russian-honey-cake Recipes

russian honey cake

From time to time when someone learns that I’m married to a Russian, they’ll ask me if I can come up with a recipe for a Russian dish they’ve had, which is hilarious because I have never been to Russia, have probably only picked up 20 words (by generous estimation) in the 13 years we’ve been together and of the maybe five Russian dishes I’ve made, I’ve simply done them my mother in-law’s way. It’s almost like people might know that I have a tendency to get really obsessive when I decide I want to crack the code of a recipe and they’re hoping I’ll apply it to a long-lost loved dish they want to make a regular part of their lives again? Nah, that would be ridiculous.

whisking in those eggs, it gets thick

Enter: medovik. Or maybe smetannik. Guys, if you’re ever looking for a sign that a recipe is going to be a doozy to unpack, definitely aim for a dish that nobody even agrees on the name of.*

adding flour

Technically speaking, this hunt began in 2013 when I received two requests for Russian honey cake — something I’d never even heard of — within a month. I expected it to be a fairly simple process: 1. Try an authentic one from a Russian bakery and see if I even liked it, which I doubted I would because I’m just not that into honey. 2. If I did, try to recreate it using published recipes as guidance. But things got immediately, screechingly off track.

it has a bread dough-like texture

First, I fell in love. Why did nobody tell me it was as stunning as a dobos torte? I have a soft spot for cakes with a gazillion skinny layers. Oh, and the flavor — I had no idea. It tastes like an extraordinarily good honey graham cracker (i.e. like nothing we can buy in a box) that’s at once caramel and penuche and biscoff or stroopwafel layered with a sweetened cream or custard or cream cheese, yet the version I was eating, as per the ingredients on the label, contained exactly zero of these things. I was riveted.

dough, ready to roll

And then I fell in… something, because the recipes I found made no sense at all. They were for cookies! This was unquestionably a cake with plush layers. I ceased all medovik/smetannik studies until this madness stopped.

dock it -- it bubbles

Last month, three years later, I began anew. I went into a tornado of research — my Russian cookbooks, recipe websites in English and Russian via Google Translate, more Russian cookbooks through Google Book Search, having my mother-in-law call her friends that bake, YouTube videos in English and Russian — the likes I haven’t done since 2012’s Lasagna Bolognese in 2012, a dish I referred to “my culinary Mount Everest,” a mountain that has never since looked so tiny. The more I read, the more confused I became.**

all baked, smelling like honey caramel heaven

I finally, weeks later, had to make all the noise stop. I closed all the books and all of the browser windows and started typing a recipe that blended the most appealing middle ground or elements of everything I’d read. I accepted that there were parts that didn’t make sense to me but I would do them anyway. I expected very little, but the cookie discs — yes, cookies, but a tiny bit bendy so maybe 10 percent on its way to cake already — smelled like a kiss of buttery honey caramel as they exited the oven and I felt like we might be at the brink of honey cake greatness at last.

you bake the trimmings

After expending so much mental energy on the layers, I decided the simplest filling option — sweetened sour cream — was the most sane place to start. Honey would be the logical thing to sweeten it with, but after seeing a few recipes that worked in sweetened condensed milk, only one of the most delicious substances on this earth, I sweetened mine instead with it. The filling/frosting takes approximately one minute to make and I was pretty excited by now because this was happening, I was finally doing this. And then this happened:

things started going badly
oh god what have i done

And I was all because I couldn’t believe I’d gotten so close just to trash the whole thing. I shoved it into the back of the fridge, stormed out of the kitchen and didn’t return until the next day, and then I took deep breaths. I re-iced the cake with the spillover. I scooped and spackled. I covered the cake with the prescribed crumbs but until the moment that we sliced into the cake, I was still convinced it was a flop, that there would be no filling left, just a merged megastack of cake inside with no nuance, no joy, no point, no…

russian honey cake
russian honey cake

… sound. This cake has a way of silencing a room.

** So, is it called medovik (honey cake) or smetannik (sour cream cake), Deb? I asked many many people and here is a small sampling of the responses I got:

Team Smetannik: “Smetannik is what you made — it is a honey cake with sour cream layers…” “Smetanik is any cake with sour cream based frosting. Smetannik has honey in the recipe too, but only a little.” “Smetanik is a cake with sour cream used both in frosting and batter.” “smetannik, but you are missing the walnuts.. We make it with walnuts on each layer.”

