great British blog off

The Great British Blog Off: Honey Loaf Cake

What a week it has been! 

This Wednesday, we had a massive snow storm here in Pittsburgh, with around 10 inches of accumulation here in Brookline. My general orientation to snow is that I love it on the day of, provided I don’t have to go anywhere. Unfortunately for my snow enjoyment this time around, we very much had somewhere to go–Azula’s vet, for her appointment to get spayed. 

If you know me IRL, you know that I’m pretty anxious about pet-health, so this date has been looming large in my mind for a while. Wednesday dawned with the promise of snow and thoroughly in the worst of my PMS-heightened anxiety, so my brain got to work running circles about all the imagined possible outcomes of Azula’s relatively routine procedure. 

Thankfully, there were only three surgeries on the docket for the day, so before I’d really worked myself into worry mode, the vet called me to say Azula was out of surgery and doing well. Because of the snow, they said we could pick her up right away–normally, they have you wait until after 2pm so your pet isn’t as groggy from the anesthesia.

The vet and some internet friends from Forever35’s Pet Owners subgroup had assured me Azula would be tired and sleep for the first day or so. Azula with her iron will had other plans, and was exploring around the house by dinnertime.

Before Wednesday, I thought the waiting would be the worst part, that I’d be fine once she was home. But alas, the low point came on Thursday, when Azula figured out how to bend and chew the softer fabric cone issued by the vet. I sat on the floor trying to get her to stop, handing her every available toy as a distraction. 

She would have none of it, and soon tears silently streamed down my face because I was overwhelmed and couldn’t do anything until Andy got off the video work call he was taking in the kitchen a few feet away. 

Tired and worn out, I drove Andy’s car to the vet to pick up a hard plastic cone, which they suggested was the best solution, since she wouldn’t be able to chew it. I don’t typically drive in the snow, or drive Andy’s car, and have never backed out of our driveway onto the busy road, but I managed it all with relative ease and rewarded myself with a trip through the Taco Bell drive thru on my way back.

Azula is doing well in her recovery–too well, really. She’s a few notches below normal crazy pup levels of energy, but still gets worked into excited mode a few times a day, which makes it stressful to “limit her activity.” Today, at least for now, I feel like we’ve over the hurdle. I’m relaxing a bit about how much activity is too much for her, and we’ve gotten some good puppy cuddles here and there. 

This Week’s Bake: Honey Loaf Cake

The Prep

You might have guessed from the length of my intro that my focus has been elsewhere this week. Anticipating this, I picked up the ingredients for this week’s bake during the weekly grocery shop, since Azula’s spay and the predicted Snowmaggedon fell on my typical Fresh Market trip day. 

I’ll confess, I haven’t been looking forward to this particular bake very much. I’m not the biggest fan of the flavor of honey on its own, and after the challenges of the past two weeks, returning to loaf cake feels a bit, well… underwhelming. 

I should probably be thankful for an easier bake this week given my general state of anxiety over Azula, but… what can I say? I like a challenge in the kitchen these days. 

I grabbed some local honey in hopes that it will be more flavorful, since the recipe recommends grabbing a more interesting variety than usual since it’s the leading taste in the bake. Alas, tis the season of few to no farmer’s markets, or else I would’ve 100% used that as an excuse to hit one up and get my honey that way.

So, with a relatively straightforward ingredients list this week, there’s nothing left to do except get ready, get set, and bake! 

The Bake 

I woke up feeling about as excited to bake the loaf as I anticipated, which is to say… not much. It felt like sort of a letdown, or a step back, to open up and see the one page instructions. I had to remind myself that the book isn’t written like a series of ever-upwards challenges, and maybe I needed something a little easier this week. 
Even so, I decided to find a more advanced, more complicated sourdough bread recipe to tackle today, too, so that I could nicely fill most of my morning and midday with tasks in the kitchen. 
The honey loaf is described as a “simple melt and mix cake,” so I shouldn’t have been surprised when the first step was to melt something. But, as I poured 275 grams of honey into a pot alongside butter and sugar, it felt like a decidedly odd thing to do. One of the reasons I’m not fond of honey on its own is because I find the smell a bit sickly sweet. Add that to butter and brown sugar and then put over heat and, well… not my favorite scent. 
It took a while for the mixture over low heat to become what Andy and I agreed upon as “smooth,” so I had some good thinking time. Or, restless, wishing I was doing more than just that one simple task time, more like it. I stood over the stove stirring the pot and contemplating whether I might suffer from PMDD (this is basically a more intrusive/severe form of PMS) or if my anxiety is getting worse in general or if it’s even possible to tell, given the pandemic. 
At last, the time came to take the honey/sugar/butter mixture off the heat and sift together the dry ingredients. Two teaspoons of ginger doesn’t sound like a lot, but as the scent of it permeated the flour and salt, I began to suspect I might not dislike the taste of this loaf quite as much as I’d been expecting. The spice of the ginger will balance the sweetness of all this honey nicely, I thought.
One of my favorite things about baking in my own kitchen is sticking my hands into flour when instructed to do things like “make a well.” There’s something so soothingly visceral about using your hands directly in the mix. I sifted through the flour and ginger a moment like my own personal zen garden before pouring in the caramel-colored liquid mixture and the eggs.
From there, things got a bit, well… goopy. The batter was incredibly thin and liquidy, to the point that i double-checked I’d gotten my ratios right. I had, of course–this isn’t my first loaf cake. 
I eyed the bubbly liquid suspiciously as I poured it into my lovingly prepared loaf tin and stuck it in the oven. No matter how many times I get a good rise on a cake, I’m never quite convinced it’ll happen the next. I’ve taken to turning on the oven light after 15 minutes or so to peer in and make sure something’s happening in there. 
Yet again, something was. 
Because this loaf cake doesn’t have any complicated flourishes, there was nothing to do while it baked except wait. I paced about, playing Wizard’s Unite and periodically checking on Azula.
One fun new thing I did get to do was tent my loaf with foil to prevent it browning too much. I’ve never done this before, in spite of shouting the suggestion at many a concerned baker while watching Bake Off. There it was, right in the recipe–if necessary, cover loosely with tin foil to prevent over browning. I don’t actually know if it was getting too dark, but I was too excited not to tent it. 
Foil applied, I heated up a mixture of honey and water for the honey drizzle, which would be spooned over the cake when it came out of the oven. About this, too, I was skeptical. More honey?
Drizzles are old hat for me at this point in the challenge, as they’re quite common with cakes in this recipe book. I prodded the loaf with a skewer, spooned over the warm honey water, and got to… wait some more. Wait for it to firm up for 20 minutes, then pull it out of the loaf tin and wait again for it to cool so I could apply the icing. 
I decided to do some yoga for the final cool, as it helps pass the time and ensure I actually wait long enough for things to cool. Marginally more zen, I returned for the final steps of putting together the rather simple loaf. 
Meh, I thought, looking at the square loaf of cake and thinking back on the weeks prior. But, nevertheless, I cut a slice and handed one to Andy as well. 
It tastes nicely of ginger and the sweetness of honey, and I think it’s a pretty serviceable cake if you’re wanting a simple loaf to serve with coffee or tea. It’s no showstopper, but then, it wasn’t billed as one. In spite of being in such a neutral mood toward the recipe the whole time, it came out pretty well, and I’m looking forward to having another slice with my coffee in the morning. 

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