The Man Who Maybe, Possibly Would Have Been King

Probably the most popular story about the invention of baba au rhum has to do with one Stanislas Leszczynski. Leszczynski was a puppet king of Poland, installed in 1704 by the Swedes after Leszczynski’s predecessor, Augustus the Strong, overreached himself trying to boot the Swedes out of the Baltic. He failed and was himself booted from the throne. But times being what they were, Augustus was soon able to mount a return. That left Leszczynski between the proverbial rock and hard place. With no army to call his own and the Swedes on the run, he was forced into exile and eventually found refuge at the French court in the northern Alsatian city of Weissembourg.

There he is said to have created the baba au rhum. How and why? There are many, many versions of the story, though most of them converge around a common theme: that Leszczynski somehow-or-other came into possession of a dried-out kugelhopf and was inspired to soak it in wine or some other sort of spirit. He named the resulting confection “baba” either after the babkas of his homeland, or possibly after the tales of Ali Baba, which he supposedly loved. Leszczynski’s daughter Marie, it’s said, loved her father’s invention so much that she made her father’s pastry chef, one Nicholas Stohrer, memorize it. She later appointed Stohrer to her own personal staff when she moved to Paris in 1725 to marry King Louis XV. And the rest is history.

Now me, I don’t buy any of that. It all gives off the strong odor of another Larousse Gastronomique-style made up food story. But while there’s no credible evidence to back it up (at least that I know of), there’s no credible evidence to disprove it, either. So believe it — or not.

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