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Chocolate Honey Cake

February 1, 2012

Every year at the beginning of January, I struggle with my inner baker.  Days of holidays just past – the seemingly endless buttery pie crusts and thick ganache-filled truffles – feel just a little too extravagant for these crisp days.  Even here in California, where the winter weather rarely dips below fifty degrees, the bare trees and brisk winds call out for something a little more peaceful.

The Thursday Farmers’ Market confirms.  The few strawberries that made it through the recent rains are green around the tops and a little too crisp.  The blueberries: too sweet and too soft.  The apples and pears, long since picked but still abundant from storage, sit quietly without calling out any inspiration.  That’s when I spot it.  The lone tent that sits out of line with the others, radiating a sunny sweetness that speaks to any season: honey.

If you are unfamiliar with the delights of raw honey, I’m sorry to inform you that you are missing out.  No store-bought filtered honey can compare.  The diversity of subtle flavors and the uncompromising sweetness taste of liquid gold.  It’s an experience that will change your life – or at least your pantry.

Honey, as I said, is available year-round.  But it’s unfair to say it’s not seasonal.  This is because honey is made from the nectar of flowers which are themselves seasonal.  This results in an ever-changing flavor and texture that is completely unique from season to season and from year to year.

Take my local beekeeper, for instance.  In early February, Bill moves his bees to local almond groves to help with crucial pollination.  And though the almond flowers rarely produce enough honey to be harvested, he does the same thing with blueberries, orange groves, wild black button sage, buckwheat, and various other flowering plants throughout the year.  Right now, on the cusp of citrus season, orange blossom honey has been harvested into thick, waxy, amber-colored syrup that has a prominent floral flavor.  Lemon honey, much more rare, has a zingy lightness that echoes the fruit from whose flower it came.  Even the wildflower honey, which comes from no one plant in particular, has a distinct softness this time of year, completely unlike the exact same honey in spring, summer, or fall.  And just like a good coffee or wine, these subtle differences in flavor can be best appreciated when paired with other flavors that compliment them.

That’s why I chose to make this chocolate-honey cake with orange-blossom honey.  The orange-chocolate combination is a classic one, and while the orange flavor here is incredibly subtle, the cake itself is simple, sweet, and delicate.  Just what the weather called for.

Chocolate Honey Cake
Adapted from Nigella Lawson


4 oz. good dark chocolate, broken into even-sized pieces
1 ⅓ cups light brown sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) soft butter
½ cup orange blossom honey
2 eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp cocoa
1 tsp salt
½ cup warm milk
½ cup freshly brewed hot coffee
¼ cup water
½ cup orange blossom or other honey
6 oz. good quality dark chocolate, broken into even-sized pieces
⅔ cup powdered sugar


Take the butter and eggs out of the fridge at least a half hour before beginning this cake, to allow them time to come to room temperature.  If you forgot to do this, and are in a hurry, soften the butter in the microwave on 15-second intervals until it is soft but not melted, and place the eggs in a bowl of warm (but not hot!) water.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, and butter and line a 9-inch spring-form pan.

Place the chocolate for the cake in a glass bowl.  Fill a small saucepan with 1” of water and bring to a simmer.  Turn the heat to low and place the bowl over the water to melt the chocolate.  Stir occasionally until the chocolate is completely melted.  Set aside to cool slightly.

In a liquid measuring cup, combine hot coffee and milk.  In a medium-sized bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, cocoa powder, and salt.  Set both aside.  In a larger bowl, beat together the sugar and butter until they are fluffy.  Add the honey and beat until well combined.  Next add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Gently fold in the melted chocolate.  Alternatingly add the dry ingredients and coffee mixture and stir until just combined.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 80-90 minutes.  Be aware- the honey in the batter may begin to caramelize quickly and burn!  Make sure to check the cake every 15 minutes, starting 45 minutes through, and cover the cake with aluminum foil if it begins to get too dark.   Let the cake cool completely in the tin on a rack.

To make the glaze, bring the water and honey to a boil in a small saucepan, then remove from heat and add the chocolate, stirring to fully melt. Let cool for a few minutes, then add the powdered sugar and whisk until smooth.  The glaze will remain very runny, and won’t set completely for several hours, so use caution when pouring.  To avoid an ugly mess, cut four pieces of wax paper and place them just under the edges of the cake so that none of the plate is left uncovered. Pour over the very center of the cake, pushing and spreading outward until the glaze tips over the edges.  After the glaze has finally set, gently pull the sheets of paper out from under the cake and voila! Clean cake stand!

• • • • • •

Some notes on Buying and Storing Honey:

Good honey is raw honey.  Filtered honey (Like the ever popular Sue Bee) is cleaned of particles, making it more shelf-stable and brilliantly transparent.  But at the same time, it loses the vast majority of the bee pollen that makes honey, well, honey.  The subtle flavors and textures are simply not present in filtered honey the way they are in raw honey.  That being said, raw honey may crystalize faster than purified honey.  If this happens don’t throw it out!!  Crystallization does not mean that the honey has gone bad, and often results in a creamy, spreadable concoction that will work just as well in recipes or on breakfast foods!  If you really want your honey liquid, immerse the (sealed!) bottle in hot water for a half hour or so.  The heat will help the honey to return to its liquid state.  Beware, however, that too much heating and cooling of honey can cause it to lose its flavors and aromas (part of the reason purified honey is so…uninteresting!)

Go local!  This has less to do with flavor (there are whole worlds of flavor waiting to be discovered from imported honeys) and more to do with health benefits.  Local honey naturally contains local pollen, which when consumed regularly can actually give relief to allergy sufferers over time!

Store honey carefully, and it can last for several years.  Honey should be stored at room temperature- Excessively hot environments can cause it to lose flavor, while excessively cold environments can cause it to crystallize faster.  Honey should also be stored in a dry place.  Water reacts with the honey and eventually turns it rancid, so honey that has made contact with water should be used right away.  Even water in the air can affect the honey, so make sure the lid stays on tight!

To read more about what makes raw local honey so great, visit

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Chuck Barth permalink
    February 4, 2012 12:15 pm


    Great to find this beautiful beginning. After being restricted to small samples of your eloquent baking at the Peet’s Coffee tastings, this will be a chance to dive head first into your recipes for special occasions.

    When you run out of Bill’s honeys let me know and we’ll share some of our backyard bees honey with you.

    • February 6, 2012 6:14 pm

      Chuck- I’m so glad you found my blog! Honey is a serious staple in my pantry- I make sure I never run out! But I am always up for some backyard bounty. Next time you’re heading over for some coffee, bring a sample. My fiance and I would love it.

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