Spiced Honey Cakes

I always wonder, when I open a cookbook, what recipe is going to jump out at me? I sometimes head for the dessert chapter first, but since man (and everyone else) can’t live by dessert alone – unfortunately – so I scan everything, from appetizers to main courses. I’m often drawn to cookbooks on French foods, of course, but also Spanish, Portuguese, and the areas in between, including the Basque region and Catalonia.

If you’ve been to Barcelona or that part of the world, you know what an exciting place it is. There are amazing beaches and museums, as well as eateries, tapas bars, and food markets. The region is known for its Michelin-starred restaurants, including El Bulli, which was possibly the most famous restaurant in the world, until it closed.

But most Catalan food is very approachable, making use of the very fresh fish and seafood that’s available, as well as Arbequina olive oil, sherry vinegar, garlic, and smoked chile powder called pebre vernell. Crema catalana is a lemon and cinnamon-scented version of crème brûlée, and from a new book about Catalan cuisine, I learned about these little honey cakes that make a nice berenar, or afternoon snack.

These cakes are from Catalan Food: Culture and Flavors from the Mediterranean by Daniel Olivella. Daniel was born in Catalonia, surrounded by people who worked with food; bakers, fishermen, olive farmers, and people who cure meat. He eventually landed in San Francisco, where the food scene reminded him of the flavors back home, doing stints at Zuni Café with the legendary Judy Rodgers, and at Delfina, until finally taking the helm of his own restaurant and tapas bar.

Looking at this picture from his book (above), personally, I would have stayed put. But the grass, or however you say it in Catalan, always looks greener (or the sea always looks bluer?) on the other side.

Now he’s living in Texas, where he moved his tapas bar, Barlata, yet his cooking remains rooted in Catalonia. But like any good cook, he’s exploring local ingredients and flavors where he’s at, including incorporating smoked brisket into his cooking. And it’s hard to wave a flag for strict authenticity when there’s smoked brisket involved.

These spiced honey cakes are what he calls a dressed-up version of a snack his grandmother made for him of stale bread “drowned” in red wine, then sprinkled with lots of sugar.

Which begs another question: Why didn’t I grow up in Catalonia?

If the ingredients in these cakes look familiar, they’re related to Pain d’épices, French spice bread. Both get their flavor from honey and a generous amount of spices. And it’s easy to see, and taste, the connection.

The first time I made them, I thought that the amount of honey involved might make the flavor a little too present, so I made them again using less. Comparing the two batches (above), I found that I preferred the ones with the amount of honey given in the book, which was spot-on.

Since the cakes are small, the honey isn’t overwhelming. But when people ask me about reducing the sweeteners in recipes, note that I present the recipe that I feel uses the least amount possible, while yielding the best result. And these cakes hit that sweet spot.

 

They’re simple to put together and are small enough so you don’t feel overwhelmed if you polish one off, which you will. The spices are just right (I doubled some of them), and they go well in the afternoon as a snack. I have nothing against wine, but I decided to go with a cider syrup for a glaze, which makes them a little more kid-friendly, depending on where you’re from.

