Roman Honey Cakes
Roman Honey Cakes
- 3 large eggs
- 200g (7ounces) of clear runny "pouring" honey
- 50g (2 ounces) of spelt flour (preferred) or ordinary plain white flour
Note: Spelt flour is made from an ancient strain of wheat introduced to the UK by the Romans. It tends to be quite coarsely ground.
- Heat your oven to 170º C or 330º F or Gas mark 3.
- Beat the eggs vigorously until quite stiff, creating lots of air bubbles in the process. Gradually add the honey into the mixture as it thickens.
Cook's tip: For ease in the modern kitchen, we advise using a stab mixer.
- Gently fold in the sifted flour then pour the mixture into a greased cake tin. Place in the preheated oven.
Cook's tip: The actual time needed to cook your honey cake will depend on the size of the cake tray you have used. Small and deep will take considerably longer than large and shallow. On average, the cooking time is about 45 to 55 minutes
- Have a very quick look after 40 minutes to make sure the cake isn't getting too brown and is starting to rise a little at the edges. The honey will give the cake a rich golden brown colour. Be careful not to let your cake burn.
Cook's tip: Make sure you do not open the oven door for any longer than absolutely necessary or the cake will subside.
- Remove cooked cake from tin straight away and place on a cooling rack for a few minutes before serving.
This cake is best served warm, fresh from the oven. Decorate liberally with even more drizzled honey!
We have made a number of these cakes and know that each comes out a little differently. Some are quite crumbly and others are a bit like bread pudding. They all taste great with lashings of extra honey.
The variations depend on differences in cooking time, tin size, temperature and thickness of the mixture.
Try taking notes as you make the cake to ensure you can replicate the process next time around or make adjustments to the recipe until you get it just right for your tastes.
The modern diet does not include spelt flour. It is tempting to eat these delicious cakes in abundance but we recommend savouring small portions at a time until you are used to the deceptive heaviness of this rich dish.
Above: the honey cake ready to eat
Honey: the sweetener of the past
Honey was the earliest universal sweetener. It was extremely popular in the periods leading up to the Middle Ages.
In addition to a pleasant flavour, honey is a tremendous source of energy and can lift flagging spirits and raise moral when days are cold and dark.
Honey is almost pure sugar. It ferments quickly and easily. Honey ale – otherwise known as Mead – has been popular for thousands of years.
The Romans were extremely fond of honey. They developed a wide range of applications for it including cookery, cosmetics and healing. In particular, they recorded a number of recipes for sweet sticky honey cakes such as the one we have here.
The Romans also recognised the benefits of honey as a primary base for alcoholic beverages. They made a wine and honey mead called Mulsum that was said to be good for the digestion and aid longevity.
In addition the Romans mixed honey, apples and water to make a non-alcoholic drink called Hydromel.
Until the end of the Middle Ages, honey was regarded as the best sweetener available in the UK. Other sweeteners, such as malted grains and fruit juices, did not have the versatility or taste of honey.
Honey's universal popularity waned when supply dwindled following the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII.
Before the dissolution, monks kept bees in abundance, primarily to make votive candles. Honey production was a valuable commercial by-product of the monks' candle wax industry.
The closure of many major religious institutions signalled the end of a constant supply of relatively cheap honey.
Post-reformation monks continued to produce many thousands of gallons each year but this was little in comparison to previous yields.
Honey never regained its pre-reformation popularity as the UK's sweetener of choice. Instead imported Cane sugar from the Mediterranean increasingly satisfied the British sweet tooth.
Remember that historic cookery is about having fun and experimenting until you achieve success.
Keep trying and you will be rewarded with a delicious taste of the past.