Baba Limoncello with Lemon Cream

Time: 2 1/2 hours, plus cooling
For the babas:
1/2 cup (1 stick) melted unsalted butter, plus additional for tins
1/2 cup milk
1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) dry yeast
2 cups plus 3 tablespoons bread flour
3 large eggs 
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
For the lemon cream:
1 cup milk
5 tablespoons sugar
Grated zest of 1 lemon
Pinch of salt
3 tablespoons corn starch
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
Limoncello syrup:
Grated zest of 10 lemons
3/4 cup sugar
5 tablespoons limoncello (recipe below)
1. Butter a 12-cavity muffin tin and set aside. To prepare the babas, in a saucepan over low heat, gently warm the milk. Pour it into the bowl of an electric mixer or other large bowl and sprinkle in the yeast. Stir until the yeast dissolves. Whisk in 1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons of the flour and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until the mixture has doubled, about 30 minutes to 1 hour.
2. Using an electric mixer set with the paddle attachment or a food processor fitted with the dough blade, beat the eggs, sugar, salt, and the remaining 1 1/2 cups flour into the yeast mixture until very smooth. Gradually mix in the melted butter and continue to mix until smooth.
3. Spoon the dough into the muffin tin, filling each cavity halfway. Grease a piece of plastic wrap and cover the muffin tin. Let rise until the dough has risen just above the level of the muffin tin, about 1 hour. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
4. Remove the plastic wrap and bake the babas until they are dark golden brown on top and the bottoms sound hollow when tapped, about 20 minutes. Transfer the tin to a wire rack to cool.
5. To prepare the lemon cream, in a saucepan over medium heat, bring the milk, 3 tablespoons of the sugar, the lemon zest and salt to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves.
6. Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk together the cornstarch, the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar, the egg and yolk. Whisking constantly, pour the hot milk mixture gradually into the egg mixture. Whisk to combine, then transfer the mixture back to the saucepan. 
7. Warm the liquid over medium low heat, whisking constantly, being sure to scrape the bottom and sides of the saucepan. As soon as the liquid reaches a boil, take the saucepan off the heat. Whisk in the butter, a tablespoon at a time. Transfer the mixture to a shallow bowl and lay a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the lemon cream. Refrigerate until well chilled, about 2 hours.
8. To prepare the syrup, in a saucepan, combine the lemon zest, 2 cups water and sugar and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Simmer until the liquid is yellow, about 2 to 3 minutes. Strain the liquid through a fine sieve into a bowl. Stir in the limoncello. Let cool.
9. Just before serving, whip the heavy cream until it forms soft (not stiff) peaks. Whisk the chilled lemon cream well to loosed it, then gently fold in the whipped cream.
10. Slice the babas in half vertically. Submerge each baba in the limoncello syrup for 10 seconds. Arrange the babas on plates cut sides up, and drizzle them with some more of the syrup. Top the babas with large dollops of lemon cream and serve immediately.
Yield: 12 servings
Adapted from Lemon Zest by Lori Longbotham (Broadway Books 2002)
Time: 30 minutes, plus 15 days resting
6 lemons
One 750-milliliter bottle vodka (preferably 100-proof)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the zest from the lemons, being careful not to include any of the white pith. Put it in a half-gallon jar with a tight-fitting lid and add the vodka. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 10 days, or until the zest is pale and the vodka is a deep yellow.
2. Strain the liquid into a large glass bowl or measuring cup, leaving the zest in the strainer.
3. In a saucepan, bring 3 cups of water and the sugar to a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Boil for 3 minutes. Pour the hot sugar syrup over the zest in the strainer, into a heatproof bowl and discard the zest. Let cool.
4. Add the syrup to the vodka. Pour the liqueur into bottles with tight-fitting lids. Let stand for 5 days. Store in the freezer.
Yield: 2 bottles