“Medovnik, which I I think is also called Medoviy Tort — is basically the same thing, except, and this is where you get LOTS of debate, has honey in the sour cream frosting.” “Medovik is a honey cake which is usually assumed to have a sour cream frosting (though not always). I’d call it a Medovik.” “did you use multiple cups of honey in the recipe? Then it’s a medovik… also you seem to be missing walnuts”

Both teams were kind, however. “… if you were to use the terms interchangeably, the Russian culinary police won’t come after you, partly because there is no consensus.” “It’s definitely confusing, but call it what you want, I’d eat your version and ask for seconds.” (Aw.)

** Just a rough overview of some of my questions:
– Why did most contain 2 tablespoons of honey and 1 cup of sugar? How was this a honey cake?
– Why do some use 2 tablespoons of butter and others use 12?
– Half the recipes called for us to make a caramel and then, when it is still bubbling on the stove, whisk eggs into it — you do not need to be a food scientist to know this is how to make scrambled eggs. The other half have you make the caramel with the eggs already in it! How can that work?
– A lot of recipes have you mix baking soda and vinegar — basically activating it and rendering it almost inert, right? we did this once for red velvet cake and it confused me then too — and then mix in into the bubbling caramel, surely killing off any rising powers left in it. What was the point of all of this?
– Why does the dough roll out better when warm? Isn’t this stressful? What if your kid needs something and then the dough cools and you can’t roll it, does one just throw everything away?
– Do these really bake into cookies or something softer?
– And the filling — some people use sweetened sour cream, others add whipped cream and/or sweetened condensed milk or a full pastry cream/custard and I even saw one with a cooked flour frosting. Which was correct? Which was better? This is not America’s Test Kitchen. If I can not reasonably nail down a recipe in 2 to 3 rounds, I’m out.


One year ago: My Old-School Baked Ziti
Two years ago: Better Chicken Pot Pies
Three years ago: Miso Sweet Potato and Broccoli Bowl
Four years ago: Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls
Five years ago: Apple Pie Cookies
Six years ago: Mushroom Lasagna
Seven years ago: Quiche Lorraine
Eight years ago: Best Challah (Egg Bread), Mom’s Apple Cake and Beef, Leek and Barley Soup
Nine years ago: Peanut Butter Brownies and Arroz Con Pollo
Ten! years ago: Lemony Persnick

And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Caramelized Brown Sugar Oranges With Yogurt and Potato Pizza, Even Better
1.5 Years Ago: Why You Should Always Toast Your Nuts and Obsessively Good Avocado-Cucumber Salad
2.5 Years Ago: Asparagus-Stuffed Eggs
3.5 Years Ago: Spinach and Smashed Egg Toast
4.5 Years Ago: Over-The-Top Mushroom Quiche

Russian Honey Cake

  • Servings: 8 in huge slices, 12 in normal ones
  • Time: About 2 hours on the first day + an overnight rest + about 30 minutes on the second
  • Print

This cake is eight paper-thin cake layers with a creamy, slightly tangy filling and coating. It mostly tastes like dreamy frosted graham crackers. The honey, if you’re nervous, is barely notable if you use a mild one but will be more present with a strong one. The filling is just a little sweet and has no sourness to it; after absorbing into the cake layers, it tastes so much like a mild cream cheese frosting, good luck convincing people it is anything else.

Planning ahead: You must start this cake a day early because you’re going to want the better part of the day for the filling to soften the cookies into glorious thin cake layers, just like an icebox cake. You can start even earlier than that, too. Our cake looked amazing in the fridge for 5 whole days before, um, it was “gone” so you can assemble this a few days before you need it. Or, you can make the cookie layers a week or longer in advance and store the in a container at room temperature, as you would other cookies. Just make sure you get them filled and frosted a day before you want to slice in.

    Cookie Layers
  • 1/2 cup (170 grams) honey
  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar
  • 1/2 cup (115 grams) unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea or table salt
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
  • 3 1/2 cups (455 grams) all-purpose flour, divided
  • Frosting and Filling
  • 32 ounces (just shy of 4 cups or 900 grams) sour cream
  • 1 14-ounce can (400 grams) sweetened condensed milk

    The day before, get ready: Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Get 2 baking sheets (or even better, round pizza pans) down, more if you have them. Tear off 6 sheets of parchment paper large enough to have a 9-inch circle on it.

    Make cookie/cake dough: In a medium-sized saucepan, combine the sugar, honey and butter over medium heat. Once simmering, cook for 3 to 4 minutes (no specific temperature needed), it should get a faint shade darker and smell wonderful. Whisk in baking soda.

