Silky was pleased. She sat there brushing her beautiful golden hair and ate sandwiches with them. She brought out a tin of Pop Cakes, which were lovely. As soon as you bit into them they went pop! and you suddenly found your mouth filled with new honey from the middle of the little cakes. Fanny took seven, one after another, for she was rather greedy.
The Enchanted Wood, Enid Blyton, The folk in the Faraway Tree
A couple of weeks ago, I noted that I was surprised it had taken me so long to get to Enid Blyton on this blog. Now, an admission: it's not for want of trying. A month or so after I started this blog, I had a lovely email from an old friend in Australia - Georgie - who wondered if I could recreate the Pop Cakes she remembered from her childhood. I thought they were perfect for inclusion here: little cakes, filled with honey, enjoyed by the characters throughout the books. The problem was, I just couldn't work out a way to get the honey to 'burst'. I had already made a honey cake I love, so I tried biscuits, I tried cupcakes and I tried sweets. None were right - none popped like a Pop Cake should.
Then, last month, my wonderful friend Lean, who I've known since university, came to London. We have always had a shared love of food and travel, and then both started blogging in the same week last year. We were planning a day of markets, cooking and eating and so I asked her, as I have so many people I've shared a meal with this year: what was her favourite book as a child? After some thought she came back to me: could I create something from the Magic Faraway Tree series? It gave me the push I needed. It was time for the Pop Cakes to happen.
My recent experiments with doughnuts made me think that they might be the way to go. I looked into Loukoumades - small Greek cakes fried and soaked in honey. I even had syringes ready, and was planning to inject the centre of the doughnuts with warmed honey to create the desired 'burst'. And then Lean, the visionary, suggested honeycomb. She said it almost as a joke - but we were instantly hooked on making it work.
After an afternoon wandering Broadway Market and cooking some delicious mussels, we turned our attention to the Pop Cakes. While the dough was proving, I whisked up a batch of honeycomb (or cinder toffee), and shattered it into tiny pieces. Before frying them, we enclosed the shards in rounds of the dough, sealing them inside, to be found only on consumption.
The Pop Cakes were a hit - molten honeycomb (still with some crunchy parts) inside chewy, sugar-coated dough. They did indeed 'burst' and 'pop'. I can imagine Fanny taking at least seven; Lean, my friend Bry and I certainly found them far too easy to eat. And I'm chuffed I've finally manage to fulfil my first request - though, until I can make it back to Australia again, it will be in words and pictures only I'm afraid Georgie!
ps. For those of you who've read my posts before, you may notice that the photographs are significantly better than normal (and more numerous too). Sadly, with Lean now back in Australia, this trend won't continue - but she did pass on some much appreciated (and needed) knowledge. I'd love to hear what you think in the coming weeks and months!
250g strong white bread flour
7g easy action yeast
1.5l vegetable oil
100g caster sugar
50g golden syrup
1.5tsp bi-carbonate of soda
200g caster sugar
Stand mixer or mixing bowl (if making the doughnuts by hand)
8cm biscuit cutter
Large saucepan and deep-fat fryer
1. Warm the milk and butter in the small saucepan, and then set aside until you can comfortably put your finger in the liquid. Put the flour, sugar, yeast and salt in the bowl. Beat the egg into the warmed milk and pour the wet ingredients over the dry. Stir with a wooden spoon to combine and then knead with a mixer dough hook (or your hand) for around ten minutes, until the dough is very smooth and elastic.
2. Remove the dough from the bowl, wash it up, butter the sides and place the dough back into it. Cover the bowl with cling film and allow to prove until the dough has doubled in size. This should take 1-2 hours.
3. While the batter is proving, you can make the honeycomb*. Line a baking tray with a piece of greaseproof paper. Place the sugar and golden syrup in the medium sized saucepan and stir to combine them. Once they're mixed, place over the heat, and don't put a spoon back into the pan, or the mixture will crystallise.
4. Bring to the boil and allow to bubble for around five minutes until the mixture is the colour of maple syrup - a rich, deep golden brown. Remove from the heat, sieve in the bi-carbonate of soda and quickly whisk, while the mixture bubbles up furiously. Once it is pale and full of bubbles, tip the honeycomb out on to the lined baking tray. Don't touch it or play around with it, just leave it alone to set. Once it is very dry and crisp, shatter into pieces with a hammer or rolling pin and set the honeycomb aside.
*Before you begin, I should say that I have found honeycomb to be a little temperamental. I struggle with it if it's a very warm or particularly humid day or if the oven/hob has been on in my flat for more than a couple of hours. However, when it does work (most of the time), it's just brilliant.
5. Tip the risen dough out onto the bench and knead by hand for a couple of minutes until very smooth. Flour your bench, then roll out the dough to about 1.5cm thick. Cut out 8cm circles, re-rolling any off-cuts until all dough has been cut out. Place a couple of pieces of honeycomb in the centre of the circle, then gather the outside edges and seal them together in the middle over the top of the honeycomb. Pinch the dough together so that a clean seal is created.
6. Turn the doughnuts over (so that the slightly messier end is at the bottom) and roll lightly on the bench into a smooth ball. Lightly flour the baking tray, place the doughnut onto it and repeat with all other circles of dough. You'll have leftover honeycomb - place the shards in a jar and give away as a gift if you'd rather not eat it all yourself.
7. Heat the oil to 190C, and test this with the thermometer before cooking the doughnuts. Keep checking the temperature as the doughnuts cook - it's important that this is right or they will cook too quickly (or slowly) and may end up raw in the middle, burnt on the outside or just a bit soggy. Place the doughnuts into the hot oil in small batches, giving them room to move around a little. The doughnuts will float on the top of the oil, so once you think they look browned underneath (a couple of minutes), lightly push on the top of the doughnut with the spoon. If they're ready, they'll flip over and you can cook the other side.
8. Remove the doughnuts from the oil using a slotted spoon and allow to drain on a cooling rack for a minute.
9. Place the caster sugar in the flat bowl, roll the doughnuts in the sugar, and then place in the sieve and shake a little to get rid of any excess. If you're going all out with the honey, drizzle a little over the top - they'll be honey Pop Cakes inside and out. These are best served immediately, but will be good the next day too.
A note: My last doughnut recipe on the blog was one from Justin Gellatly. It's unbeatable for large doughnuts that need an extended prove. These little doughnuts, filled before they go into the oil, are adapted from a recipe by Nigella Lawson, though she fills hers with jam - something I may try in the very near future.