In addition to reading, I spend a lot of my free time these days baking. So it seemed only natural for me to combine these two pastimes.
Last week, I was listening to The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater on audiobook and falling in love with the magical island of Thisby and the terrifying water-horses that rise from the sea. Much of the magic of that book came from the fact that it felt so real, and at least a little part of that reality came from the details of the island, such as their November cakes.
In this book, November cakes are part of the festivities leading up to the Scorpio Races. While I was listening to the descriptions, my mouth was watering and I knew I had to try making them immediately. Luckily, I found a recipe online from a blog called Fiction Food Cafe (yes please!), which was adapted from the recipe that Maggie Stiefvater herself created.
“Finn finds my left hand, opens my fingers, and puts a November cake in my palm. It oozes honey & butter, rivulets of the creamy frosting joining the honey in the pit of my hand. It begs to be licked.”
I made these cakes while listening to the end of the audiobook (and swallowing back tears), and while they might not be as beautiful as the ones in the example, I think they’re probably just as delicious.
Note: everything in bold is the recipe from Fiction Food Cafe. Everything in italics, plus the pictures, are mine.
- 1 Cup Milk
- 1/2 Cup Water
- 1/4 Cup + 2 Tbsp. Veg. Oil
- 1 Tbsp. Butter
- 3 1/2 Cups (or so) All-Purpose Flour
- 3 tsp. (a little over 1 packet) Active Dry Yeast
- 3 Tbsp. Granulated Sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp. Salt
- 2 Eggs
- 3 Tbsp Butter, melted (or simply very soft)
- 1/4 tsp. Orange Extract
- 1/3 Cup Brown Sugar
- 8 Tbsp. Butter
- 1/2 Cup Honey
- 1/2 tsp. Vanilla Extract
- 2 Tbsp. Heavy/Whipping Cream
- 1 Tbsp Butter, melted or very soft
- Up to 1 Tbsp. Water
- 1/2 Cup Powdered Sugar
- 1/2 tsp. Orange Essence (optional)
Note: Since much of my family is dairy-free, I used vegan butter instead of regular butter for everything, and almond milk+vegan butter instead of cream in the glaze.
- Pre-heat your oven to 100°F.
- Sit out all of the butter you’ll need for this recipe so it can get room temperature.
- For the cake, heat the milk, water, oil, & butter in the microwave for 2 minutes (I simply put it all in my glass 2 cup measure).
- In a large bowl, preferably the bowl of your stand mixer, combine 1 1/2 cups of the flour with the yeast, sugar, & salt. Crack the eggs into the microwaved liquid & then pour the liquid into the bowl of dry ingredients & mix on low.
- Add the remaining flour, 1 cup at a time, & mix for about 4 mins. You’ll end up with a very gooey mess of dough (I added a little more flour, about a cup, but looking back, I may not have needed to).
- Note: I’d recommend adding that extra cup of flour, since my dough was very gooey and I probably ended up adding at least another cup while kneading anyway.
- Turn off the oven & open the door. Using a spatula, scrape the dough down the sides of the bowl. Grease & flour another large bowl (preferably one with tall sides) & pour the dough into it. Lay a towel over the dough bowel & place it in the warm oven on a tray large enough to catch any dough should it rise over the edges of the bowl. Close the door & let the dough rise for an hour.
- Aka me sitting on the couch and listening to the audiobook for an hour.
- Remove the dough from the oven & turn it out onto a heavily floured work surface. Knead the dough some more to make it more manageable & then roll it out to about a 12″ x 20″ rectangle.
- Cue me getting frustrated at dough sticking to everything and being sure that these would taste awful. Oh me of little faith.
- To make the filling, mix the melted or very soft butter with the orange extract (I used very soft butter, room temperature zapped 5 secs. in the microwave, to have a spread as opposed to a sauce) & brush (or spread) it onto the surface of the dough rectangle.
- Carefully roll up the rectangle from the 12″ end (trying to keep it 12″ as you roll) & then slice the resulting roll into 12 1″ wide sections (OR, using a pizza cutter, cut the rectangle into 12 1″ wide strips & roll up each strip).
- Note: I used the second method, cutting the rectangle into 12 strips. It seemed to work pretty well (even if it did take forever) but if I make these again I think I’d like to try the other method.
- Grease & flour a 12 cup muffin tin & place each roll section, spiral/cut side up, into the pan. Cover with a towel & place in the oven to rise for 30 mins.
Ahhh, look at these beautiful and wildly differing in size rolls!
- Remove the towel but leave the rolls in the oven. Heat the oven to 400°F & bake the rolls until the edges begin to brown, about 14 mins (more or less depending entirely on your oven).
- Remove the rolls from the pan & let them cool on a large platter or a couple of large plates.
They puffed up enormously! My best guess is that I wrapped them too tightly, so when they expanded in the oven, they could only go up. I think I’d also leave them in the oven a tad longer next time, since some of them weren’t baked fully all the way through.
- Make the glaze by combining the brown sugar, butter, & honey in a medium pot over med-high heat. Stir constantly. Do not use a plastic spoon as it might melt. Use silicone if you have it.
For the record, this smelled heavenly.
- Add the cream & vanilla & bring the mixture to a boil, continuing to cook for 2 minutes. Remove from heat & let cool for a minute or two.
- Note: This was the point that I was listening to the end of the audiobook of The Scorpio Races, so if the glaze was a little extra salty, it was from my tears.
- Next, hold the rolls by their bottoms & one by one dip their tops into the pot of caramel glaze. Roll them around a little bit to get all of the top covered ( not the sides) & then hold the roll over the pot for a moment to let the excess glaze drip off.
- Return the covered rolls to the platter or plates. In a circular motion spoon the remaining glaze over the rolls.
- Tip: Line a large tray with foil & sit a wire cooling rack over it. Put the rolls on it when you’re ready to spoon the glaze on. This way, when the glaze drips off of the rolls, it will collect in the tray below & you can totally spoon it back on! The glaze will drip less as it cools.
- Note: since my glaze didn’t have cream in it, it wasn’t as thick and didn’t create the perfect caramelly glaze. But it was still delicious and sticky and beautiful.
- For the icing, combine the butter & powdered sugar with the back of a spoon (you can use melted butter, but I think very soft butter works great).
- Start out by mixing in 2 tsp. of water & increase from there, up to 1 Tbsp., until you get an icing that is pourable but not too thin. You can also mix in 1/4 tsp. orange extract for a nice flavor.
- Make sure the caramel glaze has cooled & then zig-zag drizzle the icing onto the rolls.
- Serve your November cakes warm (if need be, zap them in the microwave for about 15 seconds per roll).
My finished November cakes, glazed and iced and enticing!
These cakes might not have been the perfect caramel brown and zigzag glazed ones that the recipe described, but they were just as sugary sweet and sticky as I imagined, so I was satisfied! This whole process took an entire afternoon/evening, so it wasn’t a quick endeavor. But at the end I got a delicious treat, so I’d say it was worth it.
I’ll have more thoughts on The Scorpio Races in an upcoming wrap-up, so look for that soon!
Also, let me know if you know of any other bookish baking I should attempt, since I want to do more of this in the future!
Have you ever baked food from a book? Have you read The Scorpio Races?