The solstice has come and gone. We celebrated it as we always have; a festival, a parade, a roaring fire and a collection of our own traditions.We spit into a cauldron, list what we want to change bury it in the frostbitten earth and jump over broom sticks for fertility. We roast pumpkins, bake chocolate cakes, brew Glühwein and wrap ourselves in woollens whilst praying for a flurry of snow to justify how cold we feel. Hot chocolate scalds your throat on the way down and you breath in the woodsmoke off your clothes. We all believe in something.
I was born on the solstice, I am a child of fog and mountains. Of crisp air, sideways rain and wind so biting if feels almost personal. I love the cool months. Autumn turning into winter. Winter morphing into spring. A return to longer daylight hours and bluer skies. Months of transition and change. This cake is the ideal food for devotees of winter, like myself. Or those who worship at an alter of chocolate. Or for Queen Bees, Beekeepers and apiculturists alike.
HONEY CHOCOLATE CAKE WITH CALVADOS ALMONDS AND BEES
FOR THE CAKE
- 100 grams dark chocolate (broken into pieces)
- 275 grams light brown sugar
- 225 grams soft butter
- 125 ml runny honey
- 2 large eggs
- 200 grams plain flour
- 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
- 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
- 250 ml boiling water
FOR THE GLAZE
- 60 ml water
- 125 ml runny honey
- 175 grams dark chocolate
- 75 grams icing sugar
FOR THE BEES
- 25 grams yellow marzipan
- 12 flaked almonds
FOR THE CALVADOS ALMONDS
- 100g flaked almonds
- 2 Tbsp caster sugar
- 1 Tbsp Calvados
- Let all the ingredients can come to room temperature. While that's happening, melt the chocolate from the cake part of the ingredients list in a good-sized bowl, either in the microwave or suspended over a pan of simmering water. Set aside to cool slightly.
- Preheat the oven to gas mark 4/180°C/350ºF, and butter and line a 23cm / 9 inch springform cake tin.
- Beat together the sugar and soft butter until airy and creamy. Add the honey, mix well. Add one of the eggs, beating it in with a tablespoon of the flour. Do the same with the other egg. Fold in the melted chocolate, and then the rest of the flour and the bicarbonate of soda. Sift in the cocoa and beat in the boiling water. (Can be done in a mixer all at once) Mix everything well to make a smooth batter and pour into the prepared tin. Cook for up to an hour and a half, though check the cake after 45 minutes and if it is catching cover the top lightly with foil and check every 15 minutes.
- Let the cake cool completely in the tin on a rack.
- While cooling make the glaze; bring the water and honey to a boil in a saucepan, then turn off the heat and add the finely chopped chocolate swirling it around to melt in the hot liquid. Leave it for a few minutes then whisk together. Sieve in the icing sugar and whisk again until smooth.
- For the almonds, set the oven to 170°C. Mix the nuts, sugar and Calvados together in a bowl then spread them out onto a lined baking tray. Toast in the oven for about 8-10 minutes or until golden brown. Keep an eye on them to ensure they brown evenly. When cool enough to touch, separate any clusters of almond and set aside to cool completely.
- Choose your plate or stand and cut out four strips of baking paper and form a square outline on the plate. This is so catch runoff icing. Unclip the tin and sit the thoroughly cooled cake on the prepared plate. Pour the icing over the cold chocolate cake and smooth it down the sides. While the glaze is still tacky but not fully set scatter almonds around the sides.
- Once the glaze is set, very gently slide out the strips of baking paper to reveal a clean plate. Keep the pan of icing, and don't wash it up, as you will need it to make the stripes on the bees.
- Divide the marzipan into six even pieces and shape them into fat, sausage-like bees' bodies, slightly tapered at the ends.
- Using a wooden skewer, paint stripes (and eyes if you want them to emote) with the leftover glaze. Very carefully attach the flaked almonds at an angle to make the bees' wings. Place onto the top of the cake.
Adapted from Nigella Lawson