Thursday, April 1, 2010

Baking hits and misses

I, like many other bakers before me, have had my share of baking misses; especially during hectic holiday seasons. That's when everything seems to go wrong. Why? Perhaps it's the expectation of baking marvellous and exciting goodies during those times or simply it may be the fact that I get fed up with food, desserts and my crazy oven, that I can't "perform" as well as I'm able to. Who knows? But this holiday time is by far no exception.

It all started last week when I wanted to bake Easter cookies. Being away from home and needing to feel like Easter is really almost here, I yearned for the smell of cookies to fill my apartment. After coloring my Easter eggs, Smyrneika cookies, a traditional kind of Greek Easter cookies, were my cookies of choice to bake. I prepared them anxiously and enthusiastically and put them in the oven. But the baking time in the recipe I had was completely off and I ended up burning my first batch. I wasn't surprised. I persevered and I baked the next batch, but this time I was watching the oven like a hawk and happily, they came out perfect. Crumbly and buttery and smelling divine. I know I'm teasing you now, since I'm not offering you the recipe for these, but I promise I will soon.

Moving on, this week, the Holy Week, a tsoureki (a sweet, brioche-like traditional Greek Easter bread) was due. And not any tsoureki, I'm talking about my grandmother's tsoureki. The best of all times. She has given me her famous recipe two years ago but it always ended up a disaster when I made it. So, when I was in Greece last Christmas, I decided to be proactive. I had her show me how it's done. I bought the ingredients and I made her prepare it for my sake. I watched her mixing the ingredients, kneading the dough, resting it, baking the glorious bread, the whole thing. I jotted down everything, every seemingly insignificant detail of whatever she was doing. And let me tell you, that was not an easy task since my grandmother cooks and bakes with no recipe. She just follows her much exercised instinct, measuring everything by using her eyes ("me to mati" as we say in Greek) and not any cups or spoons, making it practically impossible to succeed in making one of her recipes, unless you watch exactly how she does it.

The little honey bees want to fly away...

Armored with that priceless experience of witnessing the preparation of The tsoureki, I was determined that this upcoming Easter I would make my best tsoureki ever. Well, surprise surprise. Alas, this year my tsoureki was worse than ever. Perhaps you couldn't exactly tell by looking at it, unless you're an experienced baker that is (or not), but it was stiff, doughy, flavorless, not risen, it was awful. I was so disappointed. I was genuinely sad.

I decided right then and there that I would bake something completely different, something that would hopefully be a success and I found it. Forget about chocolate eggs and chocolate bunnies this Easter, have a chocolate honey bee cake! Isn't it cute? When I first saw this recipe I was completely taken by the little bees adorning the top of the chocolate cake. I had to make it. It instantly made me think of spring and since it is (almost) here, this is the right cake to bake. This is a hit!

Needless to say, this is the perfect cake for chocoholics. I bet there are many of you out there and I am definitely a member of the club. Dark chocolate and cocoa powder, what a fantastic duo. They both render their beautiful deep chocolaty flavor to the cake and along with the honey and muscovado sugar they make it a real treat for children and adults alike. It may be April Fool's Day today but this is no lie.

The real Dutch dutch-processed cocoa

This is a very moist and dense cake with a glaze that is thick and a bit sticky from the honey. It clings to your tongue a little bit, taking your taste buds for a sweet ride. This is not a cake for the faint-hearted. It is adapted from Nigella Lawson after all. You'll need a lot of exercise to burn off those calories after having eaten it, but it is worth it.

You can surely leave the bees out for a slicker looking cake or you can make fruit or other shapes using the marzipan. You may alternatively cover the cake with dark chocolate shavings for the complete chocolate experience. No matter what kind of decoration you choose make sure to use your imagination.
Oh, and wouldn't this be the best cake for a child's birthday party?

Honey Bee Chocolate Cake with Sticky Chocolate Glaze
Adapted from Nigella Lawson

It is really important to use good quality chocolate for this cake. It makes all the difference. I chose Lindt dark 70% chocolate which has a supremely bitter flavor.

Yield: 1 cake, 10-12 slices


for cake
225 g butter, softened, plus extra for greasing the pan
100 g dark 70% good quality chocolate, cut into pieces
125 ml runny clear honey
275 g light muscovado sugar
3 medium-sized eggs
300 g all-purpose flour, sifted
1 tsp baking soda, sifted
2 Tbsp Dutch-processed cocoa powder, sifted
500 ml boiling water

for sticky glaze
200 g dark 70% good quality chocolate, cut into pieces
150 ml runny clear honey
100 g icing sugar, sifted
80 ml water

for honey bees
40 g marzipan
2 drops yellow food coloring
16 blanched flaked almonds or almond halves


for cake
Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius.

Butter a 26 cm round spring-form pan and line it with baking paper.

Melt chocolate in a glass bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water. Set aside and let cool slightly.

In a large bowl, beat with a hand-held mixer the sugar with the softened butter until light and creamy. Then add the honey and beat for 1 minute. Add 1 egg beating it in with 1 Tbsp of the sifted flour. Then add another egg with another Tbsp of flour and then the third egg with another Tbsp of flour. Beat well.
Fold the melted chocolate in the mixture with a rubber spatula and then add the rest of the flour followed by the baking soda and cocoa powder and pour the boiling water on top. Beat the mixture very well with the mixer. You will end up with a runny batter. Pour it into the spring-form pan.

Place pan on the lower rack of the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Then move pan to the middle rack of the oven and bake for further 30-40 minutes or until when inserting a knife in the middle of the cake it comes out clean.

