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Honey cake help!

Wednesday 17 June 2009, 19:33

Charlotte Smith Charlotte Smith

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Charlotte Smith's honey cake

Editor's note: I know I said that the Farming Today bees were off to their own blog a little while ago but we've now decided that they should stay here, on the Radio 4 blog, for the rest of the season. We've grown attached to them (and we like the honey). And, in a follow-up email, Charlotte appeals to you:

"I could really do with some pointers from people who have made this cake before! Is the oven too hot? in a fan oven does it matter which shelf it goes on? should I use a less runny honey? And in less than a month can I produce a cake I won't be ashamed to take to the Royal? Help?"

I am, though I say it myself, quite good at cakes. Both making and eating them. So when our producer Fran wafted back into the office from her latest foray to the Farming Today beehive, and informed us that the Royal Show has a honey cake competition, and we should enter, I volunteered without too much thought.


I have never made a honey cake. I assumed it was something like a sponge with less sugar and some honey. It isn't. It has lots of ingredients, and seems to require an attention to detail that doesn't come naturally to me.

Still, practice makes perfect and all that, so I embarked with some confidence on Honey Cake 1. I haven't got any of the Farming Today honey yet (there is already a queue and when I tried to jump it by mentioning my cake duties I got short shrift) so I am using some runny Yorkshire honey I got the other week at the Duncombe Park show. I needed 225g. Have you ever tried weighing honey? Its messy and sticky and doesn't come off clothes all that easily. Anyway, creamed that with the butter OK... Well actually it was margarine... added eggs, sieved the flour... Feeling a bit smug by this stage... shoved in the currants, sultanas, mixed peel, nutmeg and salt. Looked convincing, so put it into a cake tin. At this point I realised I hadn't put the oven on. I read the recipie, it calls for a 'moderate oven'. Arrghhh. Whats a moderate oven? So I go upstairs, log onto computer, Google Delia Smith - of course she knows - so I charge back downstairs to set the oven to 170 degrees C... Wait for it to heat up... Put cake in. Sit back and wait to taste my triumph.

I am not sure what happened next. I can't blame the family, as the kids were in bed and my husband at work... But somehow I forgot all about the cake. I only remembered when a singed smell spread through the house.

The 'cake' was more a burnt biscuit. It hadn't risen much at all, and was almost on fire when I rescued it from the oven. There is no photo. I am too cross.

So Honey Cake 1 went in the bin. Tonight I am attempting honey cake 2, having invested in an apron, a smaller cake tin, some butter and worked out how to set the alarm on my mobile phone. What can possibly go wrong?

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    Comment number 1.

    I would be inclined to try a doughnut for tea, Charlotte, particularly if the honey cake 2 is not a success.

    "Ich bin ein Berliner!"

    I am a doughnut.

    "Man ist, was man isst."

    One is what one eats?

    Cheers (lunch)! c. ;)

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    In terms of baking cakes, Charlotte, I am no expert (unlike my mother, for example), although one technique is to listen to Radio 4 in the kitchen whilst the cake, or whatever, is in the oven. I sometimes bring my laptop down to the kitchen table, and 'blog' as I cook, listening to 'PM', for example, although rarely early enough for 'Farming Today'. Timing can be critical.


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    Comment number 3.

    I've burnt plenty of foods by being on my computer but it is good to have a timer and make sure the temperature isn't too high since it has a lot of ingredients that need time to "come together".

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    Comment number 4.

    I like to prepare my own food and serve it to my family during my leisure time. I always set my time while in kitchen. It may be 1/2 an hour or 15 minutes or anything. It is so fine to taste our delicious food during weekend. I will try this honey cake this weekend

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    Comment number 5.

    Okay ... Honey has a very different consistency to Sugar so sometimes it is easier to use half sugar and half honey. If you are beating the honey into the butter then set honey is better but if you are melting the honey into the butter then either is fine. Honey cake isn't supposed to be the texture of a sponge, think more of a madeira.

    My partner is honey-mad, always buys honey wherever we go, and so I have made the cake below MANY times.

    Try this recipe instead ...

    100g Butter
    225g Honey
    150ml Milk
    450g Plain Flour
    2.5 tsp Baking Powder
    3 tsp Ground Ginger
    100g Sultanas
    50g Mixed Peel
    2 Eggs

    Set the oven to Gas Mark 4/350F/180C (Fan Oven will be 160C)

    Grease and line an 8in round tin (or use two 1 pound loaf tins)
    Melt the butter gently with the honey and stir in the milk.
    Remove from the heat and leave to cool.
    Mix together the flour, baking powder, ginger and dried fruit.
    Add the beaten eggs and the butter mixture and mix to a soft consistency.
    Turn into the prepared tin and bake in the centre of the oven for 1.25 - 1.5 hours until a cocktail stick comes out clean.
    Be careful not to overcook.
    After an hour, if the top is starting to brown then cover with a piece of paper.
    Remove from the oven and turn out onto a wire rack to cool.

    Best Wishes

    Stephen McCarthy

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    Comment number 6.

    Honey is difficult to cook with. OK, so you know how many grammes to use. But how many grammes is sugar and how many water? Technically the honey cannot be more than about 17% water to be 'ripe' without fermenting. But Honey is hygroscopic - leave the top off the jar and it will absorb water from the atmosphere. Its thickness (viscosity) also changes with temperature - so warming it can make it runnier and easier to mix, but don't overheat it or you'll spoil the flavour (not really a problem in cake making - you're going to overheat it in the baking).
    The Romans got it right. They boiled the honey in vessels made of Lead - this drove off water and the Lead neutralised the tannins in the Honey and made it taste sweeter. Small drawback - this made it poisonous. No matter, life was short so they died of something else before the lead took too much of an effect.


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