“Every woman in Bethany wishes they could make cakes as light as the clouds, like my Martha.” — Martha’s father in the first chapter of The Tomb, A Novel of Martha.
Martha’s cooking skills are the envy of every woman in the small town of Bethany. I can’t claim to be as skilled as Martha, but after my research into foods and cooking in ancient times, I was hungry enough to try to find a close imitation of the cakes Martha served the wedding guests in the first chapter of The Tomb, A Novel of Martha.
The inspiration for this recipe comes from a website called The Wafering Baker. It’s a great blog about food and travel that I’d highly recommend. I made some tweaks, though, to this recipe to make it a little easier for our measuring systems. If you’ve never made yeast bread before, this is a great way to start. I’ve put in lots of pictures and included some tips I found worked nicely when I made these cakes with my daughter. I also added the garnish of pomegranate seeds in honor of Martha.
Let me know if you give this recipe a try and how it turned out. We’ll be making these for Thanksgiving breakfast at our house!
Martha’s Honey Cakes
1/2 cup hot water
1/2 cup milk (cow milk is fine, although Martha would have used goat milk)
1 Tablespoon dry yeast (Martha would have used fermented dough, but since we don’t tend to have that handy, we’ll go with yeast)
2 – 3 cups white flour plus more for rolling (feel free to grind your own 🙂 or just use some from the store)
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter (although butter was known in ancient Israel, it wouldn’t have been used for this type of recipe. Given our modern tastes, butter is our best option. I don’t think Martha would mind)
1/4 cup honey
a big pinch of salt
2 large eggs plus 1 more for egg wash
1/2 cup honey for drizzling
Pomegranate seeds for garnish
Mix together the water and milk, it should be slightly warmer than tepid. Add the yeast and stir to dissolve. Set the mixture aside for a few minutes to start working.
Now measure 2 cups flour into a large bowl (I used a stand mixer with a paddle attachment) and add the 2 tablespoons of cold butter. Mix until the texture is that of breadcrumbs. Mix in the honey, salt, and egg.
Add the yeast and milk solution, mixing until well-combined.
I found that this was still a very runny dough so I added flour until it held together enough to form a soft, pliable ball. Cover with a dishtowel and let rise for 1 hour in a warmish spot.
Now, for the fun part. When the dough has risen, turn it out onto a well-floured countertop and roll and press it into a rectangle about 1/2 and inch thick, using only enough flour that it doesn’t stick to your rolling pin. Caution: don’t use so much flour that the dough becomes tough. Slice the remaining cold butter into thin squares and scatter it in the center of the rectangle.
Now, fold the dough into thirds by folding each end over the center like you’re wrapping up a baby.
Then fold the top and bottom over the center again so you have a neat little square of folded dough.
Crimp the edges together and use your floured rolling pin to roll the package out into a flat rectangle again. Repeat the folding process, without the butter this time, then set the square of dough aside to rise again for 1 hour. Then (you guessed it!) repeat the rolling and folding process again (without the butter).
Now it’s time to make the cakes. Cut the square of dough into 12 equal pieces. My method is to cut it into quarters, then each quarter into three equal portions. Roll each portion into a smooth, round ball and place on a buttered baking tray or cake pan.
Cover loosely with a clean towel and let rise one more time until doubled – it will take 30 to 60 minutes. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
Beat an egg and add a dash of water to it. Brush the egg wash over the risen cakes and bake for 20 – 30 minutes until golden brown. As soon as you remove them from the oven, drizzle liberally with honey.
I added the garnish of pomegranate seeds to make them look even more festive. I think Martha would approve.