A cake for rainy days


It’s raining. It started out as a mere mizzle while I was at the garden center picking out pumpkins and fall flowers, and strengthened while I was planting the pansies and mums and ornamental cabbages, but now it’s a full-fledged October rain with an occasional thunder rumble. Outside it is wet, it is chilly … it is a glorious autumn afternoon, and a good one for staying indoors.


A good cake is a joyous thing. So many cakes are just impersonal slabs or rounds of generic “chocolate” or “vanilla” styrofoam plastered with sugary dayglo frosting. Hopefully these cakes really do bring people joy, but so often they just seem like cakes of obligation.


I love making delicious, joy-filled cakes that are a delight to see, to smell, and even more delightful to eat. My parents gave me a beautiful jadeite Mosser glass cake stand for my birthday recently, and I made a cake yesterday to try it out. I wanted to make something deep, rich and spicy, not too sweet but satisfying, smelling of all the best kinds of things.


At first I planned to adapt a recipe for golden rum cake, but when I read through it I realized I’d have to wildly change it to get the kind of cake I was imagining, so I scrapped that idea. Eventually I adapted Hannah Queen’s Spiced Parsnip Cake with Toasted Walnut-Brown Sugar Glaze from her cookbook Honey & Jam (which is a visual feast as well as a source of great recipes.


When I say “adapted” I kind of mean “used as a guideline and improvised as I saw fit, and hoped to goodness it would taste good in the end.” We cut into it after lunch today, and I can confirm that it does. “It smells like Christmas — a German Christmas!” my mom exclaimed. Success, satisfaction … joy.

Rye and Walnut Parsnip Cake with a honey-rye glaze

For the cake

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup rye flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoon baking soda
generous lashings of cinnamon (about 2-4 teaspoons)
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg (or thereabouts)
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves (or thereabouts — up to 3/4 t. would do)
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
The freshly grated zest of one generous orange (generous in size, that is)
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup white sugar (though you could use packed brown if you have it)
1/4 cup honey
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup sour cream
3 large eggs
A good slosh of rye whiskey (a tablespoon or so would do)
2 cups or so peeled and grated parsnip
1 cup roughly chopped English walnuts

For the glaze

4 tablespoons unsalted butter (though you can use salted if you want to)
1/4 cup heavy cream
A very good slosh of rye whiskey (might be close to 1/4 cup, but probably not quite that much; maybe 3 tablespoons. Can you tell I didn’t measure it?)
A very good splodge of honey (about a 1/4 cup or so … just squeeze it in and see how it looks, and when it looks like there’s enough, stop)

To make the cake

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F; put your walnuts in a baking dish or on a cookie sheet until you start smelling a light, toasty fragrance (3-10 minutes depending on whether your nuts were frozen or not). Butter and flour a standard-sized Bundt pan. I wouldn’t advise using one with fancy designs in it for this cake because of its composition and density. But if you want to try it out, by all means do.

Put the sugar, the honey and the oil into the bowl of a stand mixer and mix it on medium until it’s blended up, then put the sour cream in and mix until blended. With the mixer running, pour the eggs in one at a time (it’s easy to do this if you crack them into the measuring cup you had the oil in). Peek into the bowl and see if it’s all mixed together well. If it is, put in all the dry ingredients and the zest and mix until just moistened. Then take the bowl off the stand and stir in the parsnips and walnuts (you did take the walnuts out of the oven, didn’t you?). Scoop into your prepared pan and spread it around until it’s even, then put it in the oven for about an hour (it might take less or more time depending on how your oven bakes). Once a toothpick or cake tester comes out mostly clean (with no oozing goey bits stuck to it), take the cake out and cool it on a wire rack for 10 minutes or so. After that, turn it out onto your cake plate. Then you can make the glaze.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat (you could brown it first if you want to) with the cream, honey and rye. Stir this all together; keep stirring as the butter melts. Once everything’s melted and stirred together, grind a bit of coarse salt into the mixture (but just a bit). It might boil and bubble and worry you a bit, but keep stirring! Once it gets a bit thicker (after 5-7 minutes, probably), take it off the heat. It’s fine if it boils a little bit, but you don’t want it to get too thick. It should pour freely from a spoon. With a toothpick, poke your cake all over, but do it gently because you don’t want to rip it. Once that’s done, take a pastry brush and brush the glaze onto the cake. Brush it and brush it and brush it and brush it until you think the cake just possibly can’t take any more glaze — you may or may not have to use all of it. Do find something to do with the rest of it, though, because it’s so tasty.

You can either serve the cake at this point, while it’s still warm, or wait until it’s fully cooled. It’s great by itself, but it would also be lovely with unsweetened whipped cream.

As they say in Germany, Guten appetit.