Quite a Surprise

This past Sunday morning found Sam in the living room reading the paper and listening to records and me taking mad scientist notes in the kitchen, working on this humble beauty. I’d stumbled across a recipe for a honey cake that I wanted to make but as I was converting the grams into standard cup measurements for you all, I began tinkering. And tinkering. And downright altering the recipe until it really was no longer the honey cake recipe I’d become enamored with. I just couldn’t help but think it should have cornmeal in it, and that spelt flour would make for a really delicate crumb while whole-wheat flour would hold down the fort, so to speak. Sam was reading the Book Review; I was crossing my fingers, staring in at the cake and wondering what I’d done.


The original cake recipe I’d been looking forward to trying is called “Gill’s Honey Cake” from the beautiful River Cottage Cakes by Pam Corbin. Remember this Cardamom Cake (from just about a year ago)? That was from the book as well. For this cake in particular, I used a generous glug of Bee Raw honey that was sent to us a few weeks ago. It’s a raw, unfiltered varietal honey (in very pretty jars, I might add); for this cake I used wild black sage from California (and the thick, dark Washington buckwheat has been wonderful in morning oats lately), though you could certainly use any honey you’d like.

As you may notice from the photo above, there were lots of notes, and then in the middle of cake baking, I thought I remembered a similar recipe from one of my grandmother’s cookbooks. I raced upstairs to go through some old papers to try and find it and, instead, came across a letter typed by my favorite high school English teacher, Mr. Miller, dated right after I graduated from college. It begins: “Dear Megs: Jesus, Megs; you can’t be that old, can you? Weren’t you just a baby-faced 10th grader yesterday? Remember when I said that the next time you turned around you’d be 30 and wonder what the hell? You’re well on your way.” I was more than on my way. The oven timer was going off and I was, quite suddenly, thinking, ‘what the hell?’ I was thrown back into the third row of Honors English listening to Mr. Miller read Catcher in the Rye out loud to us during 5th period, the class right after lunch. He read the entire book to us that way and to this day, if I read a passage of it, I hear it utterly and completely in his voice alone. He taught me to love Shakespeare. To really love Shakespeare. I read Macbeth in his class three times to try and understand all of the symbolism and nuance. And really, to prove to him that I got it. He was that kind of teacher. You wanted to prove to him you deserved to be there. Mr. Miller consoled me when I walked in one morning of my senior year crying over my SAT scores, convinced I’d never get into college. I forget his exact words now (although I’m sure they were colorful), but the gist of it was: it’s no big thing, Megs. You’re going to do just fine.


And while I wanted to sit, staring out my office window thinking about the letter, there was cake. I felt flustered returning to the kitchen, jarred out of memories of being lost in the pages of King Lear or The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. I called Sam in for a little help, to do the honors of pouring the honey over the warm cake. We let it soak in for a good 30 minutes and sliced it to have with our second cup of coffee. And much like that single letter, it was quite a surprise: all of that tweaking and futzing and it worked! It was Sunday-morning worthy. In fact, I’m happy to tell you that it’s even better the second day, and might even make a good case for Tuesday-evening worthiness. Those are my favorite kinds of cakes. Forget the tall, towering sugary confections. I’ll take a crumbly, buttery honey cake that gets better as it sits any day. It’s a nice one to have at your desk as you begin to search for a particular address to send a long-overdue reply, and the right words to say to someone quite dear who made a big ol’ thumbprint in your life. Really, it’s that kind of cake.

Buttery Honey Almond Cake

Buttery Honey Almond Cake

  • Yield: 8 servings
  • Prep time: 15 mins
  • Cook time: 50 mins
  • Inactive time: 30 mins
  • Total time: 1 hr 35 mins

One thing I love about this cake is that it’s not at all too sweet, so it doesn’t feel overindulgent or far too decadent. That being said, it sure is buttery. I was tempted to retest it using a touch less butter, but Sam insists its perfect and has made me promise not to touch it. The cake calls for ground almonds. If you have almond meal at home, great. Otherwise, just grind down sliced almonds using your food processor — it’s quick and easy. Last, I did use a 9-inch springform cake pan which made it really easy to pop the cake right out, although if you don’t have one I imagine a standard 9-inch cake pan will do just fine; you may just have to work a bit to wiggle it out.

