Make Bienenstich, The German Honey Cake Filled With Cream
Bienenstich, or bee sting cake, is a German yeasted cake kissed with honey. A creamy filling and crunchy almond topping make this recipe irresistible.
Bee sting cake, or Bienenstich, is a German cake made with a sweet yeasted dough filled with cream and topped with caramelized honey and almonds. The cake is a study of textures: it's fluffy, creamy, and crunchy. Bee sting cake is richer than it is sweet, with most of the sweetness coming from floral honey.
Don’t be intimidated that this cake has three different elements. It may be more of a baking project rather than a last-second craving fulfiller, but if you work on the cake one element at a time, they'll stack into an impressive and satisfying dessert. The pastry cream may be made the day before, and the topping is just four ingredients to combine.
Bee sting cake will make anyone feel extra appreciated on a special occasion. Or try it out for a fun weekend baking project just because. It can be made year-round; try using a light and floral honey in the summertime and a dark, bold honey in winter.
Origins of Bee Sting Cake
Bee sting cake is a German cake that’s popular in western Germany as well as in Alsace, France. The cake dates back to the 15th century, so the specifics of its invention are not easy to uncover. My favorite legend about its origin is that before an impending attack on the town of Andernach, some apprentice bakers noticed bees’ nests on the city walls. They hurled the bees’ nests at the attackers, which sent the invaders fleeing and badly stung. Bakers in the town invented this bee sting cake to celebrate.
Bienenstich: Cake or Bread?
You may be confused because this is a cake recipe, but it also looks a lot like a bread recipe. This is such an old recipe that it predates modern baking soda and baking powder by about 400 years. Many old "cakes" are actually just sweetened bread recipes eaten for dessert. Other examples of yeasted cakes are Kugelhupf from Germany and panettone from Italy. In fact, the famous phrase "Let them eat cake!" referred to brioche bread rather than what we think of cake nowadays.
Instant Yeast Versus Active Dry Yeast
I generally prefer to use instant yeast because I can toss it in with the rest of the ingredients without proofing it first. If you only have active dry yeast at home, go ahead and use that instead. In place of the instant yeast, use 1 packet (2 1/4 teaspoons) of active dry yeast. Proof the yeast in the warm milk until it bubbles, which should take between 5 and 10 minutes. To do this, you'll need to heat the milk and melt the butter separately in step 5 below.
A Pastry Cream Lightened With Whipped Cream
If you want to get fancy and technical, the bee sting cake filling is called crème diplomat. All that is, though, is pastry cream lightened with whipped cream. Crème diplomat is light, creamy, and rich rather than overly sweet.
To make pastry cream, milk is whisked into a mixture of egg yolks, sugar, and cornstarch. Then, the mixture is poured into a saucepan to cook over medium-low heat until thickened. Once the pastry cream begins to bubble, cook it for 1 minute longer to ensure that the starch is fully cooked. Otherwise, the pastry cream could break down and loosen over time. Off the heat, you can flavor it with some vanilla extract, and then chill it until needed.
A Crunchy-Sticky Honey Almond Topping
A name like bee sting cake evokes a cake full of sweet honey flavor, and most of the honey is concentrated in the topping. Butter, honey, and sugar melt into a caramel sauce to which a large handful of sliced almonds are added. The top of the cake gets doused before baking and the sauce and almonds caramelize into an irresistible crunchy-sticky, honey-flavored topping.
My favorite way of breaking this recipe into smaller steps is to make the pastry cream ahead of time. It can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 days.
Let Them Eat Cake!
Combine the dry ingredients for the filling:
To make the filling, in a medium, heat-proof mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, and salt.
Whisk in the egg yolks and milk:
Add the egg yolks and whisk until the mixture is pale and smooth, about 1 minute. The mixture will seem too dry at first but keep whisking and it will loosen. Whisk in the milk, a splash at a time, whisking constantly until all of the milk has been incorporated.
Cook the pastry cream:
Pour the milk mixture into the saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, until the custard begins to simmer and thickens, about 5 minutes.
Once it begins to gently bubble, continue to cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute longer to cook out the starch. Take the pan off the heat and whisk in the vanilla extract.
Strain and chill:
Pour the pastry cream through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean bowl and cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pastry cream. Refrigerate while preparing the cake.
Heat the milk and butter:
To make the cake, heat the milk and the butter in a small saucepan over low heat until the butter melts. Take the pan off the heat and let the mixture sit until lukewarm.
Make the dough:
Pour the milk and butter into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add the honey, eggs, bread flour, yeast, and salt. Mix on low speed for about 1 minute until everything comes together and forms a rough dough. Then, increase the speed to level 2/medium speed and continue kneading for 6 minutes. The dough should be smooth and elastic and not sticky.
Let the dough rise:
Transfer the dough to a lightly greased mixing bowl. Cover and let it rise in a warm spot until the dough has doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Make the topping:
While the dough is rising, make the almond topping. Place the butter, honey, and sugar in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Set it on medium heat and cook until the sugar dissolves and the mixture begins to bubble. Remove from the heat and stir in the sliced almonds. Set aside and let it cool.
Prepare the pan:
Grease a 9-inch springform pan lightly with butter. Dust the bottom and sides with flour and tap out the excess.
Shape the dough:
Punch down the dough. Transfer it to the prepared springform pan and gently press and stretch to evenly fill the pan. Gently spread the almond topping over the dough to cover the entire surface.
Let the cake rise:
Cover the pan and let the cake rise in a warm spot until doubled, about 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven:
About 20 minutes before the cake is ready to bake, set a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Bake the cake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the edges are golden and the topping is bubbling.
Remove the cake from the oven and let it cool in the pan for 20 minutes to allow the topping to firm up. Then, run a knife around the edges of the pan to loosen the cake from the pan and place it on a wire rack to cool completely before filling.
Finish preparing the filling:
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, or a large mixing bowl if using a hand mixer, beat the heavy whipping cream on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form, 1 to 2 minutes. The cream should thicken and when you pull the whisk out of the bowl, the peak should stand up.
Remove the pastry cream from the refrigerator, and use a whisk to stir the pastry cream until smooth and creamy. Add half of the whipped cream to the chilled pastry cream and use a rubber spatula to gently combine. Then fold in the rest of the whipped cream. The filling should be smooth, light, and airy.
Fill the cake:
Once the cake has cooled completely, assemble the cake. Using a serrated bread knife, split the cake in half horizontally. Use a spatula to spread the filling over the bottom layer of the cake. Leave a half-inch margin around the edges. You won't use all of the filling, or it may ooze out the sides.
Place the top layer over the filling. While you can serve it right away, letting it chill for a couple of hours before serving helps set the cake for easier slicing.
Store the cake, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. I don’t recommend freezing this cake as pastry cream with cornstarch doesn’t freeze and thaw well.
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