warm whole milk
- 1⅔rd cups all-purpose flour (or slightly more if necessary)
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 3 large eggs, room temperature
- ¼ cup (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
- grated zest of one orange & one lemon
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- ⅓ cup currants (optional)
- For the syrup:
- 1 cup water
- ⅔rds cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- rind of one orange
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- ½ tsp. almond extract
- 1 tsp. orange extract
- Bourbon or rum to taste (I usually put 1 tsp, but a bit more is traditional)
- For the topping:
- 1 pint heavy cream, whipped
- 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- grated orange rind to taste
- 1 tsp. orange extract or orange liqueur
- For the fruit:
- Mandarin oranges, drained & dried
- For the bread:
- Melt butter and let cool.
- In a large bowl, stir the yeast into warmed milk (about 105 degrees) to soften.
- Add the flour, sugar, salt and eggs to the yeast mixture. Beat for 2 minutes.
- Add the cooled butter and beat for several minutes. The dough should be glossy & pull away from the sides of the mixer.
- Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 1 hour.
- Press the dough down, form into a rope and place into a well-greased savarin tube mold or Bundt pan. It will look very low in the pan but don't worry - it will rise to the edge of a tube pan. If using a bundt pan it will come up halfway.
- Cover and let rise for 1½ hours until doubled in bulk.
- While the savarin is rising, preheat the oven to 375°F.
- Bake for 35 minutes, or until it is golden and firm to the touch.
- Let cool for a few minutes then remove from the pan by holding a rack over the cake and flipping it.
- For the syrup:
- Combine the water, sugar and orange juice. Stir until the sugar dissolves.
- Bring the mixture to a rolling boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and let simmer until reduced by about half. This should take about 20 minutes.
- Remove from heat. Add the flavorings and alcohol.
- Pour ½ cup of syrup into the savarin mold. Put the savarin back in the mold. Spoon the syrup over the top until the savarin has absorbed all the syrup. Let sit for 20 minutes.
- Remove the savarin from the mold.
- Serve with fresh fruit and large spoonfuls of whipped cream.
- For the topping:
- Put all ingredients into the bowl & take Devo's advice and "Whip It! Whip it Good!"
- After whipping it good, spoon cream over cake & top with fruit. Be sure any canned fruit is dried off or it will leak into the whipped cream and not be pretty!