Spiced Honey Cakes
Print Recipe
12 cakes
Adapted from Catalan Food: Culture and Flavors from the Mediterranean by Daniel OlivellaYou can use regular cupcake or muffin paper cups to bake these in, or what are called "tulip" muffin liners, such as these. The ones I used were 2 inches wide, across the bottom, and roughly 3 1/2 inches high. (5 x 9cm) They're called caissette en papier, in French.I tried these with 25% less honey, thinking that would be the sweet spot for me, in terms of honey-flavor, but found that the amount called for here was spot-on. Try to find a good brand or variety of honey. Light, very runny supermarket varieties tend to be very sweet, but not so flavorful. If you go the grocery store route, look for a slightly darker, richer, wildflower honey, called miel multifleurs or miel de fleurs.I did make a few modifications to the original recipe. Instead of red wine, I made a syrup with sparkling apple cider for dipping the cakes. (You can use hard sparkling cider, or non-alcoholic.) I also swapped out dried ground ginger for the nutmeg but you can use either.
For the cakes
1 cup (320g) honey
1/4 cup (45g) (packed) light brown sugar
1 cup (140g) all-purpose flour
1 cup (140g) rye flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, preferably aluminum-free
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger or nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground aniseed
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup (125ml) whole or lowfat milk
2 large eggs, at room temperature
For the syrup and rolling the cakes
1/2 cup (125ml) sparkling apple cider, hard or non-alcoholic
1/2 cup (100g), plus 1/4 cup (50g) granulated sugar
1. To make the cakes, preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Line a muffin tin with 12 cupcake or baking molds. (See headnote for size.)
2. In a small bowl, whisk together the honey and brown sugar. If your honey is super thick, you may wish to warm it slightly before mixing.
3. Sift together the all-purpose and rye flour with the baking powder, cinnamon, aniseed, nutmeg or ginger, and cloves, into a large bowl. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the milk and eggs, stirring until partially combined. Add the honey mixture and stir until everything is well-combined.
4. Divide the batter into the muffin cups; each should be about two-thirds full. Bake until the cakes feel just barely set in the center and the tops are lightly browned, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool completely.
5. While the cakes are cooking and cooling, bring the cider and 1/2 cup granulated sugar to a boil in a small saucepan or skillet, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.
6. Put the remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a small bowl. Remove the cakes from the muffin cups and roll each in the sugar, coating the sides. Dip the tops of each cake in the syrup after you roll each one, and set them on a serving plate.

Serving: The cakes can be served with the remaining syrup. The author suggests crème fraîche served with each, although I found them a good snacking cake served on their own.

Storage: The cakes can be kept for up 4 or 5 days at room temperature in an airtight container. They can also be frozen for up to two months. If you do freeze them, do so without dipping them in the sugar or syrup first, and save those steps for after you defrost them.

 

Mini spiced honey cakes, dipped in delicious cider syrup

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46 comments

  • Claire
    October 30, 2018 1:24pm

    Oh how perfect! My own little spice cake, and more for others, so I don’t have to share. I’ve been watching for this recipe to show up here since seeing you trying different things with it on Instagram. Can’t wait to make this! Thank you. Reply

  • October 30, 2018 1:47pm

    My parents just gave us honey from their bees (they live near a hemp farm – the honey is wonderfully smoky and funky), so this is perfect!

    I’m bookmarking those tulip wrappers for later, as they are simple and lovely – but for now I need to get through all of my cheesy muffin liners (and I’ll admit, I did at first think this recipe was going to include instructions for folding all of those squares of parchment to fit your tin!). Reply

    • October 30, 2018 2:20pm
      David Lebovitz

      I think they’re pretty easy to make (I’ve seen instructions for doing them on other websites), but I used my time testing, and re-testing, the recipe…so resorted to buying them ; ) Reply

  • marlis
    October 30, 2018 4:05pm

    I’m so excited to see this! I’ve been stalking/lurking for years. However, when I saw this email this morning, it brought back memories of the delish honey cakes I grew up with in France. I will be making these!!! Reply

  • Martinn
    October 30, 2018 4:09pm

    Looks like a Lekach apart from the syrup . Reply

  • Merry
    October 30, 2018 4:18pm

    These sound delicious! I’ve never baked with rye flour but this might be the time to try it. I think these little cakes would be fabulous for Rosh Hashanah, too! Reply

  • Carolyn
    October 30, 2018 4:19pm

    Hi David,

    Could fennel seeds or star anise be substituted for the aniseed?

    Thanks! Reply

    • October 30, 2018 4:37pm
      David Lebovitz

      Sure, you could definitely play around with the spices (I did!) Fennel to me tastes a little too “savory” in desserts, but the flavor is similar to anise so it could work. Let us know if you try it out! Reply

  • Karin Pereira
    October 30, 2018 4:36pm

    OMG, I love Barlata here in Austin, also love honey cake which I usually buy at World Market from Belgium, but I sure will try your version. Thanks. Reply

  • Leah
    October 30, 2018 4:55pm

    These look amazing! I am confused about the cider, though. When going the non-alcoholic route, why use sparkling and not still? Reply

    • October 30, 2018 5:24pm
      David Lebovitz

      We don’t get still apple cider in France, like they do in parts of the U.S., which I also think is regional. (I don’t recall seeing it in California much, but we had plenty of it when I grew up in New York and New England.) But that’s definitely okay to use, as well as apple juice, if unavailable. Reply

      • Mimi
        October 30, 2018 11:06pm

        Will pumpernickel flour be ok in place of rye?

