Slovak Honey Cake with Caramel Buttercream and Roasted Nut Streusel Topping

Christmas is almost here! Tis the season to be overwhelmed – there is still so much to do and never enough time (and energy) to do it. I love Christmas – the traditions, the smells, the lights, and the family time… just getting there can be a bit too taxing. The calendar is filling up, and I feel like I’m terribly behind this year. Haven’t really started baking yet – I know from experience that if I get into Christmas baking too early, my men who eat like locusts will push right behind me and consume everything in sight, and I’ll have to break out the rolling pin three days before Christmas anyway. Same with cleaning – it’s just a never ending losing battle. No point in needlessly spending precious energy too soon 🙂

This cake is a forerunner of the serious Christmas cookie baking marathon that will take place at our house next week. There are desserts that simply cannot be absent from a holiday table in a Slovak household, and this is definitely one of them. However, its preparation is time consuming, and involves lots of fighting with a fragile honey dough: first with a rolling pin, when you need to roll out 4 – 6 thin layers of a soft sticky dough, and when that’s done, you need to convince said layers to agree to be transferred on and off baking sheets without tearing. All that rolling as well as need for careful handling can be daunting, and when you’d heaven forbid like to de-glutenize the cake on top of that, it holds true hundred times as much. But since this cake is a Christmas must-have for Mr. Photographer, last year I went on a mission to find a way to make it gluten-free for him, even if it should kill me. (In case you’re wondering, food is my love language, and I’m willing to go great lengths to make good food for people I care about. I’ve wished many times upon seeing the sad state of my bathrooms I could switch to cleaning love language for a while, but alas, I don’t see that happening any time soon).

Anyway, in my search I learned that many Slovak ladies must dislike the fighting the honey dough with a rolling pin just as much as I do, because some wonderfully clever soul apparently succeeded in modifying the recipe from a dough that needs to be rolled out to a honey sponge cake with seemingly no adverse effects to the appearance and taste. I made the cake in both gluten and gluten-free versions last year and it was a big success; I was quite happy with it and haven’t anticipated to ever need another recipe. Well, since before the beginning of November my inbox has been overflowing with must try Christmas recipes, and among them I bumped into yet another best recipe for the Slovak honey cake. This time, cake layers were rolled, but the author claimed the rolling to go swimmingly easy, and to top it off, there supposedly wasn’t any wait time till the cake layers soften under the filling, so the cake was to be consumable right away. Of course I was intrigued and had to try it! I found all the claims to be absolutely true, and last year’s favorite had to concede to a new winner. As far as I’m concerned, this honey cake recipe truly is the best: Gluten-full or gluten-free, the rolling was a breeze, and as promised, the cake layers didn’t get hard when cooled, and were soft as a pillow from the get go. I suspect the rum syrup I very generously soaked them with might have had something to do with it 🙂

So this version is another take on a traditional Slovak Christmas delicacy. And since men are inherently simple, I don’t think I’ll need to do much more for Mr. Photographer’s Christmas 🙂 If you like honey, and caramel, and nuts (and who doesn’t?!), and have time to spare in the upcoming pre-Christmas week, give it a try; it’s heaven in your mouth delicious!

img-2016-12-04-8759

Slovak Honey Cake with Caramel Buttercream and Roasted Nut Streusel Topping

Honey dough for 5 cake layers:
  • 45o g (1 lb.) all-purpose flour (for gluten-free cake, see Note)
  • pinch salt
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon dark cocoa powder
  • 180 g (6.3 oz.) powdered sugar
  • 180 g (6.3 oz.) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 large egg
  • 6 tablespoons liquid honey
  • 4 tablespoons whipping cream
Caramel Buttercream:
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk (397 g, 14 oz.)
  • 70 g (2.5 oz.) dry roasted ground walnuts/pecans
  • 250 g (8.5 oz.) unsalted butter, room temperature
Rum Syrup:
  • 2 ½ tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1.5 dl (5 oz.) boiling water
  • 50 ml (1.7 oz.) dark rum
Roasted Nut Streusel:
  • 30 g (1 oz.) dry roasted ground walnuts/pecans
  • 50 g (1.7 oz.) honey cake crumbs (scraps of the remaining dough, re-rolled, baked, then finely ground)