Note: After a total of 35-40 minutes of baking has passed, check the cake and if it's catching on top, cover it with aluminum foil so it doesn't burn.

Take cake out of the oven, place on a wire rack and when it has slightly cooled, take it out of the pan and let it cool completely on the wire rack.

for sticky glaze
In a small saucepan, pour water and honey and bring to the boil over high heat. Turn off the heat and add the chocolate pieces. Stir gently the chocolate around with a rubber spatula until it melts. It will have an almost grainy texture. Leave it for a few minutes and then whisk the mixture. It will become glossy. Add the sifted icing sugar and whisk vigorously until you have a smooth and shiny glaze.

Glazing the cake
Choose the plate or stand where you'll place your cake, cut four thick strips of baking paper and form a square outline on the plate. This will ensure that your plate or stand will not be covered with glaze when you pour it over your cake.
Place the completely cooled cake on the plate and pour over the glaze, saving some of it in the pan, and evening it out with a palate knife, letting it run over the edges. Smooth the edges and let it set. It will take about 2-3 hours for the glaze to completely set. Once it has set, carefully slide out the baking paper strips.

for honey bees
You can prepare the marzipan using this recipe. This will yield quite a lot of marzipan so you can use the rest for making small chocolates or save it for another dessert.
In a small bowl, place the 40 g of marzipan and pour two drops of yellow food coloring. Knead the marzipan so that it becomes a bright yellow color. Cut the marzipan into 8 pieces and shape little bees.
Dig two flaked almonds or almond halves in the sides of each bee gently and using the left over sticky glaze and with the help of a toothpick, paint stripes on the back of the bees and eyes at the front.
Place your honey bees on top of the cake.

Serve cake and enjoy!

It keeps for 2-3 days, covered, at room temperature. If you bake this at summertime, store it in the refrigerator.



  1. Sorry to hear that your tsoureki didn't turn out as you expected. The chocolate cake looks scrumptious and those bees so cute. Kalo Pascha kai Kali Anastasi.

  2. Και τα δικά μου τσουρέκια παρ' όλιγο να έχουν την ίδια τύχη.
    Αλλά το σοκολατένιο σου γλυκό δείχνει υπέροχο! Καλό Πάσχα!

  3. Ivy, thank you! Kali Anastasi kai Kalo Pasxa!

    Μαριάνα σ' ευχαριστώ! Καλό Πάσχα!

  4. Καλό Πάσχα και Καλή Ανάσταση Μάγδα!Υποθέτω κάνετε κι εκεί που είσαι, ε?
    Υγεία κι ευτυχία!
    Και το σοκολατένιο γλυκό τέλειο, μου αρέσουν όλα αυτά ζουμερά σοκολατένια!

  5. Αθηνά σ' ευχαριστώ πολύ για τις ευχές σου! Κάνουμε κι εδώ Πάσχα :) Καλή Ανάσταση και Καλό Πάσχα σου εύχομαι με υγεία!

  6. Και εσείς Μάγδα??
    Το γλυκό είναι απλά θεικό!:):)

  7. What a gorgeous cake. I love the marzipan honeybees. They're so cute!!

    Enjoy your evening!


  8. I love chocolate and I did a chocolate cake simmilar to this one not too long ago wich turned out gorgeous but so filling I had to share it !!!!LOL and that for me is very rare. Me? sharing my chocolate? no way!!! But this tipe of cake are allways so filling and rewarding after a few bites that you have to show off how nice they are!!!
    I will definatelly give this recipe a go my next day off work!!! I am feeling all chocolatey now :D

  9. If it is any consolation- I was in charge of the spanokopita for my husband's family's Greek Easter. I had it perfectly setup- and my father-in-law was in charge of baking it while we were out- and burnt it to a crisp... I love that Nigella cake- is that from the Feast cookbook? Her Guinness chocolate cake is to die for in that book....

  10. Μάγδα, σ' ευχαριστώ!

    Nisrine, thank you! :)

    Sirena Varada, I don't like sharing my chocolate cake either that's why I always make sure we have more than enough around :)

    Melange a Trois, oh no, burnt spanakopita, what a shame! I got the recipe from a magazine, I don't know if it's included in one of her books.

  11. The chocolate cake looks sinfully delicious. Glad it worked out. Love the little bees!

  12. That cake looks absolutely adorable! I love the bees on top ... and the chocolate seems so decadent. We've all been there with kitchen disasters and you're right, it seems to fall on/around the hlidays or especially when I am having people over because ... I never ever learn my lessona nd always try to make something new isntead of sticking to a recipe that is tried and true!

  13. Nigella's cake! I made it as well as soon as I saw it, it is one of the cutest cakes I've ever done! She is a certaintly - none of her sweet recipes ever failed to me and actually most of them are so easy and surprisingly good. Great place to turn to when you are out of luck with your baking.
    Actually, can I just highlight that this cake tastes a lot also of honey? It is very good, but if you are not a huge honey fan you should be warned!

  14. This looks like the sweetest dream of a cake. I love how simple it looks, but alluring...even without the bee's. And the bees, they are rather cute and curious. They make the cake look even sweeter.

  15. El, thanks! :)

    Maria, I do that also when I have people over. Try new recipes that sometimes don't work out.

    Caffettiera, I actually didn't find the honey flavor to be too powerful. Perhaps it has to do with the type of honey. I used one from Greece which was not very strong.

    Tracy, thank you :)

  16. Love, love, love the bees and the cake looks gorgeous and decadent!

  17. those little bees are soo very cute!
    looks very chocolatey indeed.

  18. Thanks for dropping by Cathie! Hope to see you back soon