    Remove from heat and set aside for 2 to 3 minutes. It’s not going to significantly cool off, just settle a little. Lightly beat your eggs in a spouted measuring cup (for easiest pouring) or small bowl. Take a deep breath. Whisking the honey mixture vigorously in the pot the whole time, drizzle the thinnest stream (think: 1/2 teaspoon at a time, that slowly) of the eggs into the honey mixture. Do not stop mixing. Continue until all of the eggs are thoroughly whisked in.

    Stir in the salt and vanilla and 3 cups (390 grams) of the flour with a spoon. The dough is going to be thick like a bread but you’ve got this. Stir in the last 1/2 cup of flour 1/4 cup at a time; you’ll get a bonus arm workout.

    Shape and bake the cookies/cakes: [Plus, a bunch more layer tips at the end.] Lightly flour your counter and divide the still-warm dough into 8 even pieces. Roll the first one between two sheets of parchment paper (no flouring needed) to a slightly-bigger-than-9-inch round. Remove top sheet of parchment paper. Very lightly dust the top with flour if you’re going to put something on it (such as the bottom of a 9-inch cake pan or the rim of a 9-inch bowl) to trim the shape to an even 9-inch circle. Save the trimmings — put them aside on one of the sheets of parchment paper, it’s fine if they overlap a little. Dock the circle all over with a fork. Slide your 9-inch round onto a baking sheet and bake for 6 to 7 minutes; it should feel firmish and get slightly darker at the edges. Slide the cookie onto a cooling rack. Go ahead and reuse the parchment for another layer.

    Meanwhile, while the first layer is baking, roll out your second piece so it’s ready to go into the oven as soon as the first comes out. If you’re making good time, get the third ready too and continue to bake them two at a time. Keep adding the unbaked cookie trimmings onto one piece of parchment paper. Repeat this process as you bake each round and you’ll have all 8 baked before you know it.

    Finally, take that last sheet of parchment with all of the cookie scraps on it and slide it onto a baking sheet and bake it, checking in at 4 minutes, because the thinnest scraps will want to burn quickly. By 5 minutes, all should be baked until pale golden. Let cool completely and save until you’re ready to decorate the cake tomorrow.

    Fill and frost the cake: Whisk sour cream and sweetened condensed milk together in a large bowl. Once cookies are cool, place a dab of the sour cream mixture on your cake plate and place the first cookie on top of it to help adhere it.

    Cut or tear one of your used pieces of parchment paper into strips and tuck them all around the underside of the cake to protect your cake plate. Trust me, if you do not do this, you will regret it.

    Scoop 3/4 cup sour cream mixture onto the center of your first cookie layer. Spread it only a little from the center, leaving a good 1- to 2-inch margin of unfrosted cookie. Stack the second cookie on top and repeat until you have 8 layers.

    This will quickly become a huge mess. The sour cream is going to spill out and down the sides anyway (hear hear for those paper strips) and you’re going to start yelling at me/drafting an angry comment in your head. It’s also going to want to slide around and not stay neatly stacked. It’s totally okay because the filling will thicken as it absorbs into the cookies. Put the cake in the fridge for a couple hours (1 to 3) and when you come back to it, nudge the stack gently back into place and use a spoon and icing spatula to scoop the spilled-out filling back up the sides and onto the top of the cake. Don’t worry about it looking neat. Let it chill overnight.

    The next day, finish the cake: Grind your baked, reserved cookie scraps in a blender or food processor, or bash them into crumbs in a bag with a rolling pin.

    Take your cake out and do one final frosting clean-up. Spread any newly puddled sour cream back up the sides and across the top. If you’d like to make a decoration on top of your cake, take one of those used pieces of parchment paper (see how much Deb hates wasting parchment) and cut a stencil with it. Place it gently on top of the cake.

    Use a small spoon to sprinkle the top and sides of the cake with the crumbs. In the coolest trick I saw on a cooking video, use a pastry brush (or extremely clean paintbrush, I won’t tell) to gently brush the crumbs off the stencil and across the cake in a thin layer. It sounds crazy but it works — on the sides too. Remove the stencil and parchment paper strips and look at that clean serving plate! (Bravo, you.)

    You can serve the cake right away, or keep it in the fridge for up to 5 days. When slicing, I found that a knife dipped in hot water made picture-perfect cuts.

