Tag Archives: honey

Honey Olive Oil Almond Cake

Honey Almond Olive Oil Cake - Life Love FoodHoney Almond Olive Oil Cake - Life Love FoodHoney Almond Olive Oil Cake - Life Love Food

I have just recently come to terms with the fact that, for the biggest part of my life, I missed out on one of the most delicious things nature has to offer: honey. Unlike, say,  beetroot, which I continue to dislike no matter how much I try to masquerade it under thick layers of horseradish-injected dressings or to blend it into chocolate cake (I just can’t get past the very earthy flavour), my feelings towards honey have changed with me. They grew as I grew, from childhood to adolescence to adulthood, increasing and amplifying at every stage, spreading like a spoonful of oil on a smooth surface, slowly, unavoidably. And so, I gradually went from being the kid who couldn’t stomach a drop of it to the grown-up addict who eats her weight in liquid sugar, jar after jar after jar.

After years of refusal, I’m now making up for lost time by keeping my pantry well-stocked and varied at all times. And although I like to keep things interesting by trying new flavours and brands, I always tend to go back to the same, old trusted ones.

Orange blossom and acacia honey are my all-time favourites. I use them for drizzling, normally on toast, and often over a layer of fresh ricotta, but also over yoghurt, and porridge and other creamy things that can benefit from some sweetness. Saline honey from seaside locations (like miele di barena from the Venetian lagoon, still produced on the island of Sant’Erasmo) is my flavour of choice for dressings and marinades, either for mellowing down the bitter bite of radicchio or for glazing a roasted chicken. And then, citrus, chestnut and prairie honey I find wonderful to bake with – the former to fortify the freshness of a lemon cake; the second to give depth to sweet breads and fruit loaves; and the latter for everything in between.

Honey Almond Olive Oil Cake - Life Love FoodHoney Almond Olive Oil Cake - Life Love FoodHoney Almond Olive Oil Cake - Life Love Food

Baking with honey is something I came to late in life, but that I’m keen to explore with dedication from now on. What I learnt so far is that it doesn’t work with everything – that it can’t replace sugar every time. But whatever it goes with it turns into a wonderfully floral affair, powerful and yet discreet, sweet but subtle. A cake made with honey will be a little bit denser than your usual cake, but by no means will it be heavy. Its crumb will be close, but the texture will be tender. The batter will take an unfamiliar amount of liquid – less than you’d normally use – but never will this lead to a dry result. In fact, quite the opposite: it’ll be moist (that dreaded word we are told to avoid); and it will be moreish, and marvellous.

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Sesame Brittle (Cubbaita)

I’ve never been the best at presents, but I have, in time, become pretty skilled at edible presents, among which, this sesame brittle is one of the most popular.

Called croccante in Italian, it is a traditional Sicilian sweet, made especially during Christmas time. The name changes depending on the part of Sicily you stumble upon it: cubbaita in the East and giuggiulena in the West. I even found it to be called cubbaita di giuggiulena, combining the two words. Both are of Arabic origin (as Sicilian cuisine and culture have been deeply influenced by the Arabs): the former means ‘brittle’, the latter ‘sesame’. It is not uncommon to find this brittle on the stall of candy vendors in local fairs throughout the whole country, together with candied almonds, and marzipan/pistachio cookies. In fact, it was in such occasion (a local fair) that I came across it for the first time. It was love at first (sticky, crunchy) bite.

Cubbaita (Sesame Brittle)

I have seen many different recipes for this sweet: with a higher sugar to honey ratio, for a harder version, or vice versa for a chewier one; with only sesame, or with sesame and almonds; with orange zest (fresh or candied). I went for a medium-hard cubbaita, enriched with almonds like you would find in most places these days, but skipped the orange. I used this recipe as a reference.
100g light brown sugar
100g honey (thyme or other intensely aromatic variety)
250g sesame seeds
125g almonds with the skin, roughly chopped

Half a lemon

Before starting, line the surface where you will spread your brittle: it could be some marble (ideally), or a large baking tray with some parchment on it. If using marble, grease it lightly with some butter.

Now, heat the sugar and the honey together in a medium saucepan over low heat. When the sugar has melted, and the sauce is boiling, stir in the sesame, and quickly combine into the hot syrup. Keep stirring for five-six minutes, until the sesame is toasted and fragrant. At this point, incorporate the almonds and stir for one more minute.

Spread the sill hot (careful!) seed mixture over the lined surface. When flattened, place a sheet of parchment on top, and finish spreading using a rolling pin. You are aiming at 3-4mm-thick here. Remove the parchment delicately. Fork the lemon half and use the cut part to shine the surface of your brittle.

Cut before it cools completely, as it will get harder and harder to do it. Wet the blade of a big chef knife and cut in diagonals. Once completely cooled, you can store the brittle squares in an air-tight container until ready to use (or pack and give to your friends and family).