Grimbeorn’s Honey Cakes

Beorning Honey Cakes.

Recipe first, then I'll talk about it after the jump.

1 cup warm water
2 1/4 teaspoons yeast
1 stick plus 2 tablespoons room-temperature butter
1 cup honey
3 eggs
1 tablespoon heavy cream
3 cups flour, King Arthur White or alternative
1 tablespoon salt

First, dissolve the yeast in the warm water and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, cream the butter and honey together, whipping in plenty of air. We're going to use both air and yeast to create a cake-like texture. Add the yeast-water and combine so that the yeast can begin digesting some of the honey.

Whip in the eggs one at a time, at first slowly until combined, and then very briskly to add more air. Add the heavy cream at this time and whip as if it were another egg.

Add the flour and salt, stirring until combined and then whipping one more time. Allow to rise in a warm, undisturbed place for at least an hour before baking. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat your oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. 

You will get a batter rather than a kneadable dough, so it will be transferred for baking with a scoop or spoon. I used my æbleskiver pan for this, but you could bake them as whole cakes or muffins as well. Bake at this low temperature, so as not to burn the honey, until they are fully golden brown on the top. Baking times will vary by altitude -- I am on the shoulders of a mountain here -- but it should be under an hour if you make cakes like these, more if you make a single cake. You'll have to keep an eye on it to be sure; don't pull it out too soon. Make sure it's turned yellow and then gold, and darkened just a little bit. That will ensure they are thoroughly cooked but not dry.

UPDATE: I had batter left over so I covered it and let it mature overnight, then baked another batch this morning. Due to the extra time the yeast had with the honey they are significantly lighter and fluffier, and while they are less strongly honeyed, the butter flavor pops through better now. Therefore, for best results I recommend setting the batter the night before and baking in the morning. You’ll get hot honey cakes for breakfast. 

UPDATE: I am reminded of John Wayne's Hondo, in which the female lead at one point says that she 'has to set the batter for the morning.' It must have been a yeast batter like this, to ensure good hotcakes over the morning fire. 

The end product is a simple cake with a strong honey flavor, lighter than the Twelfth Night Cake (Beorning Honey Cake Experiment #2) because of the yeast and whipping. It's got a finer texture than the Ætena Hlaf (Beorning Honey Cake Experiment #1) because I finally decided to use white flour. White flour is authentically medieval, as discussed in those experiments, at least for the upper class of Vikings and the later Medievals; Beorn eventually became 'a great chief,' and his son Grimbeorn the Old certainly was one at the time of the War of the Ring. You can substitute whole wheat flour if you wish at the same amount, but add a bit more water or cream if you do. 

However, the next part of this is to dry some of the cakes in the dehydrator (see discussion of "biscuit" as progenitor at Further Research on Honey Cakes) in order to see how it tastes dried in a slow oven, and then how long it will store. Some research on this suggests that breads can have a shelf life of up to 50 years(!). However, this is not "cake," but hard tack, the Tolkien equivalent of which is cram. These are meant to be good to eat, not merely a survival food. Both butter and honey have preservative qualities, but both also greatly reduce the shelf life compared with hard tack. (The final straw in whether or not to use whole wheat flour, too, was that the fats inherent to the whole grain reduce storage life further: if you want to make cram, use white flour.)

You could do a lot more with this basic recipe that would make it a suitable festival cake. This version is designed to be simple, so that Beorn (or a wonderous animal companion) could bake it every day without a great deal of trouble. Adding dried fruits like blueberries would be a great addition; you could also add spices like nutmeg and cloves, or extracts like vanilla or almond. 

Happy baking!

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