Adapted from:  River Cottage Cakes

Ingredients

1 cup plus 3 tablespoons / 280g softened unsalted butter (2 sticks plus 3 tablespoons), cut into small pieces
1/4 cup /40g fine-ground cornmeal
1/2 cup / 60g whole-wheat flour
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon / 35 g spelt flour (or all-purpose flour)
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup / 100g natural cane sugar
4 eggs
1 1/4 cup / 150g ground almonds
1/2 cup /50g raw sliced almonds
1/4 cup / 60ml runny honey (or warmed honey so it will be a bit runny)

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 325 F. Grease a 9-inch springform cake pan and set aside. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, whole-wheat flour, spelt flour and baking powder and set aside.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large mixing bowl using hand beaters), cream the butter until pale in color, about 1 minute.  Add the sugar and beat until very light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, adding a spoonful of the flour with each and beating well before adding the next.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and, using a wooden spoon, fold in the remaining flour mixture. Stir in the ground almonds until just combined. Spoon the mixture into the prepared pan, and spread evenly. Sprinkle sliced almonds on top of the cake and place on a baking sheet (it tends to leak a bit while baking). Bake for 50 minutes or until the top begins to turn golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Remove from oven and slowly drizzle the honey over the top of the cake while warm. Allow it to sit for at least 30 minutes to soak up the honey. Remove from pan, slice and serve. Cover and keep in an airtight container, and this cake will last up to 5 days.

Comments

  1. Cheryl

    I think it goes without saying that you need to hunt down Mr. Miller and send him this link.

    (p.s. I didn't know you in high school, but you still have a baby face, in the best possible way.)

    1. megang

      Thanks, Cheryl! Yes, I'm working on tracking down his address now ... looking like it could be promising. Have a great rest of the week, my friend (cracked up at the milky quinoa fail you had with the boys this a.m....I have a recipe in my book for a Coconut Milk Quinoa Porridge, but I'm guessing that might not be on their Top 10 either). ~m

  2. Sarah

    A good teacher is such an amazing thing to have. I hope everyone gets at least one person who inspires them to learn and move on and be fine. Cake looks delicious.

  3. Molly

    Just last night I realized I have no idea what my SAT scores were. And, after being a little embarrassed, it felt good. Really, really good.

    1. megang

      Molly: It's GOOD! See, they really don't matter that much after all?!

  4. Amanda @ Once Upon a Recipe

    I love the stories you tell alongside your recipes, Megan. They make me want to make everything that you post! (well, that and the fact that they all look delicious!) I am bookmarking this recipe for a future lazy Sunday. Thank you!

    1. megang

      Thanks so much, Amanda. Thank you for taking the time to stop in and for leaving such sweet comments. So glad you're enjoying the blog -- and yes, this one is perfect for a lazy Sunday, indeed. Enjoy your week, ~m

  5. momgordon

    I first met Mr.MIller at a parent conference. For some reason the high school still had them. I walked in and sat down and he looked at me and said, 'How did you get so lucky?". It was so wonderful we both knew exactly what he meant. And he was that most special of teachers. You were lucky too. Love the pictures! Love you!

  6. Terris @ Free Eats

    I love this post. I was lucky enough to have a "Mr. Miller" too and that meaningful relationship is something I credit as helping me survive high school. Thank you for helping me reminisce. I think I owe someone a reply too. Oh and the cake looks just like something I would want to have with afternoon tea.

    1. megang

      Thanks for sharing, Terris. I think everyone needs a Mr. Miller to help them survive high school, no? To put things in perspective and light a fire under you? Enjoy the cake + thanks for stopping by, ~m

  7. M.C.@ ThousandStoryKitchen

    Well said! I love a cake that gets better over time too. I am seriously looking forward to giving this one a try! It's beautiful too.

