RUSTIC FRENCH HONEY CAKE: An Attempt at Baking Enlightenment

In yoga, it is often said that to maximize the benefits of practice, we should endeavor to “work toward our weaknesses,” which is why I am determined to become a better baker. Through practice, I feel certain, I will somehow gain some spiritual insight into why oh why I have so little patience when it comes to following directions!

In the front garden, we leave a sizeable patch of our hill grow wild, providing both a natural screen from passing cars and an ever-changing display of wildflowers with delightful names like Purple Aster, Goldenrod, and Touch-Me-Not. Right now, the last gasp of Goldenrod is holding its own against the cooling temperatures, and the bees have revved up their efforts to consume as much pollen as possible before the flowers are completely gone.

In homage to these beautiful, industrious insects, I was inspired to try and bake a Rustic French Honey Cake last weekend, which I’d seen on the fabulous food site Food52.com. Described as “only slightly sweet,” this cake recipe sounded right up my alley, as neither B nor I are huge sweet eaters—though we occasionally like a little bit of something to snack on with our tea. The result of my labor? Well, as you can see from the photograph, the cake looked absolutely delectable…

But sadly, it failed the taste test. Dry and even less sweet than we expected, the rye flower gave it a strange, savory tang. And as far as the arid texture, I feel I must have done something wrong. Was it the fact that I substituted dried apricots for prunes? Or maybe I left the cake linger for too long in our new (rather unpredictable) oven? We’ll never know, I suppose, unless I try, try again.

Full disclosure: My salt was not kosher and instead of unbleached cake flour I simply used plain old white. Is it me, or do these detailed ingredients annoy you, too?!

The lesson: Pretty isn’t everything, especially when it comes to baked goods.

The bright side: Caloric intake was kept to a minimum that day, and no waistlines were harmed in the process.

For all you super-bakers out there (mom, are you reading this?), here’s the recipe I thought I followed…um…pretty much to the letter. Maybe you have some ideas about how it might be improved?

Makes nine pieces

1 cup rye flour

1 cup unbleached cake flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 cup honey

2 large eggs

1/4 cup  unsalted butter, melted

1/2 cup whole milk

1 cup prunes, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350˚ F. Grease an 8 X 8 inch square cake pan. A parchment square in the bottom might be a good idea if you think the cake will stick to your pan. Grease the parchment too.

Sift the flours into a mixing bowl. Any large pieces of bran left in the strainer can be discarded. Add the baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and cloves.

Add the eggs, honey, milk, and butter. Stir with a wooden spoon to combine. Add the prunes and stir to distribute them.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 35 minutes or until a cake tester poked into the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Remove it from the oven and let it cool. Dust with powdered sugar if desired.

Read the entire recipe posting from Food52 here.

About Smallpeace

Michele Karas is a poet, essayist, and longstanding professional copywriter, who currently works for a top-five US book publisher. Her poems and prose have appeared in literary journals, including Tinderbox, THRUSH, Alaska Quarterly Review, and Narrative magazine, among others. Michele holds a BA in Journalism from San Diego State University and an MFA in Creative Writing from CUNY, The City College of New York. Find her on Twitter @small_peace.
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4 Responses to RUSTIC FRENCH HONEY CAKE: An Attempt at Baking Enlightenment

  1. Barbara says:

    Oh, my sweet daughter who is so “almost perfect” at so many things is being hard on herself for making a less than perfect cake. Just remember even the best cooks and bakers have some failures which makes them even better next time. I agree with you that it looks GREAT and the name is Oh So appealing! In looking at the recipe, I would certainly have tried it, and my 2 cents worth is that the flour was the problem. I usually don’t have Cake Flour in my cabinet, which often makes me shy away from a recipe, so I went to find a substitute. As it turns out, all you have to do is reduce the regular flour by 2 TBLS and add 2 TBLS of corn starch for each cup of flour. There isn’t a lot of moisture in the recipe to start with, and the prunes might have added a little more than the dried apricots, but I would have tried that same substitute if I had been you.

    I love reading your blog…..your writing is always so beautiful, and the photos are awesome. My very talented and creative daughter and son-in-law.
    Love
    Mom

  2. Touch2Touch says:

    Maybe you used wry flour instead?
    (Couldn’t resist)
    You can’t fool around with flours in baking, though. In fact, you can’t fool around with much of anything — unlike cooking. Which is why I MUCH prefer the latter.
    I applaud your yoga approach, from a distance. My own solution to this problem: find a couple of bakeries or equivalents that sell a dynamite dessert/baked good; that’s the go-to for company. And if you really want to go that yogic mile, find a couple of REALLY SIMPLE baking recipes for the kind of cake etc. that YOU like, and try ’em till you get ’em right. This recipe, to my eye, isn’t exactly a place to start.
    Banana bread, there’s a good one! If you like, I’ll send you by email Arthur Schwartz’s never-fail, even for baking klutzes like us, recipe.

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