Anyone who knows me will know I am a big dessert person. Since 2015, I have made a Christmas Pudding every year without fail. I also occasionally feel the need to make a Spotted Dick or Jam Roly Poly. After watching the Fantastic Beasts Harry Potter prequel I made my most ambitious yet – Apple Strudel.
I also make my own custard from scratch (Creme Anglais for the continentals). For my latest culinary adventure, I made a modern version of the Roman Honey Cake, something I discovered during researching Roman Saturnalia food.
Before you all go giving me a round of applause for my adventurous spirit, I’m going to disclaim the post and say this is one of the easiest things I have ever made. As you can see from the recipe I found online, it has few ingredients: honey, soft brown sugar (I used dark brown sugar), butter, flour, eggs and water. I couldn’t get hold of spelt flour for the original recipe, but I did have all of those other things and decided to just go for it – authenticity be damned. This is probably a more modern Middle Eastern version.
This is not authentically Roman due to the presence of sugar. The Romans would have had some limited access to imported sugar, but this would have been far too rare and expensive to put in food. Documentary evidence suggested they used it in medicine to calm the stomach. It wasn’t until mass cultivation around 1600 years later that it entered the food chain. No matter, I will try a more authentic recipe some time.
I tend to blend the dry ingredients first and then the wet before combining to make them as smooth as possible without too much arm work. As you see from the images above and to the right here, it did come out smooth. There were plenty of bubbles in the mix because of the presence of honey which is quite a thick substance. Bubbles are good because it helps the sponge fluff up.
Then it goes into the oven for about 40 minutes on a relatively low temperature (180C or 160C for a fan oven). Take it out and it comes out like this image on the left. Nothing to get too excited about there, really. It looks just like any other cake. Let it cool until warm to the touch but not hot. I found about 25 minutes was about right. Then mix up the no doubt inauthentic honey and icing sugar glaze. Pour it over and voila! The glaze sets, much like the crystallised sugar coating on a Lemon Drizzle Cake.
The first bite is always with the eye. When I cut the first slice, it was satisfyingly soft, not too dry and not too moist. It tasted incredible. I love honey anyway, so I was left in no doubt I was going to love this.
Try it room temperature, or warmed with custard.
Why Did I Do This?
As a red-blooded Englishman, I would question why you would think cake should not be an essential part of my diet.
I enjoy cooking. It’s a good life skill to have, especially for a divorced man who suddenly had access to a kitchen that allowed him to run free and test the limits of his cooking skills. I definitely broke that stereotype!
I feel we should all try new things to learn and grow as people, not just cooking, but things we once dismissed as too difficult or too much bother. Who knows where such a skill will take you?
Learning to cook is a mindful practice and therefore good for mental health. It certainly helps me deal with stress and anxiety. On the days where I feel fine, it helps me wind down and disconnect from work.
That brings me back to the original point – research. Yes, this honey cake was not particularly authentic but as I was digging around for Saturnalia dishes and street food for Phobetor’s Children, it whet my appetite for the wonderful food the Romans ate, and particularly for the sweet things in a time way before mass produced sugar.
Go, try it yourself. I promise you will not be disappointed.