I have a friend in Minnesota. The best treats come out of her kitchen. She and her family welcomed us warmly when we moved here (with pastries of course). She sent Hal a handmade doll before she ever entered the world. She writes a blog too. A stroll through it is like one long cathartic exhale—from her words to her images to the thoughtful excerpts. You probably know her too. Sarah from The Vanilla Bean Blog.
She’s packaged up all her hospitality (in the form of butter, sugar, and flour) into a beautiful book, The Vanilla Bean Baking Book, and given wings to the hashtag #bakeamericacakeagain. She must have known we would all need it. Her book dropped on the day of the election.
Late summer, I wrote a post about the cake my sister and I made for my brother’s wedding. I wrote about how we’re more alike than we think, especially between the first and last bite of cake. My psyche was preparing for it. The ground tremors, the smoke, the heat—all signals for something seismic. I think we all knew something was happening, no matter which hashtag we typed after our status updates.
In our marriage, things usually stew below the surface until they eventually erupt. And although I wince at the sign of an eruption, I know it’s out of the ashes and from the wake of that destruction that something better is born. I think (and I hope) that it’s true of us too.
A little over two weeks after the most divisive election in the US, we gather around a long table. The calendar is complicated like that. It’s certain to be a table heavy with hurts and celebrations too weighty for those IKEA legs to hold. Maybe two weeks is too soon. If so, add a cake to the table as a reminder of our similarities. Maybe Sarah’s Honey Bundt Cake. This honey spiced cake is like a warm hospitable hug.
We’re staying home for Thanksgiving (and Christmas) and having a tiny family celebration. We’ve scheduled one fun thing to look forward to a day—like dinner with friends, cutting down our Christmas tree, going to a play, and taking a carriage ride downtown. I’m really excited for the intentional slow pace of this holiday season, but I’m going to miss engaging with my family about the heated hard stuff. We’ve done a lot of talking (and crying) on the phone. I just wish it were over cake that gives out free hugs and says I’m sorry and I love you.
This cake from The Vanilla Bean Book is exceptionally moist and warm in flavor from the honey and spices. Sarah describes this cake as one that would have been served in J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth. I love her well read descriptions.
3 c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. grated nutmeg
3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/4 c. packed brown sugar
1 c. honey
5 large eggs, room temperature
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 tsp. lemon juice
1 c. buttermilk
3 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
5 tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 c. honey
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 c. confectioners’ sugar
Adjust the oven rack to the lower middle position. Preheat oven to 325°F. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube or bundt pan.
In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg,
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, beat the butter on medium until smooth. Add the granulated and brown sugars and beat on medium until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the honey and mix on medium until smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time and beat on medium until incorporated, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Add the vanilla and lemon juice and mix on low to combine. Add the flour mixture and mix on low until just combined. Slowly add the buttermilk and mix on low until just combined.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and use a spatula to even out the top. Bake 60 to 75 minutes, until a wooden skewer or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool for 20 minutes. Remove the cake from the pan and let finish cooling on the rack. Top the cooled cake with Honey Frosting.
For the Honey Frosting: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, beat the cream cheese and butter on medium until smooth. Add the honey, vanilla, and salt and mix on low until combined. Add the confectioners’ sugar and beat on low until combined, then increase the speed to medium and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes.
My notes: I halved this recipe and baked two 5-inch mini bundts, baking for 45-50 minutes. I added a couple tablespoons of milk to thin the frosting so that it would just barely hang down the sides of the cake before topping it with bee pollen.
This recipe is on page 105 of Sarah’s book. Bookmark the reversed creamed yellow cake on page 132, her rippled chocolate chip cookies on page 237, chocolate sugar cookies on page 246, and her cardamom braided knots on page 59. It’s a bit of a disservice to only call out a couple recipes, but I think once you try these, you’ll have the whole book dog-eared. Sarah, your book is a beautiful handbook to baking and hospitality.
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