Ever since coming across Thalia Ho’s blog Butter & Brioche just over a year ago, it’s been one of my absolute favourite dessert blogs. She has such a talent for unique and intriguing flavour combinations that just get me every single time she posts a new recipe! Her sweet creations are always delicate and refined, with an air of restraint and elegance I rarely come across on dessert blogs. I adore her style and photography as well, and love reading her posts…after a few comments back and forth, we’ve become quite good “friends” in the blogosphere.
When she told me she was coming to Sydney for a short visit and wants to finally meet up in the real 3D world, I couldn’t contain my excitement! We’ve been wanting to catch up in person ever since we discovered each other, and talked often about getting together for a day of baking and cooking and all things blogging, and so last week…we did just that!
Thalia happens to love both French as well as middle eastern flavours, and I have ALWAYS wanted to attempt making a proper, multi-layered naked cake but was a tad too scared to venture into it all by myself…so we brainstormed and came up with this out-of-this-world creation that combined all of the above. It could not have been more perfect!
Layers of deeply golden sponge cake get their colour and gorgeous caramel flavour from a brilliant new discovery (at least for me it is!)…THIS STUFF:
It is a simple creation, but imparts such an incredible complexity of flavour to the cake. Honey gets heated up until just beginning to boil, then baking soda is added, which makes it froth up like crazy. Now, I’ve made honeycomb candy with sugar and golden syrup before, but never with real honey. The difference is that after frothing up, the sugar honeycomb sets into a super crunchy and brittle candy that you can break up into splinters and munch on, whereas the honey-based honeycomb doesn’t set at all. It just becomes darker and richer in colour, and more caramel-like and viscous in consistency, and so can be added to batters or used as a sauce.
In this case, we added it to both the cake batter – which was the smoothest, most velvety, airy batter EVER btw! I wanted to DIVE into the bowl, and ate way more raw batter than I care to admit- as well as the frosting, for an ultra rich caramel-honey hit. It’s pretty amazing how deeply amber and almost saffron-coloured it gets, and how different and more complex it tastes compared to the honey in its natural state…I’m pretty sure I’ll be obsessively adding this to EVERYTHING from now on!
To make the frosting more interesting, we also added a bit of pink Himalayan salt, as well as a generous dose of orange blossom water for the perfect sweet-salty-fragrant combination. I just kept going back in for taste after taste after taste of this stuff…it’s quite irresistible!
While we waited for the cakes to cool down so that we can ice them, I made a batch of vibrantly green and crispy Egyptian falafel (called Taameyya) for a quick lunch, which we ate in pita sandwiches with fresh sliced tomatoes and cucumber, and a delicious lentil hummus that Thalia made and brought with her. I even managed to quickly take some pretty decent photos (thank you Thalia for being such an amazing model! please move closer? LOL), so the recipe for those falafels will most definitely be coming to the blog very soon, most probably in Ramadan (which is starting in less than two weeks!! WHAA??).
To top our lovely cake off, we went for a stroll to my local florist and picked up these ever-so-softly dusty peach-coloured roses and a bunch of always pretty ‘baby’s breath’ flowers. I think they compliment the cake gorgeously!
The final cake was nothing short of heaven. I’m trying very hard to be humble about it here, but seriously it was the best cake I’ve ever made. My husband and I demolished our half in under 24 hours, and are already craving more! It has such a tender crumb, with lovely complex flavours from the honeycomb, salt and orange blossom water that make the cake so well balanced and not too sweet, which I find can often be the case with frosted layer cakes. This will become a special occasion favourite in our house for sure!
I absolutely adored working in the kitchen with the lovely Thalia, and am so grateful for her patiently teaching me everything there is to know about making such stunning cakes. We had the best day baking and cooking and chatting endlessly together, and I feel I have so much more confidence now to make show-stopping layer cakes for any (and every) occasion, like I’ve always wanted to! Woohoo!!
There’s just nothing quite like collaborating with fellow creatives who share a love and appreciation for food, writing, photography and stories, and connecting over these mutual interests is always something incredibly special. I hope to be doing much more of this in the future here on Matters of the Belly!
