There was this place in Rome that made incredible rum sponge cake. I’m not sure if it’s still there, in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if it weren’t. The ancient woman working the counter was surly on a good day. It was tucked into an inconvenient alley, and each time I arrived, I was the only customer.
On Sundays, I’d travel to an Irish bar in the middle of the tourist district because it was the only place to watch American football. The Sunday night game of the week would be shown live at noon. I’d eat fish and chips, or a burger, or something else thoroughly un-Italian, and drink Smithwick’s and feel a little less like home was 5,000 miles away.
On the way back to the light rail, I’d dip into this small pastry shop and often come away with baba au rhum. It was baked in a bundt pan, so the edges were crispy. It would rarely last the tram ride home.
When Cossetta in St. Paul remodeled, they built the Italian pastry shop of my dreams. Some of their offerings would be right at home in that old Roman pastry shop, especially the sponge cake.
Their Baba Savarin ($3.75) is a rendition of baba au rhum—a sweet sponge or yeast cake, soaked in rum, and filled with pastry cream. In this case, it’s a wonderful vanilla cream. And when I say soaked in rum, consider that I have actually been ID’d on a couple occasions to receive this pastry.
It’s amazing how the smallest tastes can transport you to another place and time. Next time, I may have to eat it on the Green Line for old time’s sake.