img-2016-12-03-8755

Method:
  1. The day before, caramelize the sweetened condensed milk: Place an unopened can of sweetened condensed milk in a pot of water, so that the can is fully submerged. Cover the pot, bring the water to a boil, and simmer for 2 hours. Remove the can from water, let it cool, and refrigerate, still unopened, till the next day. Next day, let the can come to room temp and continue with the recipe.
  2. Make the honey cake layers: Place butter, sugar, egg, honey, and cream into a deeper saucepan. Place the saucepan into a bigger pot filled with water, creating a water bath. Over a medium heat, warm up the mixture, whisking constantly. Do not boil.
  3. Combine flour, cocoa, salt, and baking soda in a bowl of your stand mixer. Pour the warm honey butter mixture into the dry ingredients, and mix up a soft dough. Gather the dough into a ball and wrap it up in saran wrap. Set it aside to cool slightly.
  4. Get ready 2 or 3 bigger baking sheets and preheat the oven to 350 °F (180 °C). Cut 5 sheets of parchment paper. With a pencil, trace 22 cm (8.5 inches) circle on each of the sheets and turn the paper over, so that the dough won’t touch the pencil marks. Divide the dough into 5 equa portions, each about 190 g (6.7 oz.)
  5. Take one sheet of parchment, place one portion of dough into the center of the pre-traced circle and roll it out. You can flour the dough or your rolling pin if you need to, but I found it wasn’t necessary. Reserve the scraps of dough for later.
  6. Bake the cake in a preheated oven for about 4 – 6 minutes, till the edges turn light golden brown. The dough will still be very soft, it will firm up when cooled. Don’t overbake the layers, or they will be hard. Let the circle slightly cool on the baking sheet, and then remove it from the sheet, but let it rest on the parchment. Prepare all the remaining layers in the same way and let them cool. Re-roll the scraps into an oval/circle and bake it as well. Don’t try to handle the dough while it’s still hot/warm, or it will break. The dough is very easy to handle when cooled. (The cake layers can be made in advance and frozen with sheets of parchment between them. Defrost them completely before filling them with buttercream.)
  7. While the cake layers are cooling, prepare the rum syrup and caramel buttercream. For the syrup, dissolve sugar in hot water. Let the sugar syrup cool and then pour in the rum and combine. For the buttercream, whip the butter until light and fluffy. By spoonfuls, add in the caramelized condensed milk, whisking constantly. Add in the ground nuts and combine.
  8. Assembling the cake: Place the first cake layer onto a flat surface, covered with parchment. Smear the cake with approx. 20 ml (0.6 oz.) rum syrup, and coat it with 1/5 of the buttercream. Take second cake layer, brush it with 20 ml (0.6 oz.) rum syrup, and then use another 20 ml (0.6 oz.) syrup to soak the other side. Place the cake on top of the buttercream. Continue assembling the cake, using 2 x 20 ml (0.6 oz.) rum syrup for each layer, and covering it with 1/5 of the caramel buttercream. Frost the top and the sides of the cake and set it aside.
  9. For the streusel, process the baked scrap of honey dough into crumbs, and combine them with ground nuts. Scatter the streusel evenly all over the cake, covering top and the sides, pressing the streusel lightly into the buttercream. Let the cake stand in a cool place for about 2 hours to let the buttercream soak into the layers a little (I usually cover it with a big bowl and put it in the garage), and then refrigerate for 12 – 24 hours before cutting and serving. The remaining cake can be frozen.
Note:

For gluten-free cake, I used Bob’s Red Mill 1 to 1 gluten-free flour. It already contains gums, so no other adjustments were necessary. When I don’t have time to mix my own flour mix, it is my absolute favorite flour mix for baking.

Meringue Sandwich Cookies with Caramel Coffee Buttercream Filling (Laskonky)

It’s that time of year again. We flipped our calendars, wrapped up the year 2015 and lifted our glasses in a toast to happy new year. Folks have been reminiscing and talking about their resolutions. I have to say I’m not usually one to set new-year’s resolutions – to me they’re just empty lofty proclamations that don’t have a big chance to stick for long. That doesn’t mean I don’t reflect on things that happened and think about changes I’d like to make, though.

We made a trip to the ocean on a New Year’s day. I’m a Pisces and love the sea, and as I was strolling along the beach listening to waves crashing against the shore I was thinking about the year that passed – pondering the things I wish I’d done, those I wish I’d not done, and what I’d like to take from it for the future. Over the past year, I have all too often found myself pushing myself – to do more, to work harder, to try make everything just right until I could no longer continue. We women and mothers especially are quick learners when it comes to taking care of others, and can get very good in anticipating and fulfilling their needs. Seemingly we also take very good care of ourselves – at least on the outside: I start off every day with a green smoothie and drink sixty-four ounces of water. I eat healthy and use sunscreen religiously. I schedule yearly check-ups and keep up with the doctor’s recommendations. But way too often I forget the other, far more important part – how to take care of myself on the inside. I push myself to the side, play resilient, slap band-aids on feelings I’d rather not know about or tell myself I can deal with them later. I convince myself and everybody else I’m fine when in fact nothing could be farther from the truth.

And so my resolution and “to-do list” for the 2016 consists of only one item, really: Learn to take better care of myself. I want to be gentler with myself and listen to my body and soul more, instead of paying too much attention to the world and people around. I vow to become a better friend to myself – after all, we just wished each other a happy new year, and it’s rather hard to be happy when someone is mean to you, even if/especially if that someone is you! I plan to make a conscious effort to do me – to do whatever brings me joy as opposed to what I for whatever reason feel compelled to do. Be more present, and live a fuller and more authentic life.

