Friday, January 04, 2008

Honey Cake (Page 705)

  • Date: Sunday, December 30, 2007 -- 7pm
  • Location: Westerville, OH
  • Kitchen: Karen and Dave's House
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Karen H, Dave, Brad, and Deniz
  • Recipe Rating: C-

I am running out of desserts in The Book that don't require either crazy ingredients (e.g. Lyle's Golden Syrup), crazy equipment (e.g. a kugelhopf pan, or coeur a la creme molds), or a crazy amount of time (e.g. 9 1/2 hours)! Basically the simple ones that are left are the ones that don't sound so good to me. For instance: honey cake. I know, I know, it doesn't sound bad from the name. I like honey. I love cake. It was the ingredient list that frightened me. It included a cup of honey, a half a cup of strong brewed coffee, and a shot of whiskey. Don't get me wrong, I like all those things. But together? My apprehensions were justified -- it didn't taste good. The texture was nice, and it was pleasantly moist. Basically all attributes were positive except the taste. Other people defended it (mainly out of politeness I am sure) but even Dave admitted that it had an unsettling "aftertaste." Everyone else ate it (again out of politeness most likely), Matty even had seconds (not out of politeness -- it just happens that he will eat anything), but I ate a few bites and then surrendered the rest to Matty. Some of you reading don't know me, but those that do can verify that I am not one to leave dessert on my plate. I usually enjoy just about anything sweet. This cake was bad though, so steer clear.

Here is the recipe.

Somebody asked me, over break, when I started cooking seriously. It got me thinking about graduate school. Doing research is simultaneously a very cushy and very frustrating job. On the one hand, you essentially set your own hours, going in to the department when you feel like it. You can work from your office, or home, or favorite coffee shop. You can work from 9-5 or in the middle of the night. You have a lot of flexibility. You can take vacations, travel to conferences, etc... Life is pretty relaxed. On the other hand, even with the best mathematicians, progress can be slow. You can work on a problem for weeks, or months, without making any progress. You can invest dozens of hours on a project only to realize you’ve made a mistake and it’s all wrong. I am the type of person who makes lists just so I can cross things off. I like being productive. I like endeavors where I can produce things. This is one of many appeals of cooking. As a college student I loved computer programming for the same reason: I could spend some number of hours writing code and then I had a program that could actually do something. It could play Boggle, or draw pictures, or compute fast Fourier transforms. I was so enamored by this production that it took me a whole summer of writing code for NASA to convince myself that I didn’t want to spend my life as a computer programmer.

In college, and early in graduate school, math too could feel productive in this way. It wasn’t the same as producing cakes, or computer games, but I could produce proofs. Each week I had problem sets and I could solve problems. It was satisfying. By my third year, the problem sets were gone. The constant onslaught of problems to solve had subsided. While I was essentially quite happy about this, it was the beginning of a whole new phase. Working on my own research the problems were harder. They took longer. The moments of satisfying productivity were fewer and further between. It was fascinating and rewarding in a whole different way, but it didn't feel productive. So, with increased drive and intensity, I began to cook in my spare moments. The rest, as they say, is history.


Magdalen said...

I can get you Lyle's Golden Syrup. The hubby & I are returning to Ol' Blighty in a week, so say the word and I'll ship some to the Math Department at UI. Okay, so yes, I can get it at my local supermarket (Wegman's -- the best, seriously), but that's so mundane. Offering to get it in England just seems fancier. Or like I'm a crazed stalker/fan. Either/or.

Teena said...

You're sweet! It turns out I actually found it at the grocery store here. Who knew?!? Apparently even though I have no idea what it is, it's not so uncommon..

Creative Cook said...

Neither is Honey Cake (not so uncommon). But it is as integral to some Eastern European celebrations (eg. Christmas Eve) as hamburgers are on the 4th of July. I know what you mean about the taste. But all the ingredients are luxe (and rather expensive) so I hope you didn't throw the leftovers away! It keeps for YEARS in the freezer, and tastes great in tiny cubes with ice cream. It makes yummy French toast (with Lyle's Golden Syrup - LOL), and is a delicious replacement for the pound cake layer in a glorious tiramisu, or baked in a breakfast strata with apples or cherries (fresh or preserves), and I used it once to make the best bread pudding base ever!

Teena said...

French toast made from honey cake! That sounds decadent -- and delicious! I wish I still had some of this honey cake left so I could try it.