Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Bee sting cake

Writing on Monday...

I’ve not been baking at home over the past week because I’ve been working for most of it... some of it in a bakery, which kept me happy on that front. I’ve heading back into the home kitchen this week on Bank Holiday Monday, because on the following Tuesday I’m off to a Clandestine Cake Club meeting and need to take a cake!

For those who don’t know, Clandestine Cake Clubs are where people sign up to meet on a specific day in a certain area and bring cake. You don’t know where you’re going until the day before but you’re given a theme in advance and should design your cake around this theme. This time round, the theme is “Cakes inspired by books”.

I had an immediate mind blank when this theme came up  but, while flicking through a recipe book, spotted something with honey in and thought “aha, Winnie the Pooh!”. That wasn’t actually the recipe I went for but I’d remembered one from the new Hairy Bikers’ book called a “Bee Sting Cake”, which seemed to totally fit the bill. And, to make it even more “me”, it’s leavened with yeast.

Mild panic ensued when I realised that I’d be spending most of my time at work, at college or jogging (I’m doing the Manchester 10k in a few weeks and the lungs definitely need the practice!) and couldn’t think when I’d get this cake done, especially because of rising and proving times. Thank goodness for pointless bank holidays! Because the May Day Bank Holiday, however cold and windy it’s been outside, gave me plenty of time to get the cake sorted.

So, where did I start? 15g fresh yeast got pulled out of the freezer after I realised that I’d forgotten to get it out earlier... so it got chopped up and left on the work surface to thaw out while I weighed out everything else. Once it was actually defrosted, it went in a jug with 4 tablespoons warm milk and ½ teaspoon caster sugar; this all got mixed together and left to froth for 10 minutes, snuggled up to my wheat bag for warmth. I was a bit dubious about the next bit because the recipe called for plain flour, but I stuck with it and reasoned that plain flour could result in a cakey texture... which would probably be alright as I was making a cake rather than bread. That got sifted into the mixing bowl on my mixer, along with ½ teaspoon salt and 1 tablespoon caster sugar. Once the yeasty milk was frothy, that got poured into the mixing bowl along with 2 beaten eggs. The dough hook went down and I turned the mixer on...

Only to find that it just wasn’t taking up any of the flour from the sides. If you’ve read my blog before, you’ll know I normally hand knead anyway, but I’d gone for the mixer this time because lots of butter needed incorporating. So I scraped the flour down, turned it on again... scraped the flour down a bit more, tried again... and eventually, it came together as a dough... only to get stuck in one position on the dough hook and simply pirouette around the mixing bowl. I resolved that there wasn’t enough dough in there for it to work properly... and that the dough hook was a bit useless... so turned the whole lot out on to the work top and got back to using good old elbow grease.

Time to incorporate lashings of butter. This is no airy-fairy Genoise sponge but a cake of much flour and a fair whack of butter. I’d cut it up into cubes and let it soften. I then started chucking lumps in and squishing, kneading and generally pummelling the whole lot until dough and butter became one. The dough needed even more kneading then to get it to the stage of “very pliable, smooth and slightly shiny but no longer sticky”. More flour was required but, of course, the bag was back in the cupboard. Mum just happened to walk into the kitchen at that stage (ah, what timing) so kindly got it out for me so that I didn’t spread dough all over the place. 10 minutes later and I had something resembling the right consistency. It went into a lightly greased bowl, got covered and went in a very, very, very low oven to double in size. I was a bit worried that it would start to weep butter but a half-time check confirmed that all was good, so back in the oven it went.
It plumped up nicely and, after an hour, got turned out into a cake tin (the bottom lined- I’ve learnt my lesson from the spelt bread!) and knuckled down until it filled it evenly. The cover went back on and got stowed back in the oven to plump back up again. This then required a bit of oven juggling... best not to start preheating with the dough still in.

Now, you may have noticed that no honey has actually made its way into this bee sting cake as yet. Fear not, because the next step involved smothering the top of the cake with warm honey and cinnamon. I didn’t do this quite delicately enough and popped some of the larger air bubbles while spreading, but it wasn’t too squished. A sprinkling of flaked almonds later and it went into the oven at 180°C  for 25 minutes, before coming out for another honey basting and getting another 5 minutes in the oven.

Things looked positive when it finally came out of the oven. The cake had a fairly craggy top under its sticky, nutty layer and had a good bit of spring when pushed gently. I let it cool before cutting it in half horizontally, which gave me a chance to look at the texture inside. And hey presto, we have cake! There was a consistent and nicely proportioned crumb structure inside and the cake was buttery yellow and gave off a combined smell of honey, cinnamon and yeast. However, it definitely wasn’t for eating straight away. It got tucked away in the freezer for the night (to preserve the crust) to be pulled out again the following day...

Writing on Tuesday...

