Today, we are going to take a trip across the Atlantic and explore the history and tradition of the Russian Honey Cake. I love learning about and eating food from different cultures, but I must admit that Russian cuisine is not one that I am familiar with, at all. Russian culture is not often known for it’s cuisine and it’s especially not a culture known for its desserts, but the Russian Honey Cake, also known as medovik, is a traditional Russian dessert that has been an important part of Russian culinary history since the early 1800s.
The cake was created by the personal chef of Czar Alexander I in the 1820s. Because of its long shelf life and preservation qualities, honey was a commonly-used sweetener in that time period. Stories tell that the it was a well known fact that Czar’s wife did not like the flavor of honey. A new young chef began working in the Czar’s kitchen and created this honey cake, not knowing the wife’s aversion to honey, and thankfully, she loved the cake. It quickly became popular with royalty and aristocrats and became a staple at parties and Russian tea ceremonies. The cake gained popularity with the general public during the Soviet era when people began adding boiled cans of sweetened condensed milk to the frosting.
This cake is not a difficult one, though the rolling and layering of the biscuits makes it slightly labor-intensive. The sweetness of the honey is balanced by the tanginess of the sour cream layers and, in my opinion, the cake is best served next day after the biscuits have had a chance to soften and the flavors have melded together. I also highly recommend enjoying this cake with a cup of coffee and some good friends.
Russian Honey Cake
Yield: 1- 8 layer cake
For the biscuit layers:
1/2 cup (170 g) honey
1/3 cup (170 g) sugar
1/2 cup (115 g) unsalted butter
1 tsp baking soda
3 large eggs
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups (455 g) all purpose flour
For the dulce de leche cream:
1 can sweetened condensed milk, cooked into dulce de leche *see instructions below*
3/4 c sour cream
1 tsp salt
2 Tbsp honey
4 3/4 cups heavy cream
To make the biscuit layers:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Heat honey, butter, and sugar in a large saucepan for 4-5 minutes, until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is fragrant.
Remove from heat and whisk in baking soda. Let cool for about 5 minutes.
Place your eggs in a large glass measuring cup and beat them with a whisk. Then, carefully stream some of your hot honey (1/4-1/2 cup) mixture into the eggs, whisking continually. Now, while still whisking, gradually pour all of your egg mixture back into the hot honey pot. Whisk to combine everything. (This process is called tempering and it helps to gradually warm your eggs before mixing them into a hot batter. This prevents scrambling your eggs and that is very important!)
Stir in salt and vanilla. Add flour gradually, stirring with a wooden spoon until completely combined.
Turn your dough out onto a well-floured work surface and begin to shape the cookies. Divide the dough into 2 large pieces. Working with one piece at a time, roll the dough into a very thin rectangle, about 1/8” thick. (You will need 8, 7” circles in total, so make sure that you are able to cut 4 circles out of each rectangle.) *Note: I tried this a few different ways and the easiest, least messy way that I found was to roll the dough between two sheets of parchment paper, removing the top sheet of parchment and transferring the bottom parchment with the dough to a sheet pan. It is much easier to remove baked cookies from the parchment than the sticky dough.
After your dough is rolled out, use a cake pan (or any other circular object) to score your 4 cookie circles. Poke holes in the dough with a fork and bake for 5-6 minutes, until browning at the edges and slightly firm in the middle.
While your first rectangle is baking, repeat step 6 for the second half of your dough. (Depending on your pan size, you can also divide your dough into 4 pieces and get 2 circles from each rectangle. The world is your oyster.)
Let all of the cookies cool slightly on the pan before cutting out your circles and transferring them to a cooling rack to finish cooling.
Remove all cookie scraps and place them on another sheet pan. Return them to the oven for about 5-7 minutes, to allow them to crisp up. Let cool completely and then smash using a rolling pin or crumble with your hands. Use them for decoration on your finished cake.
To make the dulce de leche cream:
In a large bowl, whisk together dulce de leche, sour cream, salt, honey, and 3/4 cup of heavy cream. Place in refrigerator until ready to use.
In a mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whip the remaining 4 cups of heavy cream until soft peaks form. With the mixer running, slowly stream dulce de leche mixture and continue to whip to medium peaks. The cream should be thick and spreadable. Refrigerate until ready to use.
To assemble the cake:
Place 1 cookie circle on your cake stand. Using a large ice cream scoop, scoop cream on top of the cookie and spread to the edges using an offset spatula. Add another cookie, press down slightly, and top with cream. (It doesn’t really matter how much cream you put between each layer, just that the cream amount is equal between the layers.) Continue until until you have completed all 8 layers. At this point, you can use a large offset spatula to cover the sides of the cake with cream or you can embrace the “naked cake” trend and leave the sides exposed. Smooth cream on the top of cake and sprinkle with cookie crumbs.
Refrigerate the cake overnight (or at least 3 hours) before serving. This will allow the cream to soften the cookie layers and all the flavors to meld together.
To make dulce de leche: Set a can of sweetened condensed pot in a medium saucepan and cover with water (the water should come up about 2 inches over the can). Set over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Lower heat to maintain a low simmer and let cook for 3-4 hours, adding water every 30 minutes or so to keep it 1-2 inches above the can. The longer you let the can simmer, the darker your dulce de leche will be. When your dulce de leche is done simmering, use tongs to remove the can from the water and place on a cooling rack. Let the can cool COMPLETELY before opening. (This is really important because if it has not cooled completely, the pressure from the can will cause it to explode when you open it and that would be a giant mess! I let it set at least 4 hours to be safe.)