    A bunch of extra dough and cake layer tips:

  • The dough is a bit stiff, but it will stretch to the size you need with pressure. If you’re finding it to be a huge pain, that the dough clearly wants to go to 8 inches but not 9, just go ahead and make the cake 8 inches round. It will be just as good of a cake; the layers might need a single extra minute to bake.
  • Ovens will vary, especially for such thin cookies, so keep an eye on the first round as of the 6-minute mark, checking in each minute after as it can brown very quickly, and then you’ll know how much time you need for the remaining ones.
  • This dough is easiest to roll/softest when it’s still a little warm; if yours has cooled quickly, I found that you could put each piece in the microwave for 5 to 7 seconds (only!) to get it a touch warmer again, without prematurely baking the cookie.
  • Go ahead and save all of those used pieces of parchment paper for the next step and beyond. We’re going to use them again.

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224 comments on russian honey cake

  1. WK

    Thanks, I have a project for next weekend now. This was one of my favorites growing up.

    My mother, who came off the boat in the 60s from Ukraine, made this on occasion. Her variant was to alternate layers with a fruit filling, usually a homemade jelly of either apricot or pineapple. Also, her version of the frosting had a good amount of vanilla bean incorporated as well.

    “medivnik” as I remember it is a spongy loaf cake.

  2. Ellen N.

    Thank you for posting this recipe. It looks beautiful and delicious. I have a question about beating in the eggs. You advise leaving the batter in the saucepan while you beat in the eggs. Is there any reason I couldn’t scrape the batter into the stand mixer bowl and beat the mixture in the stand mixer while adding the eggs?

    1. deb

      You could, you’ll want the whisk going pretty fast for the egg part and the paddle for the flour. I kept it in the pot because it made it simplest, to use it as a bowl.

  3. joy

    I am on team medovik. I don’t like smetana, so even if I know there is smetana in the recipe, I would rather call it medovik. Also, this looks amazing and perfect and I am INCREDIBLY impressed. I never knew how medovik was actually made!

    Next up, syrniki, please!

    1. For New Year’s Day breakfast, I make a huge batch of “Russian pancakes.” (Just our household tradition.) Ohhhh, I love them. How can you not love cheese+pancakes! :)

      I’m going to have to make this honey cake, too, now!

  4. Cake Auntie

    Hi Deb. Do you think this might be less messy assembled within a cake ring? So the frosting/filling is more ‘controlled’. Thanks!

    1. deb

      I actually considered including this exact tip from an IG comment but didn’t try it either time I made it. My worry is that the sides could get messed up; they’d definitely not be able to be fully coated until the ring was off as it might slide into it. But I have a feeling it will work out just fine.

        1. deb

          Maybe it would work. I know Christina Tosi calls for sheets of acetate to hold her cake layers in place, extending up from a springform ring. I don’t exactly keep acetate around, but I can see why it would work her because it’s more sturdy.

  5. GJ

    Hey Deb! Always love your work.

    You describe these as cookies…and note that you can crumble them up…what I’m wondering is whether you could conceivably cut the dough as if it WERE a cookie (like into circles), reformulate the frosting into something a bit more royal icing like, and flood them, and have pretty Russian honey cake cookies instead? Or would it not quite hold up?

  6. Michaela

    This was our wedding cake! And wow it’s good! I can’t wait to surprise my husband with a homemade version. When you visit San Francisco next check out the Russian honey cake from 20th Century Cafe. It’s heavenly.

  7. Jennie

    You said the frosting tastes like a mild cream-cheese frosting; is there any reason not to use that instead, which might make the assembly easier? (I realize this breaks with the tradition of using sour cream in the frosting.) Or would it not soften the layers enough?

    1. deb

      The wetter sour cream filling is probably better here because it’s going to thicken and get more dry as the cake absorbs the excess moisture, leaving you with a nicely textured frosting. If you start with a frosting that already thick, it might get pasty, but I can’t be sure without trying it.

  8. Sigita Hartung

    I am a Lithuanian and made this cake often growing up. I am sure most Lithuanians would argue that it is called Lithuanian Honey Cake:) One tip…to avoid a huge mess assembling the layers and cream is to assemble the cake on two overlaid pieces of saran wrap. Once the layers are done you simply lift the saran pieces up and “wrap” up the cake and put it in the fridge to get all happy overnight. And I also flavor my sour cream with lemon juice for more tang and brightness. Big fan of yours!

  9. Jessie

    Ah! I have a recipe from my Polish grandmother. Her base was a sponge cake and she did 4 layers. I need to discuss with my mother! She’d make a huuuge sheet cake pan full of honey cake and cut me small squares. This brings back wonderful memories. Thank you

  10. In my family, medivnik is more of a spice cake with no frosting. I’ve had something that looks like this too, but have never had a name for it, only calling it by the name of my cousin who makes it (Marinin torte, pa Ruskie) Out of curiosity, I’ll ask my mom what she would call this delicious concoction.

