The bienenstich, which in German translates to “bee sting,” is a delicious dessert, but I am reluctant to call it a “cake.” It’s made on a yeasty sweet bread, you see, and is a little more savory than you’d expect for something you’d give to someone for their birthday. What it loses sweetness in the body, it makes up for on top, with its crunchy, honey almond coat. MM. was it good. It’s kinda like caramel, but I hate caramel. And I loved this. Honey caramel. I giant, almondy, bit o’ honey melted onto some bread.
What’s even better about this cake is the history. Well, questionable history. I read quite a few sources that say this cake’s name was founded in the 15th century after German raiders successfully conquered a neighboring village by flinging swarming beehives into the throng. I like to think that they were vikings. Honey-crazed vikings.
It’s probably myth, but for the sake of this cake (and for it’s devious tastiness) let’s say that it’s true. I mean, the cake itself is practically a battle in and of itself. This cake took me almost four hours to make. In Francisco-time, that’s two episodes of Freaks and Geeks, and then my library discovery for the day, The Harvey Girls, which, sidenote, is the gayest movie I’ve ever seen.
I’ve altered our lady Deb’s recipe just a bit. Copied and pasted almost exactly* from the Smitten Kitchen recipe.
2 1/4 teaspoons (or 1 1/4-ounce package) instant yeast (not active dry) (also sold as rapid rise or bread machine yeast)
3/4 cup whole milk, ideally at room temperature
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon table salt
2 large eggs, ideally at room temperature
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold is fine
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 1/2 cups (4 3/4 ounces) sliced almonds
Two pinches of sea salt
Pastry Cream Filling
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 large egg yolks
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour or cornstarch [updated]
2 pinches sea salt
3ish tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold is fine
*I added more honey, duh.
Real quick note: I didn’t want to buy whole milk and then waste the rest, so I used skim milk and then bought a very tiny carton of heavy cream, adding 3 tablespoons of cream per 1 cup of milk. Easy!
CAKE: Combine all of the cake ingredients in a bowl, stirring till it combined and battery, then stirring for two minutes more. In a stand mixer, you can mix this with the paddle attachment OR you can make like me and use a little elbow grease at low-medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes.
Get all the batter off of the sides of the bowl and then cover with plastic wrap to let rise for an hour. It won’t rise that much. Don’t get excited.
Meanwhile, we gotta make the honey crunchy yummy top. In medium saucepan over medium heat, heat the butter, sugar, honey, cream and salt until the butter is melted. Bring to a simmer and let it boil for 3 to 5 minutes, until the mixture gets a hair darker and looks like some gaseous planet.
Then add the almonds. It’ll get real thick and candy-like but don’t sweat it. Set it aside to cool.
Butter and flour a 8-inch round cake pan. I only had a 10 inch, which is why my cake is a little thin, but if you have something even smaller, go for it. Deflate the batter and then nudge it until it fills the bottom of the pan. Cover again with plastic wrap and set aside for another 30 minutes.
Heat your oven to 350 degrees.
Once the cake has finished its second rise (that little guy still won’t rise that much, but don’t worry, every dog has his day) you gotta put the almond crunchy stuff on the cake. It doesn’t really “spread” per se, because it’s thick like a melty granola bar. Me? I made like the 15th century viking raiders and used my hands to evenly plop the almond goop on top. If it’s super chunky and worrisome on top, know that everything is going to flatten out once it gets into the oven. It’s quite picturesque.
Bake cake for 20 to 25 minutes, until top is bronzed and toothpick inserted into the center comes out batter-free. The caramel stuff will start to bubble and look super scary, but it settles and soaks as soon as the cake comes out of the oven, so don’t fret.
Transfer to a cooling rack and after it sits a bit, run a knife around the circumference to free it from its spring form clutches. Let it cool and yea, you’ll have to reassemble the cake a little bit. The almonds will no doubt fall off and goop and be weird but just tack ‘em back on.
The pastry filling part deserves your full attention. It’s easy to mess up. Don’t try at multi-tasking by doing your whisking while watching the bar fight scene of The Harvey Girls on your laptop. I had to rewind it twice.
To make the pastry filling, which you might want to do while the dough is rising the second time, Warm milk in a medium saucepan. Slowly drizzle 1-2 tablespoons of honey into the milk and warm it. It is necessary to taste the milk & honey mixture. Pour into a small bowl or cup, and set aside. Do this next part quickly! You don’t want the milk to cool too much.
Rinse saucepan and off the heat, whisk the yolks and sugar together like an angry viking. Whisk in flour and salt. Drizzle in warm honey-milk a spoonful at a time, whisking indefinitely. Never stop whisking. You don’t want anything to curdle. Once you’ve add half of it, you can add the rest and return the saucepan to a medium-high heat until it bubble, then simmer for one to two minutes. During this part, I also added even more honey. Again, never stop whisking. Off the heat, whisk in the butter and vanilla extract.
Cool custard and cake completely before assembling the cake. I put the custard in the fridge.
Finally, assemble the cake by flipping it and dividing it in half, width-wise, with a serrated knife. Do this carefully.
Once both the cake and pastry cream are fully cooled, place the cake on a serving platter and divide it horizontally into two layers with a long serrated knife. Spread your custard all over the bottom, oo, mm, yea, baby. Then, put the bottom, back on the upside down top. Does that make sense? I assembled it this way because I wanted to move the top as little as possible. It’s very fragile and goopy and falling-apart-like. Then flip the cake over onto a serving platter.
Enjoy this by yourself. Don’t share. Eat it with coffee. With milk. With honeyed coffee. With honeyed milk. With ANYTHING JUST EAT IT NOW.
Francisco, the Red Beard