- FOR THE CAKE:
- • 115g honey
- • 1 tsp. baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)
- • 200g unsalted butter at room temp.
- • 200g caster sugar
- • 3 eggs at room temp.
- • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- • 315g plain flour
- • ½ tsp. baking powder
- • ½ tsp. salt
- • 185ml whole milk
- FOR THE ICING:
- • 60g honey
- • ½ tsp. baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)
- • 170g unsalted butter at room temp.
- • 100g icing sugar
- • ¼ tsp. fine salt (I used pink Himalayan salt)
- • ½-3/4 tsp. orange blossom water
- Preheat oven to 180 C (350F)
- Butter three 18cm (7 inch) round cake pans and line the base and sides with baking paper. Set aside.
- Make the cakes: Place the honey in a medium saucepan over medium heat, and cook until it just begins to boil. Turn off the heat and add the 1 tsp. of baking soda, and whisk well to make sure there aren’t any lumps. The honey with bubble and froth like crazy! If it looks like it will overflow from the saucepan, just bang it gently against the stove or counter to release some of the air bubbles. Set aside to cool.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugar for 5 minutes on high, until light and creamy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition on medium until incorporated. Stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed. Add the vanilla and beat till combined. Add the cooled honey syrup and beat till combined.
- In a separate bowl, sift together the flour , baking powder and salt. Add half of the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat on low until combined, followed by half the milk. Repeat with the second half of the flour and the milk. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula, then beat the batter on high for a final minute to ensure everything is well mixed.
- Divide the batter between the three prepared pans and spread it out and smooth out the surface with a spatula. Bake in preheated oven on the middle rack for 18-20 minutes, until deep golden brown and risen, and a skewer inserted in the centre of each cake comes out clean. Don’t open the oven door to check on the cakes before at least 16 minutes have gone by to avoid deflation.
- Remove the cakes from the oven and leave the pans to cool slightly for 10 minutes, before removing the cakes from the pans and placing them on a wire rack to cool completely.
- While the cakes cook/cool, make the icing: Again, place the honey in a small saucepan and heat on medium until it just begins to boil, then turn of the heat, add the baking soda and whisk well. Set aside to cool completely.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter for 3-5 minutes until softened and light. Drizzle in the cooled honey syrup and beat till well mixed. Sift the icing sugar well to ensure no lumps, then add to the butter mixture a tablespoon at a time while beating on low. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, dd the salt and orange blossom water, then turn up the mixer and beat on high for a further 3-5 minutes until fluffy, well mixed and smooth.
- Assemble the cake: Once the cakes are completely cooled, use a cake leveller (if you have one) or a serrated knife (that’s what I used) to remove the domed tops of the cakes to make them flat.
- Place a dab of icing on your preferred dish or cake stand, then place the first cake, bottom side down, onto it. Dollop approximately 3 tbsp. of icing onto the centre of the cake, and use an offset spatula to spread it out evenly all the way out to the edge of the cake.
- Place the second cake, bottom side down, directly onto the icing and repeat with another 3 tbsp. of icing.
- Place the third and final cake, bottom side UP (so that it is totally flat on top), and dollop another 3 tbsp. of icing on top. Use the spatula to spread it out very thinly, leaving parts of the cake barely covered to peek through, removing excess icing as needed.
- To ice the sides, dab on small amounts of icing along the sides of the cake, then start spreading them out as you rotate the cake stand until everything is smooth, without adding too much as to completely cover the cakes. You can take some off with the spatula as you go around if the icing is too thick; you want bits of the dark cake to peek through! After finishing the icing, I recommend placing the whole cake in the fridge for just 10-15 minutes to firm it all up a bit and avoid any slanting issues, especially if the weather is hot.
- Decorate the top of the cake with flowers of your choice, and serve! This cake keeps well, covered in the fridge for up to 3 days. Just take it out an hour or so before eating to soften up the icing again.
Recipe for the cake adapted from Love, Cake.