Lessons from the Honeycomb
October 27 marked what would would have been Sylvia Plath's 85th birthday. In 2015, I started baking her a birthday cake. Birthdays are my favorite celebrations, probably because they involve cake.
Since Plath kept bees, I decided to make her a dark chocolate honeycomb cake this year. Because the only thing I had to change about this recipe was the buttermilk--to make dairy-free buttermilk, remove 1 Tbsp of dairy free milk from 1 cup and replace it with apple cider vinegar, then let it sit--use the link above to access the recipe from The Cake Blog.
When I bake, especially if it's something that seems as simple as a chocolate cake, there is often guaranteed success and minimal learning. This cake was different. I learned valuable baking lessons.
Lessons learned from the honeycomb:
The website lists the cake first, the honeycomb, then the frosting. Although I made my cake in this order, my suggestion is to make the honeycomb first. Since it has to cool for about 2 hours before you crack it, you can make the honeycomb, put the cake batter together and bake it, and still have enough time for your cakes to cool before the two hours are up.
Another reason to make the honeycomb first is if this is the first time you've ever made honeycomb, or candy in general, you might fail. A first for me, my first batch of honeycomb looked like this:
This is what happens when you neglect to do any research before making honeycomb. The candy became a burnt blob that exploded onto my mug, table,
and all over the pot I made it in.
If you live at altitude, double-check the candy temperature. The recipe says to cook the sugar until it hits 300. At about 295 I realized my sugar was burning. I removed it from the heat and followed the next steps, but this honeycomb was inedible. The minute I looked at it, I cursed the altitude. Normally, I don't have to adjust baking for altitude despite living in Denver at 5280 ft. above sea level. I felt stupid. Of course the altitude would alter the temperature of candy making. A bit discouraged, I found a candy chart for different altitudes and decided to give it another try. This time, I pulled the honeycomb at 290. The result was edible!
When you pour the honeycomb from the pan, don't be afraid to spread it to achieve your desired thickness. My honeycomb ended up being a bit thicker than I wanted, but I was so ecstatic that I didn't burn the second batch that the thickness was just fine.
If you don't intend on eating the whole cake that day, don't bother putting the honeycomb between the layers. The day the cake was made, the honeycomb was amazing. It added a crunch and the tastes fit perfectly. As the cake sat, the honeycomb broke down and became nonexistent. All that effort to make honeycomb felt like a farce when the honeycomb disintegrated.
Overall, the dark chocolate honeycomb cake was a success. Even though it took two tries for the honeycomb, I learned a lot from this cake. I cut two pieces--one for me and one for Sylvia Plath--and celebrated her life.