March 18, 2017

honey cake - gâteau au miel

"Pleasure is found first in anticipation, later in memory." Gustave Flaubert

With those early strawberries, it´s an affair of the heart, not the palate - there´s no other way to explain why I bought a whole 4 pounds of them last weekend. It was a purchase against better knowledge; we´re obviously far from strawberry season, and other than that, they were imported (from Spain I guess), leaving me with two good reasons to wait a while and keep my hands off. But somehow those strawberries were too tempting to ignore, winning me over not with sweetness, not with scent or flavor, but, beating everything, with a promise. It was the promise of something I´ve been missing for the longest time, and I have no better words to describe it than as a vague foretaste of summer that´s hidden in each of those pretty little redheads, even the palest one. 

At home, we happily found that covered by a snowstorm of confectioner´s sugar, they weren´t so bad after all. When expectations are low, chances are you´ll be pleasantly surprised. Still a somewhat sad imitation of the ones that were and the ones that will be, our untimely strawberries no less made us dream about the summer to come, and indulge in memories of summers past. Last year, we had the most succulent gariguettes (a variety of strawberries known to be particularly delicious) in Périgord in the Southwest of France. We keep talking about those days all the time, especially since we received an unexpected present last Christmas, leading me to today´s recipe. Let me explain.

On December 23th, quite early in the morning, but that doesn´t matter, the postman delivered a small white parcel. On the outside, it said nothing about the sender, but when we opened it, we found a selection of seasonal Périgord honeys, offered to us by the lovely family we rented our summer house from. It felt like being gifted with holiday memories all over again, yet in edible form. Miel de printemps, miel de fleurs d´été, miel de fôret. Until lately I kept the jars untouched, like a secret supply is stored until the moment of need. Say when it´s not spring yet, but you desperately want it to be. Indeed, they were perfect to make one of my favorite springtime cakes,  le gâteau au miel (honey cake), a cake as unpretentious as it is delicious. Actually it´s not even a seasonal cake, but for some reason, perhaps because it was spring when I first made it, I always associate it with this time of the year.  It´s great to have a soft and tender slice of it in the morning with a cup of coffee, or later in the day with crème fraîche and strawberries. Dressed up like that, it would also be the perfect treat to bring to an opulent picnic, if I were invited to one, the kind pictured in an impressionist painting, with people wearing hats and fancy sunday clothes . I´m looking forward to eating this cake, topped with strawberries of course, over and over again, finding each batch better tasting than the last one, until one day, summer will finally be here.

Honey cake

The flavor of this cake strongly depends on the kind of honey you use - less pronounced for milder honeys like, say, wildflower, more intense honey flavor with chestnut or buckwheat honey. As you please.

3 eggs
50 g brown Cassonade sugar
150 g flour
10 g baking powder
90 g butter
100 g honey + more to drizzle (4-6 tbsp) - I used a mix of acacia and chestnut honey
50 g ricotta or 4 tbsp milk
2 tbsp orange flower water, optional

to serve: strawberries, crème fraîche, or ricotta

baking: 180°C/350 °F approx 50 min in a 5 inch tin

Sift flour into a small bowl and mix with baking powder. Melt butter over low heat and allow to cool. 

In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk eggs with sugar at high speed until bright and frothy, 3-5 minutes.

Add butter, ricotta (or milk) and honey, reducing speed to low. Add flour/baking powder mix. 

Pour batter into a greased baking dish and bake until a wooden skewer comes out clean. Cover cake with aluminum foil during the last minutes should it brown too much. 

Leave to cool slightly, unmould and allow to cool completely on a wire rack. 

To serve, gently warm 4-6 tbsp honey until it´s easily spreadable. Pour honey onto cake and use a pastry brush to glaze the cake all over. Serve as it is, or with crème fraîche/sweetened ricotta/greek yoghurt and strawberries.

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