  8. thelittleloaf

    I've made that cake in its original form and it's delicious. I can only imagine your version is totally wonderful too - sticky honey drenched cake is so much better than a towering buttercream confection :-)

    1. megang

      Ahh, you made the cake in its original form? That's so great -- isn't that book a dream? Everytime I open it up, I just want to crawl right inside!

  9. meg

    I also had an English teacher in 10th grade who changed my life--we read Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse, and it kind of blew my mind. When he found out that I wrote poetry, he would stay after school to critique my poems. We still keep in touch via snail mail, and he and his wife have become very good friends of mine. So good to hear other people with similar experiences. The cake looks marvelous, as well. Will try.

    1. megang

      YES, meg, we read Siddhartha, too and I remember it blowing my mind as well. You realize, now that we're all adults, what a big deal it was for him to stay after and critique your poems -- he certainly had places to be, a family to come home to etc. but he really cared and that obviously had a huge impact on you which is so awesome. It's great you guys are still in touch ... I'm working on that with my Mr. Miller. Have a great week, ~m

  10. Lisa Waldschmidt

    This sounds wonderful, two of my favorite (well three if you count cake as a flavor) flavors together! Your writing is so sweet and so insightful. Hopefully everyone has at least one good teacher that stays with them through life! It is definitely a life gift to be treasured.

  11. Jessica

    I am so baking one this weekend! Thanks for posting!

  12. Dayna

    I love warm, old memories and re-visiting the past. If you can reconnect with Mr. Miller, you should give him this recipe!

  13. molly

    i know and love that cardamom cake well. (and really, any cookbook that dares to be pink.)

    as fate would have it, i've plans to make another, citrus-scented, almond-based cake tomorrow. this, though, shall be placed promptly in the queue...

    happy february to you, megan!

    m

  14. Barbara

    This cake looks amazing. Wanted to save it onto my Pinterest (that's where I keep my faves and to make recipes), but the pinterest link does not work. Do you know what the problem might be ?

    1. megang

      Hi, Barbara -- Hmm, I'll check with my web guy and see what's going on with that. Thanks for alerting me to the problem. Have a great weekend, Megan

  15. Kasey

    There are so many things I love about this post: the fact that you and Sam had quite the similar morning to ones Matt and I used to have pre-baby, the small reminders we find of our past and people that touched us...always so pleasant, especially when unexpected...and of course, the great satisfaction you feel when you bite into a slice of something you baked that is just perfect. Much love to you, friend.

  16. Bob

    Sounds wonderful. Thanks for sharing.

  17. Gemma

    We have the same River Cottage book, the same bread knife, and, probably, some of the same records, now I just wish I had had a Mr Miller at school too.

    1. megang

      Yes, Gemma, I have picked up on the fact that I think we'd get along famously :)

  18. Vickie

    looks & sounds delicious :)

  19. Annie

    My boyfriends mom makes a cake just like this. Its delish!

    http://thecoyotethistle.com
    http://instagram.com/thecoyotethistle

  20. Rhea Hoeflok

    This recipe was wonderful! I made it this weekend for a family dinner but switched the flour around to make it gluten free. If you are interested, or have any readers interested, I replaced the whole wheat flour with rice flour, the spelt flour with millet, and added 1/2 a tsp of xanthan gum. It was extraordinary. Thank you!

    1. megang

      Oh thanks so much for the comment, Rhea. So glad you enjoyed the recipe and found a way to adapt it for gluten-free diets. Hooray! Enjoy your week, ~megan

  21. Anne Bell

    Just came across this blog and this excellent recipe. Probably every cook is a tinkerer and I'm no exception but because the grain combination was unfamiliar I, yes, followed the recipe. Wonderful cake, glad I was restrained. Husband loves it. The blog led me to Marge Granola so all around a good food day.
    Thanks!

  22. Kate

    Hello! I've had this recipe saved for a long time and finally made it today - it's in the oven as I type and smells amazing. However, I noticed salt is not listed int he ingredients. I made a guess at 1/2 tsp but am wondering what it should be.
    Thanks!

