Honey is my favorite souvenir purchase when I travel, because it’s easy to obtain, rarely ridiculously priced, takes up little luggage space, and keeps well when I get it home. More compellingly, each one will taste so clearly and uniquely of its place that it will be like being there again. This is why I have seven different containers to get rid of, representing five different states and two different countries. Pooh Bear’s got nothing on me.
In searching for honey-intensive recipes for Sunday baking, I remembered the cutesy Nigella chocolate cake with marzipan bees from Feast, which uses a good half-cup. I liked the idea of the cake, but decided to ditch the chocolate glaze in favor of a honey-laced cream cheese frosting, which would let me use up the second of the three blocks of cream cheese I inherited in addition to more honey. I also thought it would be nice to have a bit of a tangy contrast to what would undoubtedly be a very sweet cake.
The finished cake was really popular with the coworkers and had an interestingly fudgy, gingerbready texture and good strong honey base-note, but I was disappointed in the surprisingly weak chocolate flavor. As His Lordship observed, it was pretty much just sweet, without any identifiable characteristics. I do like the idea of a honey and chocolate cake, but next time I might start with a different, more deeply chocolate base recipe and experiment with the honey substitution myself.
On the other hand, the frosting, which was of my own devising, was great and highly repeatable as-is. It was nicely honey-flavored without being cloying, and would be equally at home over a carrot or spice cake. This is a great place to use a slightly more assertive honey, since all that creamy richness offers a supportive base for stronger herbal qualities.
The marzipan bees were seriously not going to happen, both because I don’t do cutesy and because I had no marzipan anyway. Since the cake has a very long baking and cooling time, I had ample opportunity to perpetrate a different act of candy-making insanity. Thinking that the finished cake would need some kind of decorative topping to relieve the white blankness of the frosting, I dug out a recipe for honey nut crunch from The Cake Bible, replacing the original almonds with some of the tons of sesame seeds I have in stock. I won’t give you the recipe for the resulting brittle, which I smashed into dust and sprinkled over the finished cake, because I wouldn’t want anyone else to indulge in that level of pathological ambition. Also, while pretty and certainly crunchy and redolent of honey when freshly made, it was incredibly sticky (duh) and clumped hopelessly by the next day, even in completely airtight conditions.
This week’s Sunday baking dented further my strategic chocolate reserves and used up the penultimate block of cream cheese. The cake, frosting and candy together used up an entire nearly-full jar of honey. One down, six more to go!
Chocolate Honey Cake with Honey Cream Cheese Frosting
(Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Feast)
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 cups (11 ounces) packed light brown sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1/2 cup honey
1 1/2 cups (7 1/8 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cocoa, sifted
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup boiling water
8 ounces (1 block) cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla paste or extract
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a 16×4 inch loaf pan completely with aluminum foil.
In a mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until fluffy, then add the honey. Beat in the eggs one at a time, adding a tablespoon of flour with each egg. Fold in the melted chocolate.
Whisk together the remaining flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt, and mix gently into the butter mixture. On low speed, mix in the boiling water to create a very liquid batter.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until the cake is firm and a tester comes out clean, 50-60 minutes. Cool the cake completely on a rack.
While the cake is cooling, beat together the cream cheese and butter for the frosting until light. Add the sugar and beat again until fluffy, then mix in the honey and vanilla. Cover tightly and refrigerate until ready to use. The honey will keep it very spreadable even straight from the fridge.
When the cake has completely cooled, lift it from the pan by using the foil. Peel away the foil, and spread the top generously with the frosting. Slice into 1-inch slices or 2-inch squares as preferred.
I used the loaf pan because I bought it an unconscionable number of years ago and had yet to actually bake Pullman loaf bread (its designated use) or anything else in it the entire time I’ve had it. I also thought it would be much easier to portion the cake among more people in neat slices from a loaf.
Nigella’s original recipe used a 9-inch springform pan, which you could revert to if you don’t have a similarly compulsive cookware buying habit. Just make sure you line the pan tightly and completely with the foil, since it’s a very liquid batter and will seep out any cracks in a springform pan if permitted to.