Cardamom and Honey Pryanik

This recipe is also adapted from Lesley Chamberlain's The Food and Cooking of Russia. Chamberlain notes that pryanik, a spice cake with an important place in Russian cuisine, dates back to 'at least the ninth century, when it was a simple combination of rye flour, honey and berry juice. Spices were added and the preparation took its modern form in medieval Russia.' It survived in its traditional form until the end of the nineteenth century, when the Russian palate finally rebelled against pryanik's killer combination of' sweetness, stickiness and extreme density'. Russian cooks then adapted it by adding eggs and/or milk, until it became something 'light and foreign, somewhere between a tea bread and a sponge'. Chamberlain s recipe follows the lighter modern version. I have lightened her recipe still further, with a little brown sugar and an extra egg. But everything is relative, and even this 'light' version of pryanik may be rather overwhelming to those used to sponge cake.

500 g honey
100 g brown sugar
100 g rye flour
400 g white flour
½ tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp star anise
2 tsp lemon peel
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
200 ml creme fraiche
100 ml milk

Preheat the oven to 160 °C (gas mark 2½). Warm the honey and sugar in a large saucepan, then add the rye flour and beat well. Combine the white flour and the spices, lemon peel, baking powder and salt. Beat together the eggs, creme fraiche and milk before mixing into the white-flour mixture. Stir in the honey mixture. Pour into a greased 23 cm square baking tin and bake for about 45 minutes, following the usual precautions about burning. Serve cut into squares.

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