For the last three weeks I have been travelling in Europe with Fran (a Christmas present from our amazing husbands) having adventures and, of course, sampling the local cuisine wherever possible.
While the baking in Germany was exceptional, and there may be related blog posts to follow, the best sweet by far was in Prague.
Climbing the hill from the Charles Bridge to the castle, we spotted a cafe whose doors read “Support Tea, Tea Supports You”. This place not only serves a great cup of tea, but is also where we were introduced to Honeycake. Being a fan of honey in general, I have tried several “honeycakes” before, but this cool, pillow-soft confection in Prague beats them all, hands down. It was not too sweet, not too rich and somehow, slightly wholesome feeling. Not having much of a sweet tooth, despite being a baker and confectioner, I have never before returned to an establishment for a second slice of cake within a month of having the first, but that evening I found myself climbing the hill once more in search of honey cake.
Naturally as soon as I got home I started scouring the internet for recipes and, thankfully, came across this recipe for “Russian honey cake”. I made a few tweaks so I’ll write out my own version here in full:
dough – 125g slightly salted butter
a generous tablespoon of good quality honey (I used Hood of Ormiston’s pure Scottish blossom honey)
3/4 cup caster sugar
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 cups plain flour
filling – a 397g tin of Carnation condensed milk
3 eggs, beaten
2 generous tablespoons of honey (same as above)
170ml sour cream
topping – 2 digestive biscuits
75g walnuts or walnut pieces
For the dough – In a heavy saucepan or flameproof casserole dish, melt the butter over a low heat then stir in the honey. Beat the eggs and sugar together then add the bicarbonate of soda, making sure to completely mix it through. Add the egg mixture to the pan and stir to combine with the butter. Keeping the heat low, add the flour a little at a time and mix to make a smooth, uniform paste (sort of like the start of a white sauce). The paste will be thick by the time all the flour is added. Take off the heat and leave to cool. While the dough is cooling, preheat the oven to gas mark 4 (180C). When the dough is cool, dust the work surface liberally with flour and divide the dough into 5 equal pieces. Roll the dough until it is about 2mm thick, then use a 22cm baking tin to cut a circle out of the dough (a 20cm tin would would just as well). Repeat for the other four pieces. You should then have enough left over dough to roll one more circle – making 6 layers in total. Bake each circle of dough on a flat baking sheet in the hot over for about 4 mins until they are a deep golden brown and cool on wire racks.
For the filling – put everything except the sour cream in a pan and stir over a medium heat while it thickens. Lumps will form at first but as long as you keep heating and don’t stop stirring it will eventually thicken to a uniform texture, slightly finer than semolina. Pour into a cold bowl or container and leave to cool a little.
To assemble – When the cakes are cool, but the filling is still slightly lukewarm, assemble the cake. If you wish your cake to be pretty, I suggest you trim each of your layers back to a uniform 22(or 20)cm, but if, like me, you can’t bear waste and only the family are going to eat it, just leave them as they come. Top each layer with a thin layer of sour cream and a slightly thicker layer of the honey filling before sandwiching on the next layer. When you reach the last layer, you should also top this with a thin layer of sour cream and a slightly thicker one of the honey filling. Top make the topping, pop the biscuits and walnuts in a food processor and blend to a fine crumb. Scatter this evenly over the top of the cake and press lightly down.
Leave for at least one hour before serving so that the cake layers soften up a little.
I find I enjoy this cake best with a cup of Oolong tea.
Tastewise, the only difference between this home made cake and the one I ate and adored in Prague is the subtle flavour of the honey. There is some magic in the honey from Czech bees that isn’t quite replicated by our local workforce. Still, I think the taste of a local honey really sets a thing in its right place and this cake is right for Edinburgh.