The Honey Cake: Then and Now.

Honey cakes go so far back in time that they can't be traced to a single source.  The culinary historian Gil Marks believes that the earliest cakes in the world, baked in the ancient Near East many millennia ago, were probably made of mashed legumes and honey. The ancient Egyptians made light cakes from honey-sweetened yeast dough, and the Romans baked barley loaves with honey, raisins, pine nuts, and pomegranate seeds, in addition to honeyed cheesecakes.

The first ever reference to honey cake in history appears in the tomb of Ramesses II: it is a drawing of a cake that historians speculate was made with dates and nuts. Because honey’s high sugar content and acidity make it a natural preservative—honey cake is known to have a long shelf-life—the Egyptians revered it as a symbol of immortality. They carried honey cakes with them into battle and used them as provisions for the next life.

 One of the earliest recipes featuring honey appears over a 1000 years later, around AD 200, recorded by  the Greek scholar Athenaeus.  It is a recipe for honeyed cheesecakes which he dates back to around 500BC. "Wheaten flour is wetted, and then put into a frying pan; after that honey is sprinkled over it, and sesame and cheese.".  Another surviving recipe for honey cake, found in the Roman cookbook Apicius written in the third or fourth century CE, starts out by telling us to “Pound pepper, pine nuts, honey, wine, passum and rue.”. The cake, not that sweet by modern standards, was offered to the gods and consumed at patrician feasts.


The Medieval Honey Cake

Honey cakes spread throughout Europe thanks to the Arabs, who brought them west to Spain and Sicily.  Although Arab cultures soon developed a taste for sugar, honey continued to be popular in Europe, Gil Marks again notes, making its use in cakes an inevitability.  They continued to make their way upward through the Italian peninsula, and by the start of the 11th century, Italians were baking dense cakes from honey and bread crumbs. It was then the Italian Jews who brought these honey cakes to central and western Europe.

The honey cake, however, isn’t acknowledged in non-Jewish sources from this part of the world until around 1320, when it appears in a monastery’s records, but in short order, honey cakes, including spiced ones—which became known as lebkuchen, or gingerbread—became medieval Europe’s favorite sweet treat.   In fact, what we think of today as honey cakes were often called spice cakes, since honey was the default sweetener before the advent of cane sugar, according to Marcy Goldman, author of A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking.  Thus the honey cake  is one of the oldest desserts in the world, made by every major civilization since the Ancient Egyptians. “Honey cakes are unique because different cultures have slight differences—spices, shape, techniques. Honey-centric baking is definitely in its own category.” says Goldman. The rise of cane sugar in the early 17th century turned honey into an “old-fashioned” sweetener, and spices—which had once signaled wealth and prestige—became more widely available and less precious.  As honey cake fell out of prominence, it fell somewhat out of favor, but it never disappeared.  It is still worth making.

(See here for the background on honey). 


an Ancient Roman Honey Cake

Serves 8-10

  • 2 cups, 8.5oz (250 g) Organic Einkorn Pancake & Baking Mix
  • 3 tsp coriander
  • 3 tsp pepper
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 egg yolk (no white)
  • 1 cup, 8oz (215 g) oil, olive preferred
  • 1 cup, 8oz (215 g)  + 5 tbsp, 74 ml honey
  • 1/4 cup, 2oz (62.5ml)  sweet white wine  or white grape juice
  • 2 tbsp raw pine nuts
  • 3 tbsp chopped raw almonds
  • 2 tbsp chopped toasted hazelnuts
  1. Place a rack in the middle of the oven; heat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease and flour a 9” cake pan. For ease of removal, you can also add parchment paper to the bottom of the pan, but make sure to grease and flour the sides.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together pancake mix and spices.
  3. In another large bowl, whisk 2 eggs and 1 egg yolk well. Whisk in oil, 1 cup of honey, and the wine until well combined.
  4. Whisk in dry ingredients until smooth. Mix in the pine nuts and almonds.
  5. Pour batter into pan and bake until springy to the touch and a cake tester comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool. Let rest for 20 minutes. Unmold the cake. Heat 5 tbsp of honey, mix with roasted hazelnuts and drizzle it over the cake. Let cool completely before serving.
  6. This cake is best eaten the same day but will keep, if covered, at room temperature for up to two days. If more sweetness is desired, drizzle a little more honey on each slice before eating.
 recipe courtesy of Crystal King


LEBKUCHEN (from Lucerne)

Preparation time: approx. 25 minutes
Baking or cooking time: approx. 40 minutes
9 " (24 cm) springform pan


for the batter

  • 3/4 c + 2tbl (200 ml) milk
  • 7 tbl, 3.5oz (100 g) butter, in pieces
  • 3/4 c, 5.33oz (150 g) honey
  • 1/3c, 2.5oz (75g)  sugar
  • 2 tbsp Lebckuchen spice mix* (or gingerbread spice mix)
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp sour cream
  • 3.5 oz (100 g) ground hazelnuts
  • 2 3/4c, 12.25 oz (350 g) Organic Einkorn Pancake & Baking Mix
for the glaze:
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • a little water

*Lebkuchen Spice Mix

  • 2 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground green cardamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground star anise
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground mace
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  1. For the batter: warm the milk in a pot, then add the butter and, while stirring, let it melt. Add the honey, sugar, Lebkuchen spice, lemon juice, and mix well. Add the rest of the ingredients and briefly mix to a smooth dough.
  2. Line the springform pan with parchment paper and grease the sides. Add the batter and smooth out the top.
  3. Bake in the bottom half of an oven preheated to 180 °C for about 40-45 minutes. Take the Lebkuchen out of the oven and remove it from the form.
  4. Glaze: Mix together the honey with a little water, then spread over the still warm Lebkuchen. Enjoy still warm or cooled down.

