One aspect of international living is the last minute cramming into your suitcase all and sundry items you wish to take back home with you to your country of residence, especially the stuff you can’t buy there (for example: vanilla extract). Our post-summer 2015 return trip to Riyadh was characterized by a frantic reshuffling at the United ticket counter because a few bags were over weight while a few were under.
My husband’s childhood home had been sold in August so he had not a few nostalgic pieces to bring with him, including old baseball cards, hand-knitted sweaters, and the most precious of it all: Point Reyes honey from the bee hives on his parents’ former property and long tended by a family friend. I am not exaggerating when I say we consider that honey akin to liquid gold, and I’m so glad we managed to bring home two very large jars.
To prevent myself from hoarding the honey it crystallizes, I’m attempting to use it up in a judicious fashion by stirring honey into batches of seedy granola, drizzling into tea, folding into banana
bread loaves and shellacking their tops with an additional smear before they slide into the oven. A honey cake is of course another perfectly lovely way to showcase a delicious year’s harvest.
For my daughter’s second birthday it felt right to bake her a cake fragrant with the honey created on those acres that indelibly marked a brief period of her childhood. If I experienced some nostalgic pangs
at how quickly her first 24 months slipped by they were easily absorbed by the sweetness of her birthday cake. How big she seems now! And yet still so small. How immediately I learned that there is no way to predict how the heart can expand to encompass another tiny human and each day I spend with her I find it expands even more.
And about that whole being in the moment concept – well, let’s just say that’s been my saving grace since she was born and what’s allowed me to fully appreciate these waning days of her babyhood. I can hardly believe how many words she carries in her mind or how articulate she’s becoming or how sturdily she marches to and fro. Baking, especially when she gets into the kitchen with me, helps keep me both grounded and nourished in mind and spirit.
My take on this honey cake calls for whole grain flours, coconut oil, applesauce, and honey and maple syrup. It’s warmly spiced with ground cinnamon and ginger and topped with sliced almonds. Moist and light, it’s honey’s perfect showcase. I dress it up for adults with softly whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream, but it’s especially lovely plain for little hands and appetites.
To make gluten-free, whisk together 1 cup oat flour, ½ cup sweet white rice flour, and ½ cup buckwheat flour + a teaspoon of ground flax seeds or use your favorite gluten-free flour blend. Using only whole wheat pastry flour also works here, though I love spelt flour’s light texture and unique flavor. If you need to keep vegan, swap an additional ½ cup maple syrup for the honey.
Makes 10 servings.
1/2 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 cup spelt flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup cool strong tea
1/2 cup sliced almonds (optional)
Heat oven to 350 F and grease a 9×9-inch square pan with coconut oil.
In a large bowl, whisk together the coconut oil and maple syrup until well combined. Whisk in the applesauce and apple cider vinegar.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the spelt and whole wheat pastry flours, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and salt.
Add the dry ingredients to the applesauce mixture alternately in three parts with the honey and the tea. Stir batter very well to combine.
Pour into the prepared pan, sprinkle with sliced almonds if using, and place in the oven and bake for about 30-35 minutes until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cake cool in pan about 20 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely (or just leave in pan and cut and serve directly).
Nicole Spiridakis is a writer and editor currently living in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, with her husband and daughter. Her first book, “Flourless. Recipes for Naturally Gluten-Free Desserts” was published in 2014. She writes about food at cucinanicolina.com.