As for me, spending time in the kitchen playing with tastes, textures, and aromas is definitely a step in right direction! So without further ado I present to you my first baking effort of the year. I had way too many egg whites left after the Christmas baking that needed to be used up, and these meringue sandwich cookies fit the bill perfectly. They are commonly sold in Slovak bakeries, just as the popular French macarons are made with only egg whites, ground nuts, and sugar, and can be filled with different buttercream based fillings. The typical oval shape is achieved thanks to a special plastic form with openings through which you press the batter onto the baking sheet, but if you can live with less uniform and less perfect cookies, you can just take an icing bag/tablespoon and make small mounds of batter on the parchment paper and flatten them slightly. I went a little overboard in my quantity estimations – the batch made with six egg whites gave me 50 individual cookies, which I filled with buttercream and ended up with final count of 25. It was way too many, so next time I’ll probably halve the recipe. Good news is that you can store the unfilled meringue cookies in an airtight container in a cool and dry place for couple of days and fill them later as needed. The buttercream is caramel based with hints of coffee, but you can use any buttercream that suits your fancy!

Whether you bake, make pottery, sing, or jog, may we be able to make this year truly happy for ourselves. Here’s to 2016!

img-2015-12-15-1232

Meringue Sandwich Cookies with Caramel Coffee Buttercream Filling (Laskonky)

 Cookies:
  • 6 egg whites, room temperature
  • pinch salt
  • ÂĽ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 330 g (11.5 oz.) white sugar
  • 160 g (5.5 oz.) finely ground walnuts (pecans)
  • 100 g (3.5 oz.) powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour (if you want to make the cookies gluten-free, use gluten-free flour mix in the same quantity)
  • pinch baking powder
Caramel Coffee Buttercream Filling:
  • 6 tablespoons white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 250 ml (8 oz., 1 cup) half-and-half or whole milk; divided
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon instant coffee
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 10 g (0.4 oz.) cornstarch
  • 230 g (8 oz., 2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

img-2015-12-15-1227

Method:
  1. To make the cookies: Line two big baking sheets with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 265 °F (130 °C).
  2. Put egg whites with the salt and cream of tartar in a bowl, and then place the bowl over a pot with small amount of boiling water. Whisk the egg whites over the water bath gradually adding granulated white sugar until very firm peaks form, about 15 minutes. (I transferred the egg white mixture after 15 minutes into a bowl of my stand mixer and whisked it on a high speed for a couple more minutes to achieve a very stiff consistency.) You want the egg white mixture to be very firm, so it won’t thin out after adding the ground nuts. This way, the cookies will be easier to form as well.
  3. Combine  finely ground nuts, powdered sugar, flour, and baking powder, and carefully fold them into the egg white mixture. Use a spatula and take care not to deflate the egg whites.
  4. When using the special cookie making tool for laskonky, spray the bottom side with a cooking spray and place it onto the parchment lined baking sheet. Place about 1.5 tablespoons of meringue batter into each opening, pressing it down lightly. Level off excess batter with a knife and then carefully lift the form off, so that the cookies can fall off onto the parchment paper. Wash the form, spray it with the cooking spray again and continue making the cookies until you use up all the meringue batter. Alternatively, make the cookies with an icing bag or a tablespoon forming a small mounds and flattening them slightly.
  5. Place the cookies into the preheated oven and bake them for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes lower the temp to 176 °F (80 °C) and let them dry out slowly in a warm oven until very firm to the touch, about 30 minutes. When they are done, you should be able to easily peel them off the parchment paper. If they don’t seem to be dry enough, give them a couple more minutes in the warm oven. Let the cookies cool completely before filling.
  6. While the cookies are baking/cooling, prepare the Caramel Coffee Buttercream: Place 6 tablespoons of granulated sugar into a deeper pan. Add 2 tablespoons water and let the sugar mixture cook, not stirring, until the water evaporates and the sugar turns nice golden color. Watch the sugar closely so it doesn’t burn.
  7. Take the caramel off the heat and carefully pour in 200 ml (6.5 oz.) half-and-half (milk). The mixture will sizzle and the caramel will crystallize. Place the milk-caramel mixture over a low heat and cook, stirring constantly, to melt the caramel again. Add in the vanilla extract and the coffee.
  8. Combine cornstarch, 2 egg yolks, and remaining 50 ml (1.5 oz.) half-and-half (milk) until smooth. Combine the egg yolk-cornstarch-milk mixture with couple of tablespoons of hot caramel milk to temper it, and then add the warmed up egg yolk-cornstarch-milk mixture to the caramel coffee milk. Cook the mixture over a low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens, about 3 minutes. Let the caramel coffee pudding cool to room temperature before proceeding.
  9. Whip the soft butter until light and fluffy. By tablespoons add in the cooled caramel coffee pudding, whipping constantly, to make a light smooth crème.
  10. To assemble the cookies, sandwich two meringue cookies with about 2 tablespoons of caramel coffee crème and serve.