My Favorite Cake (Russian Honey Cake from 20th Century Cafe)

December 28, 2017

My favorite cake? That’s a pretty big statement to make but it’s true. I love the Russian Honey Cake from 20th Century Cafe in San Francisco. I’ve posted about it one, two, three … okay, lots of times. 12 layers of tender honey cake separated by luscious salted honey and dulce de leche cream. Every time I’m in the quaint cafe having a slice, I tell myself, I need the recipe. My wish came true this Christmas when it was published in New York Times Magazine! Cancel all plans. Busy. Must make cake.

Christmas Eve day, I spent a good part of the afternoon re-creating the ultimate cake. While the layers weren’t completely even in thickness, the textures and flavors were spot on. It was as if I was sitting in the cafe enjoying a piece.

I highly recommend the recipe for a weekend project. I followed the instructions exactly because I was so determined to replicate it perfectly, I didn’t want any edits to affect the results. Below are some notes that I made while baking and will surely re-visit when I make it again.

Russian Honey Cake

Baking notes:

It takes time.
The recipe looks daunting but the technique isn’t too difficult. You just need some time, 2-3 hours active time and overnight for the cake to absorb the delicious cream, similar to an icebox cake method. It really is worth it because you’ll end up with 20 or so slices.

So much honey.
Honey and dulce de leche are the key ingredients in the cake. The recipe calls for 1.5 cups wildflower honey, a stronger flavor than the more common clover honey. I got mine from Marshall’s Farm. As for the dulce de leche, I happened to have a can that I made from sweetened condensed milk. The how-to is here, but note, it takes 3 hours, so if short on time, I think purchasing it is completely acceptable for this already time-consuming recipe.

Make it any size you want.
No cake pans needed. The recipe says to draw circles on parchment (flip it so it’s pencil-side down) and then spread the batter on top. I made it 9″ as stated. If I were to do it again, I might reduce to 8″ just so it’s not quite as massive. 6″ would be fun to try but I really like the width of the slice that you get from a larger cake.

Bake it off.
12 cake layers! I cut the oven time in half by baking 2 at a time in separate sheet pans. At the 4-minute mark, I swapped the pans so both cakes would brown evenly.

Don’t worry if the cake layers look flimsy.
After the cake layers are done, they will be extremely thin, approximately 1/4″ thick. However, once the cake sits in the fridge overnight, the cake absorbs the cream and expands a bit. Whew!

Slice it thin.
Less is more. The cake is incredibly rich and flavorful, so a thin slice is all you really need. Because I had a whole cake to play with, I experimented with thicker slices, but it was a lot of cake and cream. It didn’t melt in mouth the same way that a thinner slice would. Okay, now, my mouth is watering and I’m off to eat another piece.

I’d love to see your cake! Share with me on Instagram @pastrywithjenn.

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