An Attempt at Baking Enlightenment


Post by community member:

In yoga, it is often said that to maximize the benefits of practice, we should endeavor to “work toward our weaknesses,” which is why I am determined to become a better baker. Through practice, I feel certain, I will somehow gain some spiritual insight into why oh why I have so little patience when it comes to following directions!

In the front garden, we leave a sizable patch of our hill grow wild, providing both a natural screen from passing cars and an ever-changing display of wildflowers with delightful names like Purple Aster, Goldenrod, and Touch-Me-Not. Right now, the last gasp of Goldenrod is holding its own against the cooling temperatures, and the bees have revved up their efforts to consume as much pollen as possible before the flowers are completely gone.


In homage to these beautiful, industrious insects, I was inspired to try and bake a Rustic French Honey Cake last weekend, which I’d seen on the fabulous food site Described as “only slightly sweet,” this cake recipe sounded right up my alley, as neither B nor I are huge sweet eaters—though we occasionally like a little bit of something to snack on with our tea.

The result of my labor? Well, as you can see from the photograph, the cake looked absolutely delectable…


But sadly, it failed the taste test. Dry and even less sweet than we expected, the rye flower gave it a strange, savory tang. And as far as the arid texture, I feel I must have done something wrong. Was it the fact that I substituted dried apricots for prunes? Or maybe I left the cake linger for too long in our new (rather unpredictable) oven? We’ll never know, I suppose, unless I try, try again.

Full disclosure: My salt was not kosher and instead of unbleached cake flour I simply used plain old white. Is it me, or do these detailed ingredients annoy you, too?!

The lesson: Pretty isn’t everything, especially when it comes to baked goods.

The bright side: Caloric intake was kept to a minimum that day, and no waistlines were harmed in the process.

For all you super-bakers out there (mom, are you reading this?), here’s the recipe I thought I followed…um…pretty much to the letter. Maybe you have some ideas about how it might be improved?


Makes nine pieces

1 cup rye flour
1 cup unbleached cake flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup honey
2 large eggs
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup whole milk
1 cup prunes, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease an 8 X 8 inch square cake pan. A parchment square in the bottom might be a good idea if you think the cake will stick to your pan. Grease the parchment, too.

Sift the flours into a mixing bowl. Any large pieces of bran left in the strainer can be discarded. Add the baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and cloves.

Add the eggs, honey, milk, and butter. Stir with a wooden spoon to combine. Add the prunes and stir to distribute them.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 35 minutes or until a cake tester poked into the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Remove it from the oven and let it cool. Dust with powdered sugar if desired.

Smallpeace blogs at Smallpeace.

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  1. Mom2ThreeAdoptedSibs says:

    I have never made this particular kind of cake, however, there is one thing that stands out to me. The Apricots. Apricots are a much ‘drier’ dried fruit than typical prunes. (Not that you couldn’t have just as easily gotten a hold of some overly dry prunes!) As a general rule I almost always soak dried fruit that I’m going to put into a cake… Because when they come into contact with the batter and the oven they will suck moisture out of the batter if you don’t.

    I have a super applesauce cake recipe that we put raisins in. It is 100% better when those raisins are soaked first. I actually heat up the applesauce, butter, and sugar for the recipe on the stove top, add the raisins and then let them sit for 1/2 hour or more before proceeding with the cake assembly. It makes a huge difference. Big plump raisins in the deep moist cake. I detest dry cake. 😛 LOL

  2. Granma2girls says:

    I havent made this recipe but just looking at the ratios of flour and sugar, for every 2 cups of flour, I use 1 cup of sugar. Much less than that , it lacks sweetness . I also think you could use more liquid in this recipe. Adding 1/2 c. of applesauce, buttermilk or just in extra milk should make a difference. I make a lot of muffins and for 2 cups of flour, you use more liquid.
    I have used dried fruits interchangeably and have never really noticed a difference in using apricots instead of raisins, dried cherries, prunes, etc. They are all dried and the texture remains unchanged.

  3. Faith says:

    Upping the sugar will help with both the sweetness and moisture problems. Despite being a dry ingredient going in, sugar is a major player in determining moistness!

    My other suggestion would be to soak the rye flour with the milk for 15 minutes before mixing in the other ingredients. For one thing, it softens it quite a bit before baking. Plus, when you mix in the other ingredients, you can tell much more easily whether the batter seems to thick (meaning it will likely bake dry) or not.

  4. Smallpeace says:

    @Mom2, bring on that applesauce cake recipe! It sounds delicious. And you’ve chimed in with what my mom said regarding the apricots. So thanks. @Granma2girls, I LOVE buttermilk, so that may be my next experiment with this particular recipe (have to use that rye flower for something!). @Faith, I had NO idea sugar helped with moisture so you see, I’m learning. Though I am not a huge fan of overly sweet cakes, which is what appealed in the first place. Thanks all!

