Multilayered Russian honey cake
One of my favourite restaurants in Christchurch is Red Square, a little Russian restaurant tucked between a party pills shop with a rather expensive (but fabulous) French restaurant a few doors down. It has the charm of a place that is obviously run by someone who loves food, but probably never went to business school. Anyway, Red Square is a place with mixed reviews on its food (if you ever go, the mushroom cheese entree, beef strog and telnoe fish cakes are pretty much always winners), but I don’t think anyone can deny it does AMAZING desserts. AMAZING, I say. So far we’ve only tried the honey cake and drunk cherry chocolate cake. Both are AMAZING. Hear me?
The moment I arrived home from my first taste of honey cake I trawled the web for its recipe. Of course, all of them were in Russian, and none of them made any sense once put through google translate. Then a couple of years later we had dinner at Red Square again, finished off with honey cake, and I searched again. The AMAZING Agnieszka had finally posted an English version. The sad thing was I had no honey, little money, and little time. Not conducive to honey-cake-making.
I promised my boyfriend a honey cake for his Birthday. Trust me, you do not want to hear the groans of anticipation that issued forth. The thing is, I was just as excited. Would I fail miserably, layers askew? As it turns out, the layers were askew, but so were my tastebuds on tasting the cake. The AMAZING cake. That was made…several weeks after said boyfriend’s Birthday. I have assignments due, okay?!
So are you ready? Really? Okay. This is going to be a long process. I did mine slightly differently and I would say the thinner the layers the better, so I advocate baking 4 thickish layers (about 1cm or just over 1/3″ thick), then splitting these in half horizontally. Anyway, this is all in the directions. Oh, and if I haven’t scared you off yet, then this is actually a pretty good “first” multi-layer cake, because the cake layers come out not too soft and won’t crumble into sadness when handled. You don’t need too much special gear, and for a multilayer cake, it’s pretty simple (if you don’t believe me, google “dobos torte” – that is some craaaaazy.
And if you can’t be arsed making some and happen to live in Christchurch, Red Square is open for lunch too, so go get the cake and coffee or something. The cake is $7 a slice, but this is pretty good considering that most desserts that are that awesome would be about $15 a pop.
- 1 baking tray with raised edges (at least 1cm high), or brownie tin, or cake pan, at least 8″ shortest length, unless you want to spend until Christmas making this cake
- aluminium foil
- weighing scales: the ratios in this cake are quite important, particularly the flour quantity. It’s also a hell of an effort, so it’s not worth screwing the batter up.
- fridge space to fit the cake(s) and a cover if you want
Multilayered honey cake
makes one 8×8″ square cakes or two 8×4″ or one 9 or10″ round cake – depends on the size of your baking tray and how many layers you want, and how you cut the layers
- 3 large eggs
- pinch salt
- 220g (1c) caster sugar
- 70g butter
- 60g (3 Tbs) honey*
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 550g flour
* I stressed over the kind of honey, but don’t worry, this works even with non-liquid honey.
- 1L/kg extra thick sour cream (or 500g sour cream + 500g cream, whipped – I have yet to try this)
- 170g (3/4c) caster sugar
- 2 Tbs vanilla sugar (or 1 tsp vanilla extract)
Beat eggs, salt and sugar until pale, creamy and fluffy. Melt honey and butter over low heat setting while beating eggs. Cool slightly and mix into the egg mixture, then mix in sieved baking soda. Mix in the flour with a wooden spoon in batches, to obtain a thick but soft dough. If you’re using quite solid honey, the dough will be like cookie dough. Do not despair! This is how it’s meant to turn out.
Preheat your oven to 180C (355F). Divide the dough into 4 parts. Grab enough foil to cover the bottom of your baking dish. Fit the foil into the dish, and fold the raised bits onto the foil itself (these are the “tabs”). Remove the foil, and flip over, so there are no folded bits on top. Now, use one of these two methods of spreading the dough onto the foil:
- Wet hands (have a flat bowl with water in to regularly wet your hands), and divide each part of dough into quarters, putting a quarter in each corner of your square or circle of foil (no need to grease the foil). Spread each quarter of the dough evenly over the foil.
- Use a medium/large dry silicon spatula or “spoontula” to press the dough quarters out (if using a round-bottomed spoontula, roll and nudge, roll and nudge) to get a thinnish, even layer over the foil.
