Baked with local honey for extra flower power, the damp crumb and caramelised crust of this humble cake will win your heart
Honey is one of (perhaps the only) food that never goes off - in that regard, it is beyond seasonality and can be stored for long periods without ill effect. But spring is the moment when Australian bees emerge from their winter lull, and as the early flowers burst - the jasmine and the wattle and the flowering gums - bees can be seen burrowing for pollen in the luscious petals that have evolved to attract them.
I spoke with Robert, who runs a lovely Bee Sustainable shop in East Brunswick, Melbourne, which sells among other things beautiful local honey. You can bring your own container and buy it by weight, and by its floral source: yellow box, leatherwood, blackberry, banksia, grey box, mallee gum and so on. The banksia honey has the most wonderful soft flavour and is a light, golden colour, a stark contrast to leatherwood that's dark, strong and candy.
We used yellow mallee for this recipe, a honey recently collected from the warm north west of Victoria, a region famous for its wildflowers. Robert says: "Honey is usually collected from bee hives from October through to March. After that, as the bees collect less, none is usually taken (there are exceptions) until spring arrives."
Bees may still work all winter, if the weather is warmer than 10 or 11°C, but don't usually have excess to be robbed until spring. It is really worthwhile searching out a supplier of specialty local honey rather than the mass produced stuff you get from the supermarket - the difference in flavour is astronomical.
This recipe for honey cake was given to us by a family friend. I first had a slice at a Rosh Hashanah celebration this time last year, a feast in honour of the Jewish new year. There was an array of fancies on offer, but it was this humble cake that caught my heart. It smells divine, has a beautiful, damp crumb and a caramelised crust. A wonderful cake for afternoon tea, or for a decadent breakfast slice.
1 ½ cup of sugar
¾ cup of vegetable oil
3 organic free-range eggs
½ tsp vanilla essence
1 ½ cup self raising flour
1 ½ cup plain flour
1 ½ tsp bi-carbonate
3 tbsp cocoa
1 ½ cups of hot water
Preheat the oven to 177C/350F.
In an electric mixer, mix the wet ingredients on a high speed until the mixture is thick and smooth. In a separate bowl, mix the dry ingredients until well combined. Slowly fold the dry ingredients through the wet ingredients and then add 1 ½ cups of hot water mixing very slowly, on the lowest speed. Pour into a greased cake tin.
Bake for 50 minutes or until a skewer, inserted into the centre of the cake, comes out clean.
Honey cake: perfect for tea (or a decadent breakfast). Photograph: Lauren Bamford