(Click on the image - it's better, bigger)
I bake when I know the boys are coming. The simple act of sharing the sugar out keeps me sane. If Corinne, Oscar’s raven-haired, rosy-cheeked girlfriend is with us, all the better, so I leave cakes or cookies or, come winter, puddings for weekends (my childhood favourite is lemon delicious; a puddle of lemon custard pooling beneath an airy puff of cake). It’s the kind of kitchen activity that punctuates a Friday afternoon’s work with a welcome, sugary full-stop or defines a pottering-about Saturday morning post tea, an attempt at the crossword and a long-distance chat with mum. Baking heralds the arrival of the weekend in our house and it’s something I must – finally - admit to loving.
By nature, I am greedy and have been since early childhood. This is less comfortable to admit to, yet I continue to make no apology for enjoying food and its rituals. Constant vigilance is required to tame that greed, and though there are bad days in and among the more prevalent good, I am working hard at adopting restraint. Kathryn’s piece on pudding in the autumn edition of An Honest Kitchen (you can read it by viewing this sample) struck a slightly-uncomfortable chord deep within...and set me quietly on a path of re-thinking. Restraint may be unfashionable, but damn it – restraint in the 21st century can only be good.
Why then, I hear you ask, is she offering a recipe for Honeycakes? Because, quite simply, these are Good. Unforgettable-good. Each honeycake is small, sticky and nutty; a perfect, buttery bite to be nibbled slowly (not absent-mindedly) with a cup of tea and company (be it a book, the dog or your beloved – not while checking emails). This approach satisfies in just the right kind of way. Your brain needs to be present lest you eat the whole tray. A second one won’t hurt - this I know - but a third one begins the slippery slope. Take your time and enjoy the moment.
It’s the absent-minded greed that I battle against daily, but I am learning.
Copied out, almost word for word, from my friend Ali’s email. Ali and I talk about “slow” being a state of mind and way of living worth attaining. Her recipe is slow at its charming best. Makes a lot. Freeze half of the dough or give some away if you do not trust yourself – a box or tin make a thoughtful, celebratory gift.
2 ½ cups of plain flour (I use a mixture of spelt and wholemeal)
¾ teaspoon of coarse sea salt
1 ¼ cups of very coarsely chopped walnuts
250g of unsalted butter, softened (2 sticks for U.S. readers)
¼ cup of sugar (I like soft brown or, better still, rapadura)
1/3 cup honey, plus more for glazing
Preheat the oven to 120 C (250 F). Toast the walnuts, spread out in a single layer on a baking sheet, for 10 minutes. Cool on a plate.
Pulse the flour, salt and ¾ of the nuts in a food processor until fine.
Beat the butter in a mixer until fluffy – about 5 mins should do it. Add the sugar and beat for 2 minutes, then drizzle in the honey. Beat for 30 seconds or so, then reduce the speed to low. Gradually add the flour mixture until the dough just comes together. Shape into a disk, wrap in greaseproof paper and chill in the fridge for at least 1 ½ hours.
Preheat the oven to 170 C (325 F). Pinch off 2 tsp of dough, roll into a ball and place on a lightly greased baking sheet. Repeat, leaving 2 ½ cm (1 in) between each, until the sheet is full. Carefully press a walnut piece into each honeycake and flatten, just a little, with the floured base of a small glass.
Bake, rotating halfway, until the edges are pale gold, about 20 minutes.
Line a cooling rack with paper. Warm a few spoonfuls of honey over a very gentle heat. When the honeycakes are ready, transfer them to the racks and brush – quite generously – with the warmed honey. Cool before placing in a tin – one you can put away, up high if necessary – for up to two weeks.