Just in time to be filled and finished for the Clandestine Cake Club meeting. The Hairy Bikers’ recipe said to fill it with jam and cream but, as this was meant to be a cake inspired by Winnie the Pooh, I and my friend Levi smothered each half of sponge in more warmed honey and cinnamon, then filled it with freshly whipped double cream and gently reassembled it. The cake was ready for its big moment!

The Clandestine Cake Club meeting this time round was rather crowded and the night included several scrums; when the cakes got displayed on the table, when it was time to eat, when it was time for seconds... thirds... and when it was time to rescue leftover cakes and boxes before going home. Our bee sting cake joined some really imaginative takes on the “cakes inspired by books” theme, including one based on a Dickens character, a Clockwork orange cake, a butterbeer cake (and if you don’t know what book that’s from, you’ve shielded yourself from contemporary popular culture very well) and plenty of others. Levi and I pretty much caked ourselves out over the course of the evening, but dived into the bee sting cake first to make sure we got a sample.

The texture was really intriguing, especially compared to the many dense sponges that it sat alongside. There was a certain crispness and crumbliness to it but it wasn’t dry. But I’m glad we opted for the extra honey, or it wouldn’t have had much of that flavour. There was a definite yeastly flavour to the cake which added a really interesting and tasty extra dimension. The fresh cream in the middle was also sort of “refreshing” (not sure if that’s exactly the word, but... well, it was a break from the overwhelming sweetness of some of the other cake fillings.. partly because I’d forgot to sweeten it, as the original recipe had suggested) and the almonds added a nice texture contrast.

A bread/cake well made, methinks, and I’m really glad I tried this one out. Yeast levening for cakes... a definite... well, optional... way forward.

Simplified recipe

For the cake
1 ½ teaspoons fast action yeast or 15g fresh yeast
½ teaspoon caster sugar
4 tablespoons warm milk (but not too hot; it needs to be yeast-friendly)
250g plain flour (yep, you read that right, plain flour), plus extra for kneading
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 tablespoon caster sugar
2 medium eggs (at room temperature), beaten
85g softened unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
For the topping
5 tablespoons clear honey
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
20g flaked almonds
For the filling
300ml double cream
150ml honey
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1.       Put your warm milk in a jug and add the yeast and the ½ teaspoon caster sugar. Stir and leave in a warm place for 10 minutes, until frothy
2.       Sift the flour, salt and the 1 tablespoon caster sugar into a mixing bowl
3.       Make a well in the middle and add the yeasty milk and the eggs. Get your hands stuck in and combine the ingredients, then turn out onto a work surface and knead until smooth (about 5 minutes)
4.       Begin adding the butter a little at a time (the book says a teaspoon but I think I ended up us doing slightly more, just to speed things up) and working it into the dough. You may want to sprinkle a little flour about while doing this as the dough will become very sticky
5.       Once all the butter is incorporated, place it on a clean, floured work surface and continue to work it until it becomes “very pliable, smooth and slightly shiny but no longer sticky”, which should take about 10 minutes. You may need to incorporate more flour while you’re doing this
6.       Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover and leave in a warm place to double in size (about 1 to 1 ½ hours)
7.       While you’re waiting, grab a 25cm spring-clip or loose-bottomed cake tin and line the bottom with greaseproof paper
8.       When the dough is ready, turn it out into the cake tin and press it down with your knuckles until it evenly fills the tin. Cover it back up and put it back in a warm place to prove until doubled in size about (about 30-45 minutes)
9.       Preheat your oven to 180°C (350°F or gas mark 4)
10.   Get your topping ready. Put the honey and the cinnamon in a saucepan and heat until runny
11.   Once your dough is ready and the oven preheated, spread the top of the dough with ¾ of the honey and sprinkle with the flaked almonds
12.   Place in the oven and bake for 25 minutes “until risen and golden brown”. Brush with the rest of the honey (which may need re-warming) and bake for a further 3-4 minutes
13.   Place the cake on a cooling wire while still in the tin and leave for 10 minutes, then take it out, peel off the baking parchment and allow to cool
14.   For the filling, whip the double cream to form soft peaks. Fit a piping bag with a star nozzle and spoon in the cream
15.   Carefully cut the cake in half horizontally. Warm the second lot of honey with the cinnamon and spread over the base. “Pipe the cream in concentric circles on top” and then carefully top with the other half of the cake (although, actually, we just plonked the cream on. Worked fine)
16.   Either serve immediately or keep chilled until it’s time to serve (because you don’t want to ruin a good cake with curdled cream)

The Hairy Bikers’ Big Book of Baking, Si King and Dave Myers, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2012


  1. What a yummy sounding cake! I will defiantly be trying this one. Like the way the honey is used as the topping.

    You have a great blog, thank you for the post.

  2. This might be rather late to leave a comment but I have only just found your blog. You might be interested to know that this is originally a German recipe. In German it's called Bienenstich (bee sting) and used to be one of our favourites from the local baker (Schneiders) in Munich, many years ago
    Good luck with your pastries.

  3. One of our members of South Lancs CCC made this and it was delicious