Medovik Russian honey cake
Medovik is a Russian honey cake composed of layer upon layer of delicious goodness. It's so good, I’m almost at a loss for words. Except I can’t really seem to shut up about how incredibly delicious this cake is.
Just to put you guys in context, this cake was devoured in less than a day, by only two people. Alright fine, by one a half, Frenchie helped a bit, but let's be honest, it was mostly me doing the gorging.
As soon as it was almost gone I started plotting when I could make it again. Who’s birthday is coming up or what holiday comes next? Easy! Rosh Hashanah.
Which means that in less than a week, I get to enjoy this beautiful cake all over again. The best part is that it is the perfect cake for Rosh Hashanah. It’s a honey cake for crying out loud.
Growing up Rosh Hashanah was one of my favorite holidays, along with Easter, Passover, Hannukah, Christmas and of course Epiphany. Confused? Join the club.
I grew up in a multicultural and multireligious household. Mom is a Spanish-Colombian-Roman-Catholic and dad a Turkish-Belgian-Sephardic-jew. Yet somehow it all made sense in our house. Even that 18th-century baroque colonial picture of St Micheal that hung ever so close to that equally antique menorah.
When I tried to explain that I felt both Catholic and Jewish and that it was perfectly ok to light a Hannukiah and have a Christmas tree, people would just roll their eyes at me and give me a look.
Not even Frenchie gets it. He still teases me and asks me whether I woke up on the Jewish or the Catholic side of the bed.
So why does this girl who grew up with the best of both worlds consider that Rosh Hashanah is so great?
The answer is simple: HONEY.
It’s no secret that I have this thing with honey. I admit it’s a borderline obsession. Borderline is what I say to myself but the 16 jars of different kinds of honey all stacked nicely in my pantry probably would argue the case that I crossed that obsession line years ago.
It's so bad that I’m getting into beekeeping. As soon as the renovations are finished and beekeeping classes resume I’m joining my local Beekeepers Association and ordering the white suit. (https://www.bbka.org.uk)
The idea of having a honey laden dessert seems like the best possible way to end Rosh Hashanah dinner at a very high note.
Truth is you need to make this dessert ASAP, it's a life-changer. So grab any excuse you can, make it for Rosha Hashanah like me, your next coworker's birthday or just to celebrate Tuesday.
You'll thank me later.
The only downside to Medovik is that you have to wait at least 12 hours after you've assembled it to eat it. The cookies need to absorb all the cream to make it nice and soft. But that doesn't mean that you can't dip some of those “cookie” offcuts with that delicious sour cream and honey filling and get a sneak peek of the wonderful cake that awaits.
This cake is possibly Russia's greatest gift to the world, along with pierogi, borscht, and bistros. In case you are wondering, the typical French bistro is not originally French at all, but I'll get to that another day perhaps.
So like I said, honey always played an important role in Russian life, even in pagan times. Pagan Russians had a dedicated bee deity called Zosim for crying out loud.
He was a friendly guy, but then again that probably could be explained by him being generally tipsy. Zosim wasn't just the god of bees, he also happened to be the god of good old honey mead. The world's oldest alcoholic beverage. A concoction made out of fermented honey water that is sure to knock your socks off.
As Russians were evangelized the pagan gods of old were evangelized as well, and rosy-cheeked Zosim would not be the exception. After a clever marketing scheme, he revamped himself into St. Zosima and picked up a sidekick monk along the way called St. Savvatiy.
Both saints are patrons of beekeeping and ointments. Yes, you read correctly. They are the patron saints of ointments. Why ointments, well, honey not only tastes good, it also happens to have incredible medicinal properties.
Even today honey is considered somewhat of a cure-all in Russia. It's a great salve and used topically but it's also given liberally to people to handle fevers and chills.
With such love and admiration for honey it’s no surprise that honey cakes abound in Russian gastronomy. And out of all of them, there is one that particularly stands out, Medovik.
This gravity-defying-16-layer-high delicious honey cake was born in the Imperial kitchens during the early 19th century in an attempt to impress Czarina Elizabeth Alexeievna the German-born wife of Czar Alexander I.
The funny thing is the czarina was well known for her utter dislike of anything honey.
Most of the court and kitchen staff knew all too well that Elizabeth hated honey and would throw a hissy fit if she ever ran into it in any shape or form.
She was chosen to marry Alexander by non-other than his very bossy grandmother, Catherine the Great. Soon Elizabeth Alexeievna found herself alone and depressed in a court which she did not understand. Her only comfort was her very young husband.
I can just imagine the drama that an alienated and depressed spoiled teenager princess can cause. It's no wonder that honey was hidden from the future czarina as much as physically possible.
At first, the couple had a happy marriage. That is until Elizabeth followed in her grandmother-in-law’s footsteps and took a lover, and then another one. Rumor in the court was that her two lovers had in fact fathered her two children, as the resemblance was uncanny.
We will never know if the czarina had an actual deficiency in her imperial taste buds or if she was merely acting out rebelliously against anything Russian.
What we do know is that one day a new confectioner started working in the Imperial kitchens. One who was oblivious to Elizabeth Alexeievna’s likes and dislikes and ambitious enough to try to impress the young Empress at all cost.
The servers brought out a beautiful cake, "la pièce de résistance". Without knowing what it was she was eating, Elizabeth loved every morsel of it. Much to the surprise and bewilderment of the court and the Imperial cooks. And so Russia's most beloved cake was born.
So my honey obsession turned into honey cake obsession. And I took to the internet to find recipes and information. Most of what I got out of that exercise was sheer and utter disappointment.
I was puzzled to find that all the traditional Russian recipes online (the ones I could read at least ) used sweetened condensed milk instead of honey. What the hell was going on?
Medovik literally translates HONEY cake. And yet there I was. Staring at Honey cake recipes that used sweetened condensed milk instead of honey. Even worse, most recipes used dulce de leche as a sweetener. The horror!
As a disclaimer, I'm Latin American and I hold dulce de leche (or Arequipe) in very high regard, I just don't want to use it as the key ingredient in a honey cake.
I thought to myself as modern as the Czar's kitchen were there was no way in hell that they used a product that would not be invented until over half a century later. Much less boil it until it turns into dulce de leche. Ludicrous.
And then it hit me. Honey was an expensive commodity during the communist era.
I followed my theory and it turns out that in fact, modern Medovik is a cake that was born circa 1940. That doesn't mean it's not a good cake, it just means it's not the real deal and the honey cake I was after.
I just couldn't let go. Always one to take matters into my own hands I decided to research and test it out. I ended coming up with what I believe is the closest cake to the one that Elizabeth Alexeievna tried that day.
So without further ado, I will leave you with my version of traditional Medovik.