It comes as no surprise that the rich, sweet-yet-tangy medus torte disappears at most Latvian gatherings, however what I found surprising is that there are dozens of variants on the cake, not only among Latvian saimnieces, but from kitchens all across Europe. Recently variations on the theme have been popping up in the US, probably due to appearances on blogs such as Smitten Kitchen, where a Russian Honey Cake recipe appeared just a few months ago. Then you have the Lithuanian version - tortas pensininkas - and the Estonian version, meetort; Pille (who joined us last year on 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas with Pehme piparkook) featured this meekook on her blog Nami-Nami.
The following honey torte recipe is my mother's. After sifting through the recipes from several old Latvian cookbooks, she combined bits and pieces of them and then converted from metric measurements. With a few final adjustments she has achieved an end result that is a bit simpler than some of the 12-layer, three-day cakes I’ve seen online, but still retains the essence of a Latvian medus torte.
On a day that I had designated honey cake day, two of the boys’ friends came over and together they all donned aprons; the several hours that ensued were full of flour dust, sticky fingers and repeated hand-washing, but ended with complete quiet around the table as everyone dug in. The boys required assistance with spreading and baking the dough, and of course with the eating; however, this is a relatively simple effort with a complex yield! Perfect to bring as a dessert because it will appear as if you’ve spent days in the kitchen, yet it’s unpretentious and gives a subtle nod to your Baltic heritage. Best part is, the flavors meld with a bit of rest, and so it can be made ahead of time and will actually taste even better.
Latvian Honey Torte
BUTTER 3 tablespoons
SUGAR 1 cup
HONEY 1 cup
Wheat FLOUR 1 cup
White FLOUR 2 cups
BAKING SODA 3 teaspoons
LEMON ZEST from ½ lemon
SOUR CREAM 1 cup
Unsalted BUTTER ½ cup
SUGAR ½ cup
POWDERED SUGAR ½ cup
LEMON JUICE a few drops
Chopped nuts, crumbled cake, red currant or other jelly, powdered sugar
CAKE:1) Preheat oven to 425˚F.
2) Lightly grease and flour six round or square pans, all the same size.
(You may bake in several batches if you don’t have six pans, or
your oven cannot fit them all at once – the layers bake quickly)
3) Beat sugar and butter together until light in color.
4) Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
5) Stir in honey.
6) Sift both flours together with the baking soda, then sift into dough
and mix thoroughly.
7) Add lemon zest, stir in using a spoon.
8) Divide dough evenly into six pans – each will be a thin layer.
9) Bake 6-10 minutes, watching closely until golden brown.
10) Turn out onto a towel or rack to cool.
FILLING:1) Beat all filling ingredients together, until mixture is smooth.
1) When cake layers have cooled, spread filling, adding layers and filling
one at a time.
2) Spread filling on the sides of the cake. The top of the cake can be iced
with filling, or glazed with jelly, or sprinkled with powdered sugar.
3) Decorate with chopped nuts, crumbles, berries… use your imagination!
If the cake has opportunity to ‘rest,’ the flavors will meld and the cake will taste even better!
- We used 8” pans and baked in two batches. We probably could have gone larger, but this way we had an extra layer to crumble for topping.
- This is a very sticky dough, which makes sense because it has a cup of honey in it! We used a spatula to spread it into the cake pans as thinly as possible, and were rewarded with 6 layers + one to crumble for topping.
- The baking is the trickiest part; if not baked long enough it will stick to the pan, but if left in too long the edges will burn. We rotated the three pans in the oven and kept a really close eye on them and still messed up one layer – luckily we needed crumbs for the topping.
- We turned the layers out onto a rack to cool, and had a bit of difficulty getting them off the grid rack once cooled – it’s really a sticky dough!
- In addition to crumbles, we used chopped pecans for the topping, because what goes better with honey than pecans?
- The four little chefs didn’t have much patience for ‘melding,’ and luckily the torte was delicious even without the rest. However, a day or two later the filling had soaked into the cake layers and made for a decadent dessert.
Inga has previously joined us on 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas with the following recipes and posts: Another Baltic Christmas - Day 14, PĪRĀGI, PĪRĀGI!
She has taught Latvian cooking and baking to children and adults at various Latvian schools and camps, and together with my vecmamma Ilze could easily fill a cookbook with delicious, traditional Latvian recipes. I’m so happy to feature her medus torte today on Day 8 of 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas! A liels paldies to Inga for allowing me to share the recipe; I hope that it’s as much of a hit in our reader's test kitchens as it was with ours! Thanks also to Holden, Finn, Lauris and Mikus; I enjoyed my time in the kitchen with the four friends.
Now I would love to hear from the you! Is this the medus torte of your childhood? What is it called in your language? Any tips or tricks you can recommend? I’m fascinated with the variations on this favorite, as well as the geographic spread the cake has managed without losing its identity, and would love to hear from all of you – what makes a honey torte a honey torte?