In my recent interview to Women’s Forum I mentioned that I didn’t cook much back in Azerbaijan, but that I baked a few cakes. Well, honey cake, known as medovik or medoviy tort in Russian, and balli tort in Azeri, originally Russian but equally famous across the ex-soviet republics, is one of those cake. My sister and I, or sometimes just me or her, would laboriously bake it every time we had guests over (the golden diamonds to the right of the picture are pieces of honey cake, baked by me or by me and my sister, and served with tea for the staff we invited over to dinner many years ago).
In honey cake, thin biscuit layers baked to perfect gold are slathered with luscious cream made of caramelized condensed milk and butter. The caramelization is obtained by boiling a can of condensed milk for 2 hours. The resulting thick caramel tastes so good that I sometimes end up eating half a can before the poor thing has a chance to pair with butter.
Honey cake it not that difficult to put together. The waiting time to indulge in it, however, is a bit of a teaser, but honest to say, a teaser absolutely worth while putting up with. Try it and you’ll known what I mean.
Also, check out my friend Marija’s version of medovik. Marija uses sour cream based cream in between the layers. I have never tried medovik with sour cream but the idea sounds intriguing enough to make me head over to the kitchen next time I crave this delectable cake.
HONEY CAKE (MEDOVIK)
recipe adapted from my very old recipe collection (original source unknown)
STEP 1 - Prepare the cream.
Note: You can prepare the cream up to a week in advance and keep it in the refrigerator.
For the Cream:
2 cans condensed milk (you will use 1 1/2 cans)
10 oz (300 g) unsalted butter, cut into large chunks
Put the cans of condensed milk in a medium saucepan. Add enough water to cover the cans completely. Bring to a boil, then simmer over medium heat for 2 hours, adding more hot water to cover the cans as necessary. Remove from the heat. Let the cans sit in the water for about 5 minutes, then drain the water and set the cans aside. DO NOT OPEN THE CAN AT THIS POINT, or they will explode and their contents will end up all over you. Allow the cans to cool to room temperature, then open them with a can opener.
Put the butter in a mixing bowl. With a mixer, beat until the butter is fluffy, about 5 minutes. Continue to beat, gradually adding 1 1/2 can condensed milk and beat until you obtain a smooth cream. Do not overbeat or the cream will curdle. Place the cream in the refrigerator while you prepare the dough.
STEP 2 - Make the dough
For the Dough:
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons honey
3.5 oz (100 g) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 teaspoon baking soda
3-3.5 cups all-purpose flour
You will need a double boiler to prepare the dough. If you don’t have one, use two regular saucepans or a saucepan and a heat-proof mixing bowl as I usually do and as described in the recipe.
Put the eggs and sugar in a heat-proof mixing bowl (or the top of a double boiler). Stir to mix. Add the honey and butter.
Fill a medium saucepan with water and bring it to a boil. Place the mixing bowl on the saucepan. Remember - the bowl should not touch the water in the pan, so adjust the amount of water accordingly. Maintaining a gentle boil, cook the mixture, stirring constantly with a spoon or a balloon whisk, until the ingredients are well blended and the mixture is smooth, about 5 minutes.
Add the baking soda, and cook, stirring constantly, for another half a minute. The mixture will somewhat whiten and increase in bulk. Remove the bowl from the heat. Gradually add 3 cups of the flour to the mixture, mixing with a spoon with each addition, until you obtain a dough that is somewhat sticky and has consistency of play dough. Do not be tempted to add more flour as the dough will harden as it cools off. If it is still too sticky, add the rest of the flour. Otherwise leave it at 3 cups. Divide the dough into 5 parts and shape each part into a ball.
STEP 3 - Bake the biscuits
Preheat the oven to 375F (190C). Generously butter a large baking sheet.
Now, take one dough ball and put it in the middle of your buttered baking sheet. With your fingers, press onto the dough and flatten it into a thin 11-inch (28 cm) circle. If the dough sticks to your hands, dip your fingers in flour before pressing onto the dough. The flattened dough may appear somewhat transparent in some places - it is OK. But take care not to tear it and patch with a piece of dough if you do. NOTE: You can shape your cake as a rectangle or square, if you want to.
Since you will need some crumbs for the top and the sides of the cake, you do not have to worry about the irregularities around the edges of the circle - you will cut them off to obtain a perfect circle after the biscuit has been baked and you will use the trim-offs to make crumbs.
Or, instead of cutting off the edges of a baked biscuit, you can use my hassle-free “beforehand trim-off” technique (see pictures below) - once you’ve flattened the dough, put a 10-inch (25 cm) flat plate on top of it and using a sharp knife, trim off excess dough around the plate. Do not remove the trim-offs from the baking sheet. Let them sit there. Once the biscuit is baked, you can easily peel them off.
Bake each biscuit layer on the middle rack of the oven for 4-5 minutes, until it is light golden on top. The dough will slightly puff up, but don’t expect it to rise as a sponge cake. Do not overbake. Remove from the oven, gently run a spatula underneath the biscuit to loosen it, then remove from the baking sheet.
STEP 4 - Assemble the cake
Spread a generous amount of cream onto one biscuit, then top with another. Continue in this manner - stacking the layers on top of one another and spreading some cream in-between. Slather some cream on top and around the cake as well.
Finely grind the baked trim-offs. Sprinkle the crumbs generously on top of the cake and lightly press some around it. If you do not have enough crumbs, grind some walnuts and mix with the crumbs. At this point, the cake will be hard. Leave the cake aside to soften at room temperature for 6 hours or overnight. The biscuits will have absorbed the cream and the cake will be soft and ready to melt in your mouth.
STEP 5 - Enjoy the cake!