This Honeycomb Banana Layer Cake is inspired by Cadbury Crunchie Bar candy my husband ate as a child growing up in Montreal. He’s been asking me to recreate the chocolate covered honeycomb (sponge toffee) candy and I am finally getting around to it. Now that I’ve had it, I regret not making it decades ago. I made this banana cake with a coffee flavored honey meringue buttercream, the honeycomb candy seemed just the right garnish for the top. The name comes from the honeycomb look of the candy and not because honey is in the ingredients. I added a touch of honey, just because it seems like it should be in there, but that’s not the traditional way Cadbury Crunchie Bars were made. You can watch me make this cake and honeycomb candy in my instagram video.
A family friend is Greek and sent me a honey from Ikaria. It is a little smoky and tastes of caramel. Bees never cease to amaze me in what they create. I wanted to bake it into a cake and decided to go with other flavors you might find on that Greek island. Olive oil, of course. It is best known for savory dishes, but I think it is beautiful in desserts. I like a fruity oil, but you can use an extra virgin if you don’t want anything too over powering. Lastly, but not least, cherries. Apparently they abound in Ikaria and they pair beautifully with honey and olive oil, so they were the natural pick. I used sweet cherries, but I think sour cherries would be even better and they are in season at the moment. You could use any other fruit you like and add them in the same way.
I find myself digging into the past recently and finding recipes. My grandmother’s rugelach, cheese blintzes from the Kiev restaurant (a childhood favorite) and fresh homemade yogurt my mom used to make. We lived on a commune in VT, where we grew our own vegetables and raised a cow for dairy. Everything was local and organic, because if we didn’t produce it, we couldn’t afford it. My mom was the one to milk the cow, which she then made into homemade yogurt, butter and cheese. The flavor of that homemade yogurt, made from fresh milk, was divine. 48 years later, in Minneapolis we are allowed to keep chickens, but the city hasn’t approved urban dairy cows, so I just buy milk for making yogurt. Not as romantic, but still tasty.
Now that I have started making my own, I may never buy yogurt again. Homemade yogurt is so easy and has such an incredible flavor. Even my boys like it better. I happen to love it plain and tangy, but I’ll also put a layer of preserves on the bottom when I am in the mood for something a bit sweeter.
All you need is milk (you choose the fat content), a bit of heavy cream (if you’re feeling decadent) and some plain yogurt to get started. Read More
My story with sugar is long (my whole life long) and a bit convoluted. I was raised by hippies in the the 1960s. We lived on communes, as one did. Until I was about 7 it was really the only life I knew, so never struck me as unusual. It wasn’t until I started to attend school that I understood that my life in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont wasn’t the way the whole world lived. It was sugar that was the first and most profound indication. I’d grown up thinking (being lead to believe) that raisins and other dried fruits were candy. I was perfectly happy with this, until I went to kindergarten and someone produced a Twinkie from their Mickey Mouse lunch box. WTH is that? I was mesmerized and completely distracted by this sweet smelling cylinder of cake. I must have convinced that kid to give me a bite and there began my obsession. It became my life’s work to get more of it. This was no easy chore, considering all I had to trade were peanut butter and honey sandwiches. And when I say peanut butter, I mean the kind we ground ourselves and honey from our bee hives, on bread my Aunt Melissa made from wheat we milled. Today that sandwich sounds like heaven, but wasn’t so popular with those kids eating Ho Ho’s and Twinkies. Every once in a blue moon I’d score something sweet and be amazed.
Eventually in college I went through a naturally sweetened phase. I couldn’t exactly admit that my parents had been right to deny me all the sugary snacks, but I found myself pushing them aside for honey and maple syrup. This was right around the time I started to bake and was really curious about how to make baked goods that were delicious and had a wonderful texture, without sugar. There weren’t a lot of people doing this, not in a graceful way, and I didn’t have the skills to make the recipes up. I eventually went to culinary school to figure out the food science behind baking, with a notion that I’d retool pastry with natural sweeteners. But, their pantry was stocked with sugar and I was too impressionable to resist. I loved what the sugar could do. I was fascinated not only by it’s ability to transform flavor, but it’s ability to take on structure. When heated to just the right temperature I could make candies, both hard and soft, or spin it into gossamer threads. I didn’t really look back to honey and maple, except as a flavor, until I had my boys.
You guessed it. I didn’t let them eat sugar until they discovered it on their own. Yep, I did exactly what my parents had done, and I was a pastry chef. They were little and just didn’t need the sugar, then they got bigger and had a similar discovery that I went through. I wasn’t as hard core about denying them sugar and how could I be, since I worked with it all day. I think I struck a healthy balance and my boys ate their fair share of sweets, but all homemade and I think they didn’t have a Twinkie until they could pay for it themselves and they weren’t as impressed as I had been.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love sugar and all that it can do. I also love playing with honey, maple, agave and other natural sweeteners. They have some nutritional value, true enough, but more importantly they are amazingly delicious. Back in the day, when I was going to culinary school, everyone there looked at me crosseyed when I wanted to make meringue without sugar. Now there are many books on the subject and I am creating all kinds of gorgeous treats that even my folks would have allowed me to eat in my commune days.
These Tea Cup Rose Cakes have no sugar. NO SUGAR! They are also gluten-free (not an issue for me, but is for many of my friends and readers), Dairy-free (if made as the recipe was written, but I did use butter). And, they are delicious and so beautiful, no one will ever know they’re remotely healthy.
Up until very recently my father has been a beekeeper. He had bee hives at our home in Vermont and then drove them, full of bees to Minnesota. Due to a city ordinance he was not allowed to keep bees in his Edina yard and had to set them up at a friend’s house farther out of the city. My dad would drive out on the weekends to tend to them. His love for bees was made more complicated by the fact that he is very allergic to their sting. He swells up like a balloon when stung, but this never deterred him, even though it seemed to happen with some regularity. As a result of his love for bees I have always had a fondness for them and the delicious nectar they produce. Growing up we ate the precious honey he collected on everything from homemade granola to freshly baked bread. In fact, I never knew any sweetener other than honey and maple syrup before I was about 6. Sugar, in any form, didn’t exist in our house.
This beehive cake is a tribute to both the elegance and ingenuity of honeybees, which are in terrifying danger of disappearing. Hopefully more folks like my dad will step up and continue the tradition. The shape of this cake is based on an ancient beehive called a skep, which was made of a coiled basket. My dad’s bees were kept in a box hive, but that isn’t nearly as romantic. Under the hovering marzipan bees are layers of brown-butter banana cake, walnuts and honey scented buttercream. Read More
I think the title says everything necessary to make you want to bake this simply gorgeous apple cake. I really can’t take any credit for this beauty, I snatched the recipe from my friend Jamie over at Life’s a Feast for tonight’s Rosh Hashana celebration. I just added some apples, because I never show up to Rosh Hashana without an apple cake. I’m sure it is just as good without them, but we’re right smack in the middle of apple harvest, so why not.
Happy New Year to those who are celebrating today and a very wonderful apple season to those who will make this cake just because it is irresistible. Read More