        Thank you! Reply

        • October 31, 2018 3:58am
          David Lebovitz

          I’ve not used that. What is pumpernickel flour? Reply

          • Mimi
            October 31, 2018 1:25pm

            Pumpernickel flour is coarsely ground rye flour. I will give it a try. Rye flour is tricky (and sticky) so I tread carefully. Still on my must-bake list is your spice bread from My Paris Kitchen. Thanks for all you do for us bakers/cooks and for your perfectly tested recipes!

      • Mary Fox
        October 31, 2018 3:38am

        Or how about boiled cider which is now widely available at baking sites? Reply

        • October 31, 2018 3:58am
          David Lebovitz

          If it’s already heavily reduced, not sure it would work for the syrup for soaking the cakes. If you are thinking of trying it instead of the honey, I haven’t tried it but sounds intriguing. If you do try it, let us know how it turns out! Reply

      • Maryann Heublein
        November 2, 2018 12:54am

        Hello David,
        We live in Sonoma County and have a couple of companies that produce cider. It’s probably available in the Bay Area also, maybe Andronico’s? But it seems that hard cider would add a great flavor and the alcohol bakes off. Also it’s very low in alcohol. Thanks for the never ending interesting recipes! Reply

  • Susan S.
    October 30, 2018 7:28pm

    Hi David,
    I made these very similar little French spice cakes called Nonnettes de Dijon that have a bit of marmalade in the middle. They were excellent and I think you’d enjoy them as well. I used this recipe for NonnettesReply

  • Pat
    October 30, 2018 7:33pm

    Isit possible to just make this in a laf pan? Not a fan of cupcakes but would love to serve this as a loaf or bake it in a square pan. Looks delicious Reply

    • October 30, 2018 8:26pm
      David Lebovitz

      Yes, you could. Not sure what size pan you have, or that you’d use, but just bake the batter until it feels gently set in the center. Reply

  • Fay
    October 30, 2018 8:57pm

    Oh, these do look good! How might I use Boiled Cider with this? Maybe just cook it down a little less time as it’s considered about 10X the strength of regular cider already. Reply

    • Mimi
      October 30, 2018 11:09pm

      Ok to use pumpernickel rather than rye flour? Thank you! Reply

  • claire
    October 31, 2018 12:50am

    Made these right away: SO delicious and satisfying, even hot & un-glazed. I love pain d’epices, (even the industrial version) perhaps more than any other treat, and these will be dangerous because they can be made (and eaten) so quickly. Thank you for noticing this recipe in what looks to be quite an interesting new book. Reply

  • Daisy
    October 31, 2018 1:30am

    Your recipe states baking powder but your instruction says baking soda. Please help clarify. THanks! Reply

  • Carolyn Z
    October 31, 2018 3:23am

    Hi David,
    Hope you are well. We enjoyed talking to you (briefly) in Danville last year.
    This page has two copies of the coffee and cakes picture and two copies of the recipe. An easy fix, I’m sure.
    Take care, Carolyn Z Reply

  • October 31, 2018 4:00am
    David Lebovitz

    Daisy: Oops – fixed!

    Carolyn Z: Tech glitch – fixed! Reply

  • October 31, 2018 7:39am

    I simply love honey cakes, all year round. They look so delicious and moist and I love the use of rye! Reply

  • Jayne Cookson
    October 31, 2018 5:02pm

    David, or anyone;
    Where can I find the “tulip” muffin liners
    3.5 by 2 inches? Reply

  • John Schwartz
    October 31, 2018 7:08pm

    I live in Austin, and was very fortunate to go to his restaurant Barlata a few weeks ago. I have been to Barcelona and am planning a return trip , so this helped me soothe my cravings in between ! Reply

  • Allison
    November 1, 2018 1:23pm

    These look delicious and perfect for the fall weather! Do you have a suggestion for a substitute if rye flour is not readily available? Thank you. Reply