- Do not try rolling the dough out with a rolling pin. It starts fine, then ends in SAD. Over at The Cookie Fairy, a Russian blog, the dough was refrigerated before it was rolled out using a rolling pin (with the assistance of bakingpaper). This resulted in perfect layers, so if you’re patient enough, that’s another option.
Spread the dough to the very edge of the foil. Pull up the “tabs” that you tucked under the foil earlier and slot your layer into the baking tray you’re using, making sure it sits flat on the bottom. Sit the tabs so they are at a 90 degree angle to the dough. If the dough creeps up the edges of your baking dish, nudge them down with your fingers or cut them out with a blunt knife or your spatula. Trust me, you do not want it creeping up the edge, or you will spend ages shaving these ridges off later.
Bake each layer for about 6-8 minutes, until it gets large swathes of honey golden brown on top (check at 5 minutes – you don’t want to burn them!). While the layer is baking you can get out another piece of foil to press out your next layer on.
Once the first layer is done, lift out using tabs and cool on a rack for a minute. Put the 2nd layer in, sort out any batter that creeps up the side, and put in the oven. Once the first layer is cooled a little (it should not be hot to the touch), turn upside down carefully and peel the foil off. You can now use the other side of the foil for your 3rd layer (and the other side of the 2nd layer’s foil for the 4th layer). The crumbs on the foil act as a helpful guide for where to fold down the foil to make your tabs. Repeat until you have 4 layers. Let cool. While letting cool, make the filling!
Beat the sour cream and sugars. I had a pottle of light sour cream by accident so I beat in a pottle of cream cheese (ie 500g plain sour cream, 250g cream cheese, 250g light sour cream). If you’re doing this, beat the cream cheese and sugar together first until smooth and creamy, then beat in the sour cream. Do not use more than 1/4 cream cheese, as it will overpower the honey taste of the cake. Refrigerate while slicing the cakes.
With a very long, sharp knife, slice off the very outer rim (no more than 1-2mm) of each layer of cake to neaten the edges up. Reserve the crusts. For one 8″ square cake or 9/10″ round cake: cut each layer in half horizontally with a very long, sharp knife, carefully and slowly if you’re not pro at it, checking both sides constantly to see that you’re cutting it level. For two 8×4″ cakes, cut each of these layers in half, and measure if you can so each layer sits on top nicely. If you used a weird sized baking tray, cut in half horizontally if the layers are more than 1cm thick, then either cut the layers into halves or thirds vertically, depending on big you want the cake to be. In any case, do not cut more than 2 thin layers at once.
Get another clean piece of foil, with a 2.5cm (1″) border for the layers. Place a layer on the foil. Remove sour cream filling from fridge. Spread the filling onto the layer. Top with another layer. Repeat, and spread the top layer too. Some filling will have oozed out the edges, just add some more filling to the sides and smooth out with a long, straight knife.
As you can see, I didn’t bother too much with making things very neat, because we’re going to top it with cake crumbs. Get those crusts you cut off, whizz them up in a food processor or place in a plastic bag and bash with a rolling pin. Sieve the crumbs over the cake. I tried being smart and did the sides of one of mine. I wouldn’t do this again, because that turned out to be the cake with finger marks on one side.
See it’s really rather pretty cake too. Now guess what? You need to pop it into your fridge for at least 12 hours. This lets the cake moisten. Buahaha, torture is so much fun. So grab that foil border and carefully move the cake onto a chopping board that will fit in the fridge. If you don’t want to cover it and ruin its prettyness, put it on the top shelf. If you share a fridge and are eyeing the mouldy pumpkin in the corner with worry, just leave in a cool place, maybe covered with the world’s largest bowl or a box or something. I prefer not covering the cake because otherwise it can “sweat”.
Serve on its own or with a pretty swirl of liquid honey, brought to room temperature. I’m tempted to make this as little bite size cakes (not icing the sides obviously, I’m lazy remember), with only 4 layers. How cute would that be?! Very. Very pretty.
Thanks again to Agnieszka for posting this recipe in English. Her cake is a lot prettier by the way, if you really want to aspire to greatness. Despite the amount of time this takes, it will certainly be made again (much like Dorie’s tall and creamy cheesecake), especially because of the simplicity of the ingredients.