This moist, delicious honey cake is the perfect recipe to celebrate the nativity of John the Baptist, who ate wild honey (and locusts) in the wilderness.
by Ryan Langr
June 24th is the Nativity of John the Baptist. That’s a fancy way for the Church to say, “Happy birthday, John!”
What better way to celebrate a birthday than with a cake? John was known for being a pretty intense guy; not only did he baptize Christ, but he wore itchy camel hair clothing and lived on locusts and honey for food. I’ll pass on the locusts, but I think this moist, delicious honey cake may have been one of his guilty pleasures.
Not only is honey cake appropriate because John ate wild honey, but the cake also has a rich history within the Jewish culture. It was often prepared for the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) to help usher in a “sweet” start to a new year.
June 24th may not be the New Year for Christians, but Christ’s encounter with John the Baptist was the beginning of his ministry. In that way it’s a new beginning we should definitely celebrate. And since I’ll be looking for any reason to make this cake, you could also make it to help celebrate Jesus’ baptism (early January).
- all-purpose flour: 3½ cups (level off with a knife and put aside in a large, separate bowl in preparation)
- granulated sugar: 1½ cups
- baking powder: 1 tsp
- baking soda: 1 tsp
- salt: ½ tsp
- ground cinnamon: 4 tsp
- ground cloves: ½ tsp
- ground allspice: ½ tsp
- canola or vegetable oil: 1 cup
- honey: 1 cup
- brown sugar: ½ cup
- eggs: 3 large
- strongly brewed coffee: 1 cup (I’m told tea would work too, but I haven’t tested that)
- orange juice: ½ cup You could also use 2 Oranges to squeeze your own fresh
- whiskey: ¼ cup You could also use orange liqueur or brandy; or substitute with more orange juice.
- vanilla extract: 1 tsp
Make and bake!
I used a 9×13 cake pan, but you can also use an angel food cake pan (without a removable bottom), or three 8×4 loaf pans.
Lightly coat the pan(s) with cooking spray, or sprinkle them with flour after greasing them with butter. I lined mine with parchment paper, and it worked surprisingly well!
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Mix most of the dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl: flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves, and allspice.
After it’s thoroughly mixed, make a large well in the center to hold the rest of the ingredients. Whisk together well after all ingredients are added. Pour in the pan.
Put in the oven on top of another baking pan (it keeps the bottom from browning too quickly), and cook for 40-50 minutes. If you are using an angel food cake pan, the cooking time will likely be 60-70 minutes. Remember all ovens are different, so keep an eye on your delicious cake.
Once it’s done, let it sit for about 15 minutes before running a butter knife around the edges to detach it. Transfer to a wire rack to finish drying.
If you wrap it in foil it can stay good for several days—making this the perfect dessert to make ahead of time!
This cake went over great with my family. I actually made it for breakfast—my daughter dove right into it and both my wife and I had second helpings.
It struck me that we celebrate a new year, or the birth of a person, with something so sweet, so celebratory. It’s a testament to hope—that though things may be bad, there is always hope. There was hope in Christ, in the beginning of his ministry, and John the Baptist was the first to lead people to Christ.
The Church says the Canticle of Zechariah every morning in the Liturgy of the Hours. Found in Luke 1:67-79, I personally find it one of the most beautiful passages in the New Testament:
Blessed be the Lord,
The God of Israel;
He has come to His people and set them free.
He has raised up for us a mighty Savior,
Born of the house of His servant David.
Through His holy prophets He promised of old
That He would save us from our enemies,
From the hands of all who hate us.
He promised to show mercy to our fathers
And to remember His holy Covenant.
This was the oath He swore to our father Abraham:
To set us free from the hands of our enemies,
Free to worship Him without fear,
Holy and righteous in His sight
All the days of our life.
You, My child shall be called
The prophet of the Most High,
For you will go before the Lord to prepare His way,
To give his people knowledge of salvation
By the forgiveness of their sins.
In the tender compassion of our Lord
The dawn from on high shall break upon us,
to shine on those who dwell in darkness
And the shadow of death,
And to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Glory to the Father,
and to the Son,
and to the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning.
is now, and will be forever.