    • November 1, 2018 2:01pm
      David Lebovitz

      The rye flour does give them their distinctive flavor (most natural food stores and well-stocked supermarkets carry it) but if you can’t find it, perhaps try them with whole wheat flour. Since whole wheat flour is heavier, I’d use either 1/4 – 1/3 cup whole wheat flour and make up the rest with all-purpose flour. If you do make them with it, or another flour, let us know how they turn out! Reply

  • Margaret
    November 1, 2018 4:42pm

    Did you try the red wine dipping syrup and how was that? Red wine and sugar made me think of sangria so I was thinking of using that to make the syrup. Reply

    • November 2, 2018 4:43am
      David Lebovitz

      I didn’t, but it sounds good too! Reply

  • Nick
    November 2, 2018 2:47am

    What about substituting buckwheat flour in lieu of rye flour? Reply

  • Jam Bubba
    November 2, 2018 6:39pm

    OK David…totally not fair.

    My mouth was watering the minute I saw them as I love spice or ginger cake and coffee. Then you baked them in the neatest parchment paper nests. Those have to be homemade nests and if they are not I’ll forgive you…but if they are you will have to share their fabrication preferably in a video.

    Kitchen challenged at times…

    The Jam Bubba Reply

  • Lauren
    November 3, 2018 6:33pm

    I just made these and they’re really delicious – many thanks, David :) Reply

  • David S
    November 5, 2018 1:57am

    I made these today, subbing WW for rye, as my typically well stoked grocer seems to have reduced their on hand flour selection. I’d be curious to know if/how to sub in buckwheat (I assume not an even substitute).

    These are delicious, though quite sweet! I did reduce 1 cup cider to 1/2, so maybe that upped the sweet factor? I did reduce the sugar in the syrup/coating to conpensate. Either way, I look forward to tinkering and making again! Reply

    • Jessica Stern
      November 6, 2018 7:02am

      I just made these. I live in Anchorage, Alaska and was surprised how many stores I needed to go to before I could find rye flour. I bought Fairhaven (I think it’s from Bellingham) and it’s a lovely flour. The honey cakes came out perfect. I love the texture. As somebody else said, I am not a “muffin” person and wanted to try small loaf pans. But I ended up doing the muffins and hey are quite perfect. Thanks for the inspiration. Such a nice winter snack. Reply

      • November 6, 2018 12:51pm
        David Lebovitz

        David S: There’s a lot of natural sugar in apple cider so reducing it by half will indeed concentrate that. If you do try them with buckwheat flour, it’d recommend using about 1/3 buckwheat flour to 2/3 rye flour, as buckwheat flour doesn’t have the same amount of gluten that rye flour does. If you do try it, let us know how it turns out!

        Jessica: Glad you found rye flour. I’ve noticed that Bob’s Red Mill flour seems to be in a lot of supermarkets in American (and people get stuff online too) but happy that you finally found some at a local grocery store : ) Reply

  • Ben
    November 11, 2018 4:21am

    These were phenomenal, with a flavor both delicate and complex. These are equally satisfying with beer (or hard cider, I’d guess) as with a cup of tea or coffee, which is rare for me in a pastry. Thanks for posting, and I’ll definitely be making these again. Reply

  • Michelle S
    November 11, 2018 2:49pm

    Hi David! I am making these for Sunday brunch. Noticed that there’s no Salt in the recipe. Just wondered. Reply

    • November 11, 2018 2:52pm
      David Lebovitz

      I noticed that as well when I made the recipe, but didn’t find they needed it. It may be the relatively large amount of baking powder, which has some sodium in it, takes cares of the salt. But you’re welcome to add a sprinkle if you’d like. Reply

  • Caroline
    November 14, 2018 11:47pm

    David, I have been reading a long time but never commented until now. It so happened that my husband and I traveled to Austin last week for the first time – right after you mentioned Barlata! We went to it and had a lovely meal. I mentioned to the hostess that we came as a result of your blog! Thank you for your wonderful posts and photos. Reply

    • November 15, 2018 1:23pm
      David Lebovitz

      Glad you had a good time there. I haven’t been but he’s a well-respected chef and his book is terrific. Thanks for your kind words about the blog, too! : ) Reply

  • November 16, 2018 12:37pm

    I don’t use often honey for cook and this is a beautiful idea. I will try it. Reply

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