The babà: a 1400 kilometers history

Naples is a city with a thousand culinary traditions, sweet or salty, ancient or recent, all of them well known and loved all over the world. The babà reigns in pastry, born from a perfect alchemy of simple ingredients, such as eggs, flour and butter; just like Naples it owns a multi-ethnic soul.

Many cultures have crossed paths to give life to this delicacy: from the flavors of the Antilles to the Middle Eastern aromas, from the kitchens of northern Europe to those of the court of Versailles, from the peasant traditions to the refinements of the noble tables.
After a few twists and turns and with some tweaks to the recipe, the baba finally found its own home in Naples.

History of Babà: a journey through the most important European courts

The history begins in a castle of the North of France, in Lorraine, where at the beginning of the 1700s a dethroned Polish king resided: Stanislao Leszczinski. 

Looks like the king, an intellectual and a gourmet, had the idea of wetting a slice of kugelhupf, a typical Polish dessert, with some Madera wine and then improving it with three leavenings. The king also wanted to add the raisins, some candies to honor his friendship with the rules of Sweden and a little saffron in memory of the nights of Constantinople, a city that he knew well. Although he arrived there as a prisoner, Stanislao was fond of the Middle Eastern culture and for this he baptized his creation Ali Baba.

The king loved it so much that he even spoke of it in a letter to Voltaire, including it among his own intellectual legacies.

Arriving in Paris through one of the Polish king's daughters, the babà changed some of its characteristics by losing candies and saffron and half of its name: from then on it became known simply as babà. Since in those years the rum was very fashionable, it then ended up replacing the Madera wine. 

Apparently it was in the kitchens of Versailles that the babà took its typical shape of mushroom or donut, thanks to the intervention of two famous pastry chefs of the time, Sthorer and Savarin.

From Paris to Naples the journey was short, in fact Queen Marie Antoinette had a sister, Maria Carolina of Austria, wife of the King of Naples Ferdinand IV of Bourbon. She imported various delicacies, including the babà.

Where to eat the real babà

For about 200 years the babà has known an inexhaustible fortune that shows no sign of going down. It still reigns on Naple's tables after two centuries, but at the end of '800 it already was the street food par excellence of the neapolitan bourgeois too, particularly the mushroom-shaped one, easier to eat on the road.
Even today there is no Neapolitan that doesn't love it, in one or in all its variants: with cream, custard and strawberries, in the shape of a donut or even with chocolate. Also, there is no bakery that doesn't show it in its windows, but if you want to taste the real, authentic Neapolitan babà, you can't miss the pastry shop Scaturchio, a confectionery institution of the city that pampered the palates of citizens and tourists for more than a century.

Its famous historical shop, inaugurated in 1905, is right in the center of the town, at number 19 of Piazza San Domenico Maggiore, but other locations are also at Vomero, Piazza Amedeo or Piazza Trieste and Trento, next to the San Carlo theater.