  11. Gardiner

    What do you think is the minimum amount of time the cake needs to rest? I have been craving honey cake for weeks, and I’m thinking about making this after work today, but I would want to serve it at brunch tomorrow (noon-ish). Think that’s cutting it too close to get the right texture? Thank you for posting this!!

    1. deb

      I wish I’d checked it sooner but I don’t think you’ll be miserable if you have given it, say, 12 to 15 hours. It helps that the filling is quite wet (hence the mess) and that the cookie is pliable. I wish I could say for sure, though.

  12. Dear SmittenKitchen,

    This is the most authentic medovik I have seen in a long time! I bet it tastes divine, too!
    NY had an outpost of famous Moscow restaurant, Pushkin, where they served a molecular gastronomy version of the cake. They have closed down, unfortunately.
    In my family, we used a cooked condensed milk (you boil a can in a pot full of water for 2-4 hours and basically get dolce de leche) and butter in the cream. Walnuts were a welcome addition, I am sure pecans will also work very well (or caramelized pecans).
    All Russian cakes call for baking soda mixed with vinegar – I think the idea is that you release carbon dioxide when mixing soda and that will be your leavening. But not sure. Certainly in all recipes though.
    I haven’t made it in 20+ years, but I remember that the whole boiling of honey sounded weird to me too. It works though, in some miraculous way.
    My grandfather decided to make a dolce de leche out of condensed milk once, and went to watch debates on TV. The water boiled out and the can had exploded, leaving the walls and ceiling of his kitchen covered with burnt caramel.

  13. Lenna

    I think it is call Medovik. I’m no expert in Russian cakes but when I lived in Czech Republic there’s Czech cake called Medovnik and it’s honey cake. Because the word Med=Honey in most of Slavic language as far as I know anyway.
    And yes you need Walnut for that cakes :-)

  14. This looks truly amazing! I am of Hungarian origin – so anything that is compared to a Dobos gets my attention immediately. Thanks for sharing the recipe and tips – I’ll definitely have to try this!

  15. Wait, what? You published a recipe of a cake that has falling icing and melting sides? For as Everest-y as you say the experience was, I’m wondering, why not summit and come up with something that’s really….right? I’m sure it tastes great, but surely there’s a better solution than glopping the frosting around until it looks like a cake? a cake ring? acetate sides a la momofuku splendor? there’s gotta be something, Deb.

    1. deb

      You can set it in a ring if you wish, some people do (see earlier discussion), but it’s not going to fully remove the mess nor is it necessary to achieve perfection here. I made it twice — it works like a dream, just not the neatest construction.

      1. Katerina

        Deb,l have made this cske many many times,family favorite.lts originaly from Ukraine l believe and Czech name for this is Medovnik.l never made or saw recipe with sour cream,aleays with caramelized condensed milk(u boil submerged in eater for two hours),let cool and whip with butter,sprinkle with walnuts.Its spectacular when made about 3~4 days ahead,at least 2! Trick l have learned over the years is to make cream ahead and caramelize milk even a few weeks agead store in fridge.When working with dough,keep it cover with plastic foil all the time and roll the dough on silicon mat,thats the trick for perfect round pieces.Nooopw lm so hungry.We also cut this into tiny squares and served as Xmas cookies.

    2. Rainyday

      Wait, what? Did you even see the finished cake, Katie? It looks great. Pretty much every recipe that has this many steps is going to look a little wonky at some point in the process.

      Plus, if it’s delicious, who cares if the middle steps are a little messy. Thanks for the recipe and the years of research, Deb!

  16. MayravB

    I’ve also been researching Russian honey cakes! My family makes a loaf cake called a Kimmel Cake for Rosh Hashanah. It’s flavoured with fennel and anise seeds, cloves, allspice, and ginger (and honey, obviously). I’ve never come across a similar recipe. Puzzingly, while I know it to be authentic (the recipe came from Russia with a relative of mine), “kimmel” means “caraway” not “fennel.” Caraway seeds look a lot like fennel seeds, so maybe someone mistranslated from Yiddish? But they taste so different, so I can’t imagine someone putting caraway with anise. Yours looks delicious. It makes me think of an icebox cake!

    1. Sandy

      That’s what I thought of when Deb said honey cake. Deb, yours sounds delish. Honey cake my bubbe made for the new year was not delish. It tasted spicy and dry.

