Miodownik cake: Poland’s crowning glory
In her Polish cook book, Polska, Zuza Zak tells us that the beginning of Polish history as we know it is marked by a feast which magically grew from modest beginnings to a table replete with fantastical food and drink.
Poland is a diverse country where mountains, lakes, rivers and coastal waters have much to offer in the way of nature’s bounty and whose people have ensured that a tradition of hospitality has prevailed despite considerable geo-political troubles which have, at times, made life so very challenging for them.
Miodownik cake has been eaten across Poland since the 12th century and is also popular in Russia. As a consequence it can take on many forms: glazed with chocolate, spiced with ginger, filled with a semolina-like custard, or, as I have done here, spread with sour cream. I have always felt honey to be a terribly appropriate food to eat in winter and seeing as miód is the Polish word for honey, it stands to reason that this is a cake to crown Christmas with at a time of year when nature’s bounty also includes nuts of many kinds which also crown Miodownik’s top layer.
I can see how this cake might also appeal to British people because of its scone-like layers which absorb the mead-inflected filling and soften under the fork as you eat. We do like a scone and mead is one of our oldest drinks. So we have a marriage between a Polish cake with British sensibilities and a perfect reminder of the links between our two countries. We have more in common than that which divides us, especially when it comes to the food on our plates.
600 g plain flour
2 tsp baking soda
170g caster sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 egg yolks
200 g butter, cold
3 tbsp milk
3 tbsp honey (I go for a
warmer, richer honey)
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
4 Tbsp honey
2 tsp mead
3 Tbsp sugar
300ml sour cream
500ml double cream
Icing sugar to taste (about
Preheat the oven to 180ºC/160ºC fan and line three 22- 24cm sandwich-sized pans with parchment paper.
Sift the flour and baking soda together and then add the cubes of cold butter to the flour mix. Rub the butter and flour together with your hands until the mixture resembles small breadcrumbs. You could also use a food processor to do this: use short pulses until you have the right texture.
Now add the remaining ingredients and knead the dough until they are incorporated, then bring the dough together into one large ball and divide it into three equal-sized pieces. It will resemble a soft scone dough.
Place the pieces of dough into their pans and gently pat them into shape, so they evenly cover the base of each sandwich pan, pressing it into the corners and pricking the dough all over with a fork. Set aside while you make the nut topping.
Nut layer method:
Over a low heat, melt the butter in a frying pan and then add the mead, honey and sugar, stirring until well mixed. Now add the nuts and gently fry them for a minute, but don’t let them colour. Remove from heat, let them cool and then spread the nuts over dough of just one of the pans. This will be the top layer of your cake. Place the three pans of dough into the oven and bake for around 10 minutes or until golden then remove and allow them to cool. When they are cold to the touch, remove the pans and peel away the parchment paper. They are now ready to be filled and stacked.
To make the filling and fill the cake:
Whip the double cream until it is nice and thick and holds its shape. Now add the sour cream and stir until well incorporated and spoon in half the icing sugar: mix well then taste. If you prefer a sweeter filling, add in more icing sugar then mix and taste until it is how you like it. Then stir in the mead and divide the filling into two portions.
To assemble the cake liberally spread the bottom layer of baked dough with half of the filling then place the second tier on top. Coat this with another layer of filling and then place the nut-covered layer on top. Sprinkle with a little icing sugar to finish then leave to settle for the night before slicing and eating because this cake is best when the scone-like layers have melded with the creamy filling.