    1. megang

      Hi, Kate-
      I hope you enjoyed the cake. I went back and looked at my notes and I don't see salt in the Ingredient list or method ... were you just assuming it would contain salt? I don't think it does, although certain that 1/2 teaspoon certainly wouldn't negatively affect it. Have a great week, ~Megan

  23. Kate

    Yes, I assumed salt would be included, both because I've never seen a cake without it and because the original recipe called for self rising flour which already has salt added.
    1/2 seems right, and we really enjoy the cake!

  24. AshleyL

    I want to make this cake for my daughters birthday party. Could I make it the day before or should I try and make it the day of?

    1. megang

      Hi, Ashley. You can absolutely make this the day before. Good thinking - less stress! I hope you enjoy it + happy birthday to your daughter!

Join the Discussion

The Thanksgiving Table

A Top Contender

A Top Contender

Today is a different kind of day. Usually posts on this blog come about with the narrative and I manage to squeeze in a recipe. But sometimes when you really stumble upon a winning recipe, it speaks for itself. We'll likely make these beans for Thanksgiving this year. They're one of those simple stunners that you initially think couldn't be much of a thing. And then they come out of the oven all sweet and withered and flecked with herbs. You try one and you realize they are, in fact, a pretty big thing. 

Read More
Brown Butter Sweet Potato Pie with Kamut Crust

Brown Butter Sweet Potato Pie with Kamut Crust

I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.

Read More
Bring the Happy

Bring the Happy

It has begun. Talk of who is bringing what, where we'll buy the turkey, what kind of pies I'll make, early morning texts concerning brussels sprouts.  There's no getting around it: Thanksgiving is on its way. And with it comes the inevitable reflecting back and thinking about what we're thankful for. And about traditions. The funny thing about traditions is that they exist because they've been around for a long time. Year after year after year. But then, one Thanksgiving maybe there's something new at the table.

Read More
For You, With Thanks

For You, With Thanks

I didn't expect green beans to bring up such a great discussion on traditions, sharing of poems and how a piece of writing can linger with you. So thank you for that. Your comments pointed out how important people and place are and how food takes the back seat when it  comes right down to it. Even if you feel quite warm towards Thanksgiving and are looking forward to next week, reading about recipe suggestions and meal planning online and in magazines can start to feel tiresome right about now. Why? Because I suppose when it all comes down to it, in the big picture it doesn't matter what we all serve anyway. Next year, you likely won't remember one year's vegetable side dish from another. What you'll remember are the markers that dotted the year for you: whom you sat next to at the table, a toast or grace, and the sense of gratitude you felt for something -- large or small.

Read More
How to Break a Thanksgiving Tradition

How to Break a Thanksgiving Tradition

I got a text from my mom the other day that read: demerara sugar? I responded back with a question mark, not sure what she was referencing. It turns out she was experimenting with a new pie recipe that called for the natural sugar and wasn't sure why she couldn't just use white sugar as that's what she's always done in the past. A few days later we talked on the phone and she mentioned she'd let me take charge of the salad for Thanksgiving this year as long as there was no kale. No kale! And I wanted to do the mashed potatoes? Would they still be made with butter and milk? In short, we're always willing to mix things up in the Gordon household. Whether it's inspiration from a food magazine, friend or coworker, either my mom or one of my sisters will often have an idea for something new to try at the holiday table. But what I've slowly learned is that it can't really be that different: there must be pumpkin pie, the can of cranberry sauce is necessary even though not many people actually eat it, the onion casserole is non-negotiable, the salad can't be too out there, and the potatoes must be made with ample butter and milk. And while I was really scheming up an epic kale salad to make this year, there's a big part of me that gets it, too: if we change things too much we won't recognize the part of the day that comes to mean so much: the pure recognition. We take comfort in traditions because we recognize them -- because they're always there, year after year. And so today I present to you (mom, are you reading?): this year's Gordon family Thanksgiving salad.

Read More