One of the coolest things about honey is that it doesn’t go off. It is so sweet that microbes cannot grow in it and while the sugars can crystallise over time, the honey itself will remain unspoiled in a sealed container for years and years.
Honey is one of – if not the – oldest ingredients used in cookery. Unlike flour, fruits and processed sugar, honey hasn’t really changed since we started harvesting it almost eight millennia ago. There are cave paintings from the Mesolithic era which are found in Valencia, Spain which depict hunters gathering honey. The cave painting is surprisingly unambiguous. You can clearly see a human, surrounded by little bugs, reaching into a hive with one hand and holding a basket in the other. There is also physical evidence of honey from around 5000 years ago, when honey was found on the inside walls of clay pots in Georgia. The fact that the honey was sill recognisable is a true testament to how well it keeps.
This post has come about because it is approaching Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish new year – which falls this weekend). Honey is used as a symbolic way of wishing people a sweet new year and as a result, is added to many different foods. Honey cake is the obvious one, but we also use honey to sweeten bread and during the Rosh Hashanah meal, slices of apple dipped in honey are eaten. It also appears in Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism along with the Ancient Greek pantheon of gods. It is normally seen as a food of immortality and food of the gods as well as possessing great healing properties.
Outside of cooking, honey has been used as a medicine for a long time. It was used to help bind herbs in salves and pastes since the Romans and was particularly prominent in Celtic medicine and druidic rituals. This use most likely stems from the fact that honey is incredibly sticky so would hold the salves in place whilst also creating a seal to keep out infection. Nowadays, there is very little evidence that honey actually helps with treating any medical condition although it is very good for soothing a sore throat – just mix a spoon of honey into a cup of hot water with a few slices of lemon and drink it.
The cakes below are amazing fresh out of the oven but are even better if you let them cool, wrap them up in foil, and allow them to sit for a week in a pantry or on the side in your kitchen. The time allows the flavours to mature creating a far more complex taste. Cinnamon, ginger, orange and mixed spice all help give these cakes their distinctive flavour which must be tried to understand how amazing it is. This recipe is from Evelyn Rose and to be honest, I wouldn’t want to change a single thing about it. As an added bonus, these cakes are dairy free.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 50 minutes
Makes two cakes
12 oz. (335g) plain flour
6 oz. (170g) caster sugar
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground mixed spice
16 oz. (450g) honey – I just used a whole jar
½ cup (125ml) vegetable oil
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
Zest of two oranges
250 ml orange juice
Preheat the oven to gas mark 4 (180°C).
Line two 9×9 inching tins with baking parchment.
Fill a jug with hot water and place the jar of honey (still closed) into it. The heat will slacken the honey up making it far easier to use later on.
Mix the flour, sugar and spices in a bowl and make a well in the centre.
Pour in the honey, eggs, orange zest and oil before beating together – you can do this by hand but it’s a lot easier if you use an electric mixer.
In a jug, whisk the bicarbonate of soda into the orange juice and after it has foamed up, pour it into the cake mix and beat it all together.
Pour the cake batter into the two tins and bake in the oven for 50-55 minutes, or until the cakes are fully cooked.
Move the cakes onto a cooling rack but don’t remove the baking parchment from them.
Once the cakes have cooled, wrap them up in foil making sure to seal around the edge before leaving them for a week of two for the flavours to mature.
I hope you enjoyed the recipe. The cakes are delicious but very sweet – we don’t tend to eat them very fast at home because you only have a small piece at a time. It is fantastic to eat alongside a cup of tea. If you love baking but are looking for something a little bit less sugary, check out how to make some delicious shortbread or if you want something more on the savoury side, why not make yourself some delicious ginger tofu. It’s fab both hot and cold.
Have a good one and I will see you next week with a rich, flavourful, savoury crumble.