  5. MrsFuzz says:

    Using white flour instead of cake flour will make a small difference as well. AP flour contains about 12% protein, while cake flour only 9%. More protein=more gluten=chewy (think about biscuits vs bread). Kosher salt vs non-kosher won’t make any difference. Agreed on above posts that more sugar will help with moistness. Also prunes vs apricots: Pureed prunes and applesauce both have the ability to act as fat substitutes in the way the interact with proteins & sugars. To my knowledge, they are the only fruits that can do this without significantly changing the texture of a recipe. If you like to bake on the fly, as it were, I highly recommend reading Cooks Illustrated magazine. It gives a lot of insight into how making changes to a recipe’s ingredients changes the finished product, and talks a lot about the scientific principles involved. This allows you to apply your knowledge to a wide range of recipes. 🙂

  6. Smallpeace says:

    I love leafing through COOKS Illustrated. I suppose I should dive in and really try and apply some of its wisdom. This all sounds a bit like science class, a course I always zoned out it, but as I say, I am determined to improve, so thanks MrsFuzz.

  7. MrsFuzz says:

    Alas, Smallpeace, baking is mostly science, where cooking is more like art. As in life, some people prefer one to the other. I LOVE art, but I suck at creating it. So baking, with its carefully controlled variables & predictability, is right up my alley. I’m much better at reproducing than I am at creating. 🙂 But, like so many things, being creative is like anything else: it improves with practice.

  8. lisabetholson says:

    Well, this has been educational. I do know if you bake breads too long they will get dried out and the finished product looks holy.

  9. murphala says:

    Just a chime-in about dried fruits–100% agree to soak them first before putting them in cakes or quick breads. I have also used dried prunes to make lekvar (prune filling) for rozky (all you poles and slavs out there will know of what I speak…sinful cookies) and when I use prunes I use quite a bit less sugar than I do with dried apricots for the same purpose. It may be just me, but I think prunes are somewhat sweeter.

    Flour–somewhere on this site Suzanne posted a recipe for homemade cake flour. Here is the link: And is the rye flour finely ground or more rustic? That might have something to do with it also. Happy Baking! You’ll succeed…half the fun is in the trying!

  10. Smallpeace says:

    The rye flower was ground, locally by an organic grain farmer, I might add;-) And I am truly a bad Pol/Slav girl, having eschewed the prunes for apricots. Though I do love a good prune Kolachy this time of year. Come to think of it, maybe that’s what I’ll try next, in honor of my grandmothers. Thanks for the inspiration, Murphala!

  11. murphala says:

    It’s good to get back to your roots sometimes…as I got older I started to do a lot of that kind of baking, in memory of my grandma and mom. One thing I will not do, though, is use the prune filling in pierogies. I think that is just vile, as well as the sweet cheese and raisin variety. Ugh. So you’re not alone in eschewing the prunes for some things! Keep us posted on your baking adventures!

  12. Smallpeace says:

    @mruphala, I so agree about the prune pierogies! Yuck. Only potato and sharp cheese will do. An sauerkraut with mushroom. Christmas Even wouldn’t be Christmas Eve without them. In fact, my sister-in-law is doing a guest post on my blog of our family pierogie recipe this week, so stay tuned if you want to compare with your own. She makes them with my little niece every year. Adorable (my niece) and delicious (the pierogies). And thanks for your advice!

  13. whaledancer says:

    I think that using all purpose flour instead of cake flour could account for the problems. For one thing, cake flour is lighter, so that if you’re substituting all purpose flour, you only want to use a bit over 3/4 cup. So your cake probably had a little too much flour, which could make it dry.

    Cake flour is also starchier, with less gluten. This makes a cake that’s lighter, with a tender crumb. It also means that the flour will hold more sugar and fat without collapsing, which also makes for a lighter cake. So if you HAVE to substitute all purpose flour for cake flour, for 1 cup of cake flour, use 3/4 cup all purpose mixed with 2 Tbsp of corn starch.

    I agree with Mrs Fuzz that baking is more like science. Usually when cooking I use recipes as a jumping off place, altering them freely, but with baking I find it pays to follow the recipe exactly, because a slight variation can alter the chemistry catastrophically. I have a tendency to try too many shortcuts and substitutions, so I have racked up a lot of mediocre baked goods.

    Thank you for sharing your less-than-successful cake, so that we can all learn from one another’s experiences.

  14. Smallpeace says:

    Wise advice, Whaledancer. This has been such an educational exchange, I must say. I am inspired to try again.

  15. mmhoney says:

    Here is an applesauce cake that is older than I am.
    Aunt Gladys gave it to her niece, who was my next door neighbor. It did not have exact measurements – so together we came up with this one.’-applesauce-cake/

    A very special cake. I hope you enjoy!

  16. Smallpeace says:

    Mmmm. This does sound special. Thank you for sharing, mmhoney. I know what I’ll be baking this weekend. I’ll be sure and take photos to share.

  17. Anita says:

    Although I’m not much of a baker, it was striking to me that the sweetening ratio was off, as well as the dry to liquid ingredient ratio. Applesauce sounds like a good tweak for this recipe.

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