Bakery Bulletin: Russian honey cake requires huge amounts of time, patience...and honey

When Catherine the Great died, she hadn't formally expressed her wishes for her grandson to succeed her, so her son Paul I became the Emperor of Russia. Paul was assassinated shortly after his ascension to the throne.

Wednesday, 14th December 2016, 3:22 pm
Updated Friday, 8th June 2018, 5:30 am
Medovik - Russian honey cake

Whether or not Catherine’s grandson, Paul’s son, had anything to do with the murderous plot is widely, ferociously, and tediously debated among historians. There are whole books on it. And they’re boring.

Aleksandr Pavlovich - grandson of Catherine, son of Paul, and possibly an accessory to murder - was crowned Tsar Alexander I in the Kremlin in 1801. He was the godfather of Alexandrina Victoria, who was in fact named after him. She’s better known as Queen Victoria. You know the one - our longest ever serving monarch; married to Albert; thought black was the new black.

Alexanderplatz - one of Europe’s most depressing squares - is named after our man, and his other notable achievements include being the first Russian King of Poland, and the first Russian Duke of Finland. He is also responsible for the name Alexander becoming one of Russia’s most popular names, but his legacy is not as impressive as that of a nameless chef within his court.

He who shall not be named - not for Macbeth/Voldemort reasons, you understand, but because history forgot his name - invented Medovik. Despite sounding like the enemy of a Bolshevik, it’s a beautiful little cake. Layers and layers and layers of a biscuity dough are baked and stacked and a sweet, creamy frosting is layered in between and all over the finished stack. Biscuit crumbs are then sprinkled on the icing so the whole thing looks like a massive biscuit. The key ingredient is honey.

It is therefore also known as a Russian Honey Cake. A Medovik requires huge amounts of time and patience. I’m aware of my shortcomings, so I’ve never made one.

In typical Russian style, the cake has had a few names over the years, and nobody can definitively correct you on what is and what isn’t called a Medovik.

The general gist is thus: a Medovik is what I described above, with special attention paid to the lashings of honey; a Medovnik is the above but with soured cream and just a dash of honey; a Smetannik is any cake with a soured cream frosting. And then there’s the walnuts. Don’t get them started on the walnuts. To add walnuts, or not to add walnuts, that is the question. Confused? Welcome to Russia.

Tsar Alexander I reigned from 1801 until 1825, so Medovik has been around for ages. In the Soviet days, it gained massive popularity as it was made using ingredients which were readily available despite the food shortages. Since then, it’s spread from royal households, via housewives’ households, to professional kitchens and now to a bakery column in Brighton and Hove. I should add that honey is intended for bees, not Russians, so if you attempt to make a Medovik, maybe use agave nectar or another suitable replacement. Alternatively, you could buy a jar of Biscoff spread and eat it with a spoon - it’s vegan, it’s supposed to taste like a Medovik, and I’d feel better if I knew other people were doing it too.

By Philippa Kelly

Brighton Bakery, 100 per cent vegan
[email protected]