  17. C

    Hi, Deb

    Interesting concoction. Sounds tasty.

    I see another it’s / its swap — “on it’s way”

    (Also I think there’s a word missing from “contained exactly zero these things”)

  18. goneveg

    Thank you so much for posting this. I got really excited when I saw this on your Instagram a few days back. My mother used to make this back in the Soviet Union but we could never replicate it with American ingredients. I’m excited to try your version (although I will be adding walnuts, as we used to do back home).

    I have a question though: what kind of sour cream did you use? Because, as you may know, there’s quite a hubbub in the Russian-American community about sour cream and how the American version is inferior*. Did you get Russian-style sour cream or is this the good old American kind?

    1. deb

      I used American sour cream (Breakstone’s) because it doesn’t help anyone if I use an ingredient not readily available/I want to see how things work with grocery store standards. However, I’d read about this (omg so much research) and made my first batch with 1 cup of heavy cream worth of whipped cream folded in for richness and lightness but not in my second. To me, it made zero difference whatsoever, the one with cream didn’t seem richer or lighter, so I didn’t bother suggesting it here.

      1. When I’m making the cake, I’m using the full fat (10%) Greek yoghurt for the cream, it’a much closer in taste to what you’d call Russian sour cream. I made it with conventional sour cream too, and because it’s artificially soured, the cream ended up tasting more acidic than I like. It was still delicious, but I could taste the difference. Hope that helps!

  19. Charlotte in Toronto

    What a fantastic project. I’m fully booked with pie making this weekend, it being Canadian Thanksgiving, but next weekend will be game on for this cake. Can I use regular grocery store honey or should I look for something more exotic? Would it be scandalous to sneak a 1/4 tsp cinnamon into the cookie dough? I love honey and cinnamon together. This sounds like a delicious use of time and energy. I’m so glad that you persevered and didn’t trash it. We’ll all benefit from the grief it initially caused you.

    1. deb

      I used grocery store honey, not a problem. I considered suggesting cinnamon as an addition, I don’t think it would be unwelcome here, but ended up loving the caramel-y flavor and didn’t want to cover it. And thank you.

      1. Charlotte in Toronto

        I made this Sat/Sunday. It’s not nearly as neat and tidy as yours, but it tastes heavenly. I left out the cinnamon that I was threatening to add. I’m glad I did. I’ll be making this again closer to Christmas and hopefully it will be nicer looking. It was well worth the time and effort. Thank you for this.

  20. Ang

    I’ve made this with Greek yogurt rather than the sour cream. Healthier (not actually my intention) and tastier! Sacrilege probably, but it ended up tasting like a tangy cheesecake.

  21. Gorgeous. I seriously wish I could have a Rosh Hashanah do-over– I’m keeping it for next year! :)

    Incidentally, next time you’re in San Francisco, if you’ve not already been there, make sure to visit 20th Century Cafe. It’s a throwback to, um, the 20th Century, with a focus on Eastern European desserts. Their crowning jewel is the Honey Cake, which like you, I didn’t think I would like much. BUT WOW.

  22. Naomi

    Looks beautiful, can’t wait to try it out. By the way the reason some recipes have you inactivate baking sofa if cause sometimes you just want it to raise the pH, not add levening. If I remember correctly a higher pH increases browning, also changes flavor by getting rid of the tarntness from any acidic ingredients

    1. deb

      This was my theory, too! When you add it to the caramel, it immediately darkens. I was very happy with the color of the dough (because it looks honey-ish), darker than I saw in other recipes.

  23. Michaela

    I bake this cake on daily bases. In slovak it´s called medovnik. And I have some answers for you. :)
    We put only 2 Tbs of honey in the batter, because honey make the finished cake hard. So more honey – harder cake.
    When using recipe for this kind of cake, you use less butter. But when you want to bake soft cookies, dough contain more butter. We bake those cookies for Christmas (something similar to your ginger bread cookies). It´s common to bake them 3 weeks before holidays, because fresh cookies are hard. We store them in boxes with a slice of apple so they soften and are perfectly ready for Christmas. You can store these cookies up to 3 months.
    My recipe calls for caramelisation. But also for milk. I add milk to the hot honey caramel and then add eggs – no scrambled eggs :)
    I hope these informations helped. Medovnik is one of those intimidating cakes, that needs 2 or three tries, but after some practise, it´s pretty easy. I bake medovnik 1 to 2 times a week and even after couple of years I still can´t get enough. :)

