RECIPE: Baking Honey Cake for Ukrainians

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Sustaining a culture by feeding the people.

On the border of Ukraine, in Przemyśl, Poland, after collecting 52 kilos of flour and buckets of honey and other ingredients to make this honey cake, I would often bake alone. When the time came to mix, however, some of the other amazing World Central Kitchen chefs or volunteers in our WCK warehouse would jump in to help paddle the batter using giant stainless steel paddles. It was my favorite kind of workout, and I miss it.

Sometimes you’d find Ukrainians and Polish volunteers having a slice of cake together in a WCK tent along the border path or train station or shelter.

I think of this recipe (which I’ve adapted for normal home consumption) as a “snack” style cake, great with a cup of tea or coffee, or served with a bit of whipped cream and crushed pistachio. But to be clear, we did not use whipped cream or berries or pistachio when baking for Ukrainians, as they were fleeing or on the move somewhere. Our slices of cake were tucked into small square brown paper bags, easy to grab and go. Sometimes you’d find Ukrainians and Polish volunteers having a slice of cake together in a WCK tent along the border path or train station or shelter, or even in the WCK kitchen itself on a break. We had volunteers from around the world as well as Ukrainian staff. This cake was something everyone was comforted by.

Editor’s Note: Since working with WCK on the border of Ukraine, Rachel Vaughn has continued her humanitarian work there, supporting a shelter for women, children, and the elderly outside of L’viv. With David Faeder, she has gone on to found the Direct Effect Action Network (DEAN), which, since its launching in July of 2022, has supplied large generators to four Kherson hospitals and smaller generators, medical supplies, and bi-weekly food deliveries to several shelters.  

Vaughn will return to Ukraine this month to deliver more than 800 pounds of medical and surgical supplies to the Zaporizhzhia and Kherson areas. 

DEAN relies on donors to subsidize this work, which now includes support for other humanitarian disaster scenarios, such as the recent earthquake in Turkey. To read more, see videos, or donate, go to directeffect.org 

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In Ukraine, people say “Slava Ukraini,” or Glory to Ukraine, in toasts, in signage, in activism, and in conversation. Ukrainian Honey Cake. Photo by Randi Baird.

RECIPE: Baking Honey Cake for Ukrainians


  • Author: Rachel Vaughn

Ingredients

Units Scale
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup sunflower or vegetable oil
  • 1 cup raw honey (clover, wildflower, or other mild honey, not buckwheat)
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • A pinch of cardamom (optional)
  • Optional garnishes:
  • Powdered sugar
  • Crushed pistachios, fresh berries, whipped cream

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter or line with parchment paper an 11-x-17 baking sheet with sides.
  2. In a large bowl, with an electric or hand mixer, beat the eggs, brown sugar, and salt until light and fluffy, 8-10 minutes.
  3. In a small bowl, combine and stir the baking soda and apple cider vinegar together — it will fizz a bit. Add the honey, sour cream, and baking soda/vinegar mixture to the batter. Beat on low for 30-40 seconds, until just combined. (Do not over-beat here, or the cake texture will turn out hard, not fluffy.) 
  4. Mix the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom (if using) together. Gradually mix the dry ingredients into the batter, mixer on low, and beat just until combined. The batter will be runny and lose some of its  fluffiness.
  5. Pour all the batter into the prepared baking sheet and carefully level to the edges with a spatula. Bake on the middle oven rack for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven, and cool for 10 minutes in the pan. Remove from pan onto a wire rack, and cool completely. Cut into square or diagonal pieces and sprinkle with powdered sugar or a spoon of freshly whipped cream topped with a few berries and crushed pistachios. 

Notes

Honey Note: Honey, specifically raw honey, is considered a superfood. Raw honey has antibacterial and antiviral properties that can help boost your immune system and fight sickness. When your honey becomes solid or a bit crystallized, you know it hasn’t been processed or overheated in the bottling process. Real honey, like Nature Nate’s Raw & Unfiltered Honey or honey purchased from your farmers market, undergoes natural processes like crystallization because the honey remains 100 percent pure and natural. If your honey has hardened or crystallizes you can microwave it for 30 seconds and then use as recipe directs. 

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Rachel Vaughn
Rachel Vaughn
Rachel Vaughn has been a private chef since 1994, cooking both on the West and East coasts. While working for World Central Kitchen in 2022, Rachel began supporting a large shelter outside of L’viv, Ukraine. This work inspired her and her colleague David Faeder to found the Direct Effect Action Network (DEAN). DEAN is actively engaged in providing timely assistance to the people of Ukraine who have been internally displaced or otherwise harmed by Russia’s invasion.
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