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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 Almond Honey Cake
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.

Serves: 8

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)

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.

  1. Posted February 19, 2013 at 1:17 pm

    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.)

  2. Posted February 19, 2013 at 2:16 pm

    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. Posted February 19, 2013 at 2:47 pm

    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.

  4. Posted February 19, 2013 at 3:29 pm

    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!

  5. momgordon
    Posted February 19, 2013 at 5:41 pm

    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. Posted February 19, 2013 at 6:37 pm

    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.

  7. Posted February 19, 2013 at 8:15 pm

    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. Posted February 20, 2013 at 1:17 am

    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 :-)

  9. Posted February 20, 2013 at 5:25 am

    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.

  10. Posted February 20, 2013 at 8:01 am

    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. megang
    Posted February 20, 2013 at 8:01 am

    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

  12. megang
    Posted February 20, 2013 at 8:02 am

    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

  13. megang
    Posted February 20, 2013 at 8:05 am

    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!

  14. megang
    Posted February 20, 2013 at 8:05 am

    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

  15. megang
    Posted February 20, 2013 at 8:06 am

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

  16. Posted February 20, 2013 at 8:07 am

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

  17. megang
    Posted February 20, 2013 at 8:08 am

    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

  18. Posted February 21, 2013 at 10:56 am

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

  19. Posted February 22, 2013 at 9:15 pm

    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

  20. Barbara
    Posted February 23, 2013 at 7:22 am

    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 ?

  21. megang
    Posted February 23, 2013 at 9:09 am

    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

  22. Posted February 24, 2013 at 5:20 pm

    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.

  23. Posted February 27, 2013 at 2:19 pm

    Sounds wonderful. Thanks for sharing.

  24. Posted February 28, 2013 at 6:42 am

    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.

  25. megang
    Posted February 28, 2013 at 1:07 pm

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

  26. Posted March 4, 2013 at 3:23 am

    looks & sounds delicious :)

  27. Posted March 4, 2013 at 8:57 pm

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

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

  28. Posted March 5, 2013 at 4:19 pm

    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!

  29. megang
    Posted March 6, 2013 at 9:39 am

    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

  30. Anne Bell
    Posted August 3, 2014 at 4:30 pm

    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!

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