  24. Kristine

    Also in Latvia we have our version of this cake and I’d like to think I have one of the best recipes for it :). Overall its quite similar to yours except mine is more like a sticky dough which you apply on the back of round cake pan with a wide knife, then bake it for 3 minutes, and repeat. This will yield even thinner, softer layers that still tastes amazing and soakes up all the beatiful and oh-so-simple sourcream sugar mixture. I think I might try your version to sweeten sour cream with condensed milk, it sounds delicious! Also, sometimes in every 3rd layer we would use lingonberry jam instead of sour cream. Love your blog and follow it religiously :)

  25. Madeline

    I am SO tempted to put this on my list of to-do’s this weekend! Is it a coincidence that you posted this in the middle of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur?? I ALWAYS make my grandmother’s honey cake recipe (ready for #3 for yom kippur this Wednesday – family would mutiny if I didn’t!!!) … wonder if I should also offer this as an interesting additional honey cake?? Looks like a worthwhile project :) L’Shana Tova!

    1. deb

      Yes, I had it 99% ready for last Friday but a) got panicked and wanted to do one more round of testing and b) figured people would be made if I suggested a dairy dessert for what is often a meat meal. Thus, it works best in the middle. :)

  26. EOC

    WAITAMINUTE! I am married to a Czech. And this is definitely Czech honey cake. Exactly identically definitely. Now you’re telling me it’s actually Russian?! My in-laws have been lying to me. Well, them, and every bakery in Prague….

    1. Michaela

      I am from Slovakia and I have to say that your in-laws are safe. Czech honey cake “Marlenka” IS this cake! And it is very popular in Slovakia too.

    2. Helena

      I’m Czech and yes, this cake is super popular in our country but originally it’s from Georgia (I think). But I’m not surprised if they think it’s Czech – it really is in every bakery here!

    3. Katerina

      Im Czech and remember estung ir tbete but tbe origin is from Ukraine and it has many versions.And yes,bakeries are lying,its nit a czech specialty at all:) but l still make bcs its sooo good.

    1. I baked this Tuesday and assembled it Thursday, and will get to eat it tomorrow. Feedback so far:

      – next time I will actually use the cake pan as a cookie cutter instead of a cutting guide – my edges are rather ragged and it’s not a very pretty stack.
      – next time I will definitely go for 8-inch rounds – it was VERY difficult to get my circles near the 9-inch mark and I didn’t have much scrap left over, so I’m not sure how I’m going to decorate.
      – I used my kitchenaid mixer after the stovetop part – whisked on almost the highest setting while adding the eggs, and then swapped to the paddle (on low) for the flour.
      – I didn’t understand that the 3 1/2 cups flour, divided, was really just adding 3 cups of flour, then adding the final half-cup in two batches. I thought the final half-cup was for the dusting/rolling out, but I realized at almost the last minute what you meant. Could maybe use some clarification, I’m not sure.

      – I was not really confident about using SO much (3/4 c) per layer but it really worked well.
      – Despite the above, I might ease up a tiny bit on the amount per layer so I’d have a bit more left over for final decorating.
      – It did run quite a bit, and the stacks wanted to slide, but I got it in the fridge and they did NOT fall apart.
      – I left the mess in the fridge for 2 hours before checking on it, at which point it was a bit too late to try to nudge them into better alignment – they were already absorbing the liquid and the frosting was firming up.
      – I’m sad to report the color of the cake is bleeding through the top a little, and I don’t have lots of crumbs or leftover frosting to work with to hide it. My audience will be forgiving, but it doesn’t look as crisp as in the above pictures.

      I’m excited/nervous to try it!

  27. OMG. I doubt I will ever venture to try this, especially as I am killing myself to reduce my sugar intake (and that includes you, honey). But your story about chasing down the recipe and getting no resolution is too wonderful. I love you!

  28. I was just thinking about your questions, and while I can’t answer specifically as to amounts or best practices, I think the reason for the wide amount of variation between recipes is the same reason so many Russian things have a lot of variance in recipes.

    I think it’s largely scarcity and a kind of making-do…. In the soviet era, there wasn’t a lot to go around, and I feel like people just used whatever sweet/dairy item they could find. And eventually, it became part of the recipe, and got handed down. So… “I only have this, so I guess I’ll put it in the cake” eventually turns into “We’ve always done it like this, so I’m going to do it like this.”

    I don’t know if that’s helpful at all. This is the first time I’ve commented, although I’ve been following your blog for a couple of years now… I think your recipes are lovely. I use the zucchini bread recipe to make muffins and people always love them.