If desired, you can serve the Lebkuchen with cinnamon-flavoured whipped cream, or butter. The Lebkuchen tastes best when it is freshly baked. Well-wrapped, it keeps 4-5 days in a cool place or you can portion and freeze it. If desired, you can cut the Lebkuchen in slices and warm it in a greased frying pan or the toaster.


recipe adapted from



Le Pain d'épices (French for "spice bread") is a classic moist French cake or quick bread, a cross between a cake and a bread.

Believed to have been brought back to Europe by crusaders returning from the Holy Land, it is said to have been introduced to France in the 15th century by King Philip the Good, who tasted a honey biscuit in Flanders. From the latter part of the 17th century, this confection was sold in fairs throughout France.


  • 1/2 cup, 6oz(170g) honey
  • 1/2 cup, 4oz (113g) hot milk
  • 8 tablespoons, 4oz (113g) butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 cup, 6.66oz, (187.5g) Organic Einkorn Pancake & Baking Mix
  • 1/4 cup, 1.75oz (50g)  brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • Spices (ground) in any quantity you’d like: cinnamon, ginger, clove, nutmeg or more simply allspice
  • Toppings: walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, fresh orange peels

to prepare:

  1. Dissolve honey in warm milk. Add the melted butter and pancake mix and whip vigorously to avoid lumps.
  2. Then incorporate the sugar and egg.
  3. Add spices, nuts, orange to taste.
  4. Bake in a loaf pan for 45 minutes in a 350 F oven.
  5. Make sure the gingerbread is baked by poking with a knife. The knife should come out dry.
The Pain d’épices can be wrapped in plastic and stored for at least a week, during which time the flavors will meld and it’ll get denser. It can also be frozen for a few months.
recipe adapted from

Nonettes with orange marmalade makes 10 muffin-size pieces

Nonnettes recipes are based off the Pain d'Epices, with some variations


    •  full 1 cup, 4.25oz (137 g)  Organic Einkorn Pancake & Baking Mix
    • scant 1/3 cup, 2oz (60 g) sugar
    • scant 1/2 cup, 3.5oz (100 g) milk
    • scant 1/3 cupm 3.5oz (100 g) honey
    • 2.5 tbl, 1.33oz (37 g) melted butter
    • 3.5oz (100 g) orange jam (or jam of your choice)
    • 1.5 tbl (10 g) of water
    • 1 oz (25 g) icing sugar

    to prepare:

    1. Preheat the oven to 340 degrees
    2. Mix the pancake mix and sugar in a bowl
    3. Heat the milk in a saucepan with a thick bottom and melt the honey in it (the milk must not boil)
    4. Pour the milk-honey mixture over the flour in the bowl and add the melted butter
    5. Grease the muffin tins
    6. Pour about 40 grams batter in each mold.
    7. Spoon half tablespoon of jam in the centre of each batter(if your jam is too thin, you will first need to boil it down a bit)
    8. Bake the nonettes for 15 minutes in preheated oven, the jam will sink to the middle of the cakes during baking
    9. Make glaze by mixing water well with powdered sugar
    10. After 15 minutes brush each nonette with a little glaze and put in the oven at 340 degrees for another 2 minutes
    11. Cool the nonettes before removing from the muffin tin.
      recipe adapted from




      for the dough:
      • 5 cups, 17.66oz (500 g) ground almonds
      • 1 3/4 cup, 12.33oz (350g) sugar
      • 3 1/4cup, 14oz (400g) Organic Einkorn Pancake & Baking Mix
      • 3 tbsp, 1.75oz (50g) cocoa powder
      • 1 grated or diced orange peel
      • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
      • 5 cloves, ground
      • 1 cup, 8.33 fl oz (250 ml) milk
      • 1 tbl honey, liquid
      for the Royal icing:
      • 3 1/2 cup 17.66 o (500 g) powdered sugar
      • 4 egg whites
      • 1 tbl lemon juice
        to prepare:
        • Stir together all the ingredients to form a soft dough, wrap in plastic and place in the fridge overnight
        • Using wet hands, form the dough into balls and lay them on a tray lined with baking paper.
        • Bake them in the middle of an oven preheated to 180°C for 13-15 minutes. Cool on a cooling rack.

         This recipe varies from region to region in Sicily, where it is the most famous.  For example some regions make it without any icing whatsoever, some with a chocolate glaze, some add candied citron and some regions make it flatter and larger, in which case there is hardly any difference between it and the German Lebkuchen.  Shouldn't surprise us with a recipe a few hundreds years old.

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