What marks a life well-lived better than cake? The happiest, most celebratory moments are marked by it. I tick through brightly-colored memories in flavors of cake. Wedding cake. Birthday cake. Sunday morning coffeecake. Post-field hockey game apple cake. Chocolate lava cake after high school nights out. Funfetti cake from a mix after college nights out. Chiffon cake, frosted Yule logs at Christmas, simple yogurt cakes topped with fresh strawberries from the garden all summer.
Age eight, kneeling at the dinner table in our crumbly yellow farmhouse, surrounded by elementary school classmates, slightly bewildered by all the birthday attention. My mom sets down a two-tier layer cake (a classic recipe with a golden buttery yellow crumb) swathed in fluffy whorls of seven-minute frosting. She's covered the cake in real flowers and my young sugar-centric mind is on overload. I blow out the candles, and lick the sweet frosting off each one carefully (a tradition reserved for the birthday girl unless my older sisters jump in), savoring the grainy feeling of white sugar against my tongue.
Age twelve, sneaking my second square of grocery-store sheet cake at a roller skating birthday party. Chocolate frosting on chocolate cake covered in sprinkles. Sugar high.
Age twenty-one, sitting in an armchair in the basement rec room of our college dorm with my best friend and roommate. It's June. We've just finished final exams. She's headed home to Chicago for the summer and I'm off to the Catskills to lead a backpacking trip. We drink wine and stumble, laughing the entire way, to our favorite local ice cream shop. We buy an small 6" ice cream cake, grab two plastic forks, and demolish the entire thing together as we watch old episodes of Sex & the City and dissect the year's highs and lows. I'm wearing sweatpants, she's in pajamas. We're happy and silly and light-hearted. The world ahead is hazy but clear at the same time: two more years of dorm-living and talking about boys over leisurely dining hall brunches and textbooks and exams and ivy-covered buildings.
Age twenty-five, making a fancy Valentine's Day cake for my now-fiancé: I researched endlessly, taking trips to niche baking stores around Manhattan to procure fondant and gel paste and specialty extracts. I made a vanilla bean cake covered in pink and red fondant hearts. I carried it so carefully in a box on the subway up to his Harlem apartment. He made me dinner (individual roasted vegetable terrines and lamb burgers with smoked mozzarella and toasted butter-rubbed baguettes); I'll never forget the look on his face when I brought out the cake, like I was Martha Stewart and Nigella Lawson and Heidi Klum rolled into one. I wore a navy chiffon dress and a red sweater (spoiler alert: I DID NOT LOOK LIKE HEIDI KLUM IN THAT DRESS). We were so young!
So here, today, is another cake. It doesn't mark any momentous occasion other than being delicious and a good reminder that, hello, we can all make a killer cake at a moment's notice with the right recipe! And if you want to make someone's day, and turn an ordinary weeknight into one that you'll file away in your memory for years to come, try baking it in this pretty little honeycomb pan (you can get it here: https://www.kingarthurflour.com/shop/items/honeycomb-pan).
Honey isn't my favorite sweetener to use in baking, but this cake in particular is starting to change my mind. Using almond flour makes the cake exceptionally moist: It's as tender as a pound cake but more delicate and less dense. The nutty flavor of the almond flour, combined with the bright and vibrant hint of lemon, is the star here, which keeps the honey flavor subtle. (I think that's why I like it so much).
Honey Lemon Cake
Adapted from King Arthur Flour
For the cake
1 1/2 cups (180 grams) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (71 grams) almond flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup (99 grams) sugar
1/4 cup honey
zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
For the soak (optional)
1/3 cup honey
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9" round cake pan, or use the pretty beehive-shaped one I have, which you can get here.
Whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until very light and fluffy (at least 3 minutes).
Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each to incorporate it fully into the butter/sugar. Add the honey, lemon zest, and vanilla and mix well.
Add half of the flour mixture and mix, then the buttermilk, followed by the rest of the flour mixture (I don't bother with doing this in more additions, just be careful mixing as the flour can fly out and the buttermilk can slosh!).
Spread the batter into the prepared pan; if you're baking in the honeycomb pan, we recommend tapping the pan firmly on the counter to help eliminate any air bubbles at the bottom.
Bake the cake for 30 to 35 minutes, until it’s a deep golden brown and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.
Remove the cake from the oven, allow it to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn it out onto a rack.
To make the glaze: Combine the honey, butter, and lemon juice in a microwave-safe bowl or in a small saucepan set over medium-low heat. Heat until the butter is melted and stir until smooth.
Brush the glaze onto the warm cake. Allow the cake to cool completely before cutting.
Store leftover cake, well wrapped, at room temperature for several days. Freeze for longer storage.