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Friday, April 3, 2020

Russian Honey Cake

Pareve Russian Honey Cake

  • 100 g good local honey 
    • I used an elderflower honey bought from a local farmer's market
  • 100 g granulated sugar
  • 140 g vegan butter substitute
    • Or dairy butter, whatever you have
  • 3 whole eggs, room temperature
  • 1 tsp almond extract**
    • Optional, but recommended!
  • 6 g baking soda 
  • A fat pinch of kosher salt
  • 540 g all purpose flour
  • 340 g tofu sour cream
    • Dairy sour cream works, of course!
  • 100 g sugar
  • 65 g honey
  • 120 g (4) egg whites

This is one of those wonderful recipes you can (mostly) do by hand. You can even whip the egg whites for the filling by hand, especially if you're skipping the gym like the responsible citizen that you are. I do realize the irony of making a "Russian" honey cake, even though this is probably made by the Cossacks that drove the Russian Jews out to America, being a person descended from Russian/Lithuanian/Belarusian/Polish Jews. But I'm making it and making it kosher. Die mad about it.

 Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. In a medium bowl, whisk together the butter, honey, and sugar until dissolved and slightly thick. Then, one at a time, add in your eggs, gently whisking until each one is incorporated. You aren't looking for volume in this, but merely a deliciously syrup-y and smooth batter. Add in the baking soda and a pinch of kosher salt. Whisk in about a third of the flour mixture using the whisk, until very smooth, and then switch to a spatula for adding the rest of the flour. You're going to be stirring slowly, to make a wonderful dough that resembles a very soft hamentaschen (or cookie) dough.

Next, pick a size! Divide the dough into balls and roll out discs of the appropriate size. I used a 9 inch/22 cm round cake tin to measure out the size I wanted. A little flour on your favorite marble slab will do the trick to roll it out. Yes, I said flour. I know I don't usually have you flour your surfaces for your cookies...but this isn't a cookie, it's a cake. Sort of.

Once you have your discs, transfer them to a silpat-lined sheet pan and prick them with lots of holes! This will prevent the cake from rising and becoming terribly dense, which is not what you want. Bake each disc for 6 minutes, and allow to cool fully before stacking them on top of each other. This recipe yielded eight layers for me, and I still had enough dough left over to make myself some small tea biscuits.

This next part is optional, but if you were to pick a design for the top layer of the cookie/cake in the vein of a cut-out, I'd say do it while the discs are still somewhat warm. I chose a little bat cutout. More on that later...

To make the filling, stir in the 65 g honey with one package (340 g) of tofu sour cream. (Of course, you can use dairy sour cream if you like.) If you have a standing mixer, I suggest using that to whip up your egg whites and sugar to stiff peaks. If not, enjoy the arm workout. Finally, fold in that glorious meringue to the sour cream to make the filling. Ready to assemble? Me, too.

Yep. Looks fluffy enough. 
Get a plate or cake board. Simply dollop a thin layer of the filling between each of the cake discs and spread evenly. Err on the side of less rather than more, as it looks quite spectacular if the layers of filling are the same height as the layers of cake. When you get to the top layer, spread the rest of the filling all over the entirety of the cake, sides included. Add your top layer with the decorative cut-outs, and call it good! Don't forget to snap a few pictures for Instagram before you let this chill in the fridge for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.

Now, on to the bats - and this is where I put on my preachy food blogger/chef activist/annoying foodie hat and step on my soap box.

Hate mosquitos? Get yourself a bat house! It's like a bird-house...only for bats. And, yes, bats eat mosquitos!

Bats want you to eat honey. No, really! They do. And they also want you to stop using agave to the scale we are all using it instead of honey. Bats rely on agave, and agave plants rely on bats to pollinate them. In fact, they are the primary pollinators of agave plants, and you can't have agave - or tequila - without bats.

So what does this have to do with honey? Honey is a byproduct of bees, and a lot of vegans out there will tell you that harvesting honey hurts bees. This couldn't be further from the truth. If we hide behind this ideology that honey is a product of animal cruelty, and go for agave instead, we're starving bats and putting beekeepers out of the job.

A beekeeper's job is to watch over hives and make sure that bees are healthy and happy. They harvest honey in a way that do not harm bees. Bees, when given a lot of room, will make a lot of honey, so it's not like a beekeeper will ever benefit from taking the honey that the bees need to survive the winter. Beekeepers and apiaries only take excess honey, and in return the bees don't have to leave their hives in swarms to find more room. Beekeepers and hives are so important to the agricultural health of the planet that most farmers will lend a beekeeper a free spot on a corner of their land just to have a hive there. No, really, that's how important bees are to farmers.  

So, should you eat honey? Yes. Should you eat local honey? Yes, especially if you suffer from seasonal allergies like yours truly. If you have a local apiary in your area, I also suggest that you buy some bee pollen. Sprinkled over your cereal or mixed into your tea or coffee will do wonders for your seasonal allergies without knocking you out like any over-the-counter antihistamines. Oh, and should you stop consuming agave? Probably, yes, unless you want the world to run out of tequila.

I hope you've enjoyed this blog, and this format of me putting the recipe first before my big annoying rant. I also hope you won't judge me for making a wheat-based product this close to Passover. I know I'm meant to be clearing out the house of all flour, because - you know - we're supposed to be running from the Egyptians or whatever - but we're already in the middle of the plague and money is tight, so I figure that I may as well use up my flour as much as I can before the holiday comes. Once that's all done, we'll go into matzoh territory! Please keep me in your thoughts as I go the week without bread in the middle of the dang plague.

Thanks again! Happy cooking and happy eating!

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