    Thank you.

    1. deb

      Thank you — I’ve thought of this many times. I get so stuck on details, I realized I was never going to make the cake (3 years and weeks of research later) because I was never going to get to the bottom of these things (baking soda, whisking eggs into boiling liquid) and then I did and I was so happy because it’s so unbelievably delicious.

  29. I was beyond thrilled when I saw the picture of the Russian Honey Cake. My hostess made this for my farewell party in 1995 after I had been in Ukraine for a visit. It was wonderful and I asked for the recipe. She gave me ingredients but eyeballed them–no measurements. No temp for baking and no time for anything. I savor the memory of that cake and have looked for a believable recipe for years. I think I’ve found it. Thank you so very much for the work, time, and guessing that you put into this. I hope to have help from one of my children when I visit at Christmas. Thank you again for this treasure.

  30. Ashley

    Deb I can only imagine how much time you devote to your cooking adventures. You are a hero! Saving us all from the humdrum. Say….while you’re at it and working from your Russian playbook maybe you could find a way to recreate the mind blowing pies from Stolle in St. Petersburg. They have meat, fish, fruit, etc. and they are beautiful to boot. After vacationing in Russia two years ago I still crave them. Google has let me down; maybe your Russian connections can win the day? 🇷🇺🇷🇺

      1. korovka

        They are awesome! The dough is definitely yeasted. They actually opened a cafe or two in the city over the last year but the pies doesn’t compare to the ones in SPb.

  31. allastar

    Dear Deb, I’m also a blogger and from former Soviet Union. Actually I have a recipe for this cake. Here’s 2 authentic recipes for the honey cookie layers:
    1. 250 gram margarine, 3 tablespoons honey, 4 cups flour, 1 cup sugar, 2 teaspoons baking soda, 3 eggs.
    2. 3 eggs, 60 gram butter (melted), 3 tablespoons honey, 4 cups flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda diluted with white vinegar, 1 cup sugar.
    Rest of them the same you described in your recipe.

    We used to call this cake Medovyi Torte. I promise, I will try your recipe. In any case, if you wan to try Russian recipe, you can always ask me. I will be happy to help you.

  32. JP

    When you talk about whisking the honey mixture in the pot and adding the egg ever so slowly, it seems like it would be easier to use an electric mixer (with a whisk attached) directly in the pot rather than a hand whisk. Maybe you would have better control that way. Or at least it would be less of an arm workout. I once made a crepe cake with many layers like yours and by the 20th layer or so, with all the slipping and sliding, I threw it all into a springform pan, just to set. I thought all was lost, but it set and was delicious. Apparently, cakes with many thin cookie-like layers come from all over the world. Cook’s Illustrated has an apple stack cake from the good old USA and a strawberry version also.

  33. Jenny

    I’m so excited for this recipe! I fell in love with honey cake while studying abroad in Moscow (where I always heard it called medovnik) and have missed it ever since! I can’t wait to try making it myself.

  34. korovka

    Team smetannik here! Love this cake! I don’t have a family recipe, just an old classic Russian cookbook but I am going to have to try yours!

  35. I am tempted to hack this wonder with graham crackers lining a 9×12 glass pan, layering them with the sour cream/condensed milk mixture. Why not? The real McCoy will have to wait until the baby is potty-trained. Sigh.

      1. Dusty

        I tried the Graham Cracker approach. As Deb said, flavor was wonderful.

        I used 3/4 of a 16 oz box of Honey Graham’s. I made the cake in a ~5 1/2 by ~7 1/2 inch loaf [or “storage”] foil pan ~3 inches deep lined with Parchment Paper. Filling as Deb said except I added ~16 oz chopped walnuts because of the comments here. I started with 16 oz of sour cream and 1/2 of a 14 oz can of Sweetened Condensed Milk with 12 ounces of chopped walnuts and had to make another batch of a half container of sour cream and half of the remaining Sweetened Condensed Milk; plus open another bag of walnuts and use 1/2 of that bag.

        Totals were then 24 oz sour cream; 3/4 of the can of Sweetened Condensed Milk; the 16 oz of chopped walnuts. A tablespoon or two of honey was added to the filling mix to assure a ‘honey’ flavor. Small electric mixer rather than a whisk; although usually I prefer to use a whisk and avoid the electric mixer. A layer of the filling on the bottom of the lined pan; a layer of Graham Crackers; filling; Graham Crackers– until the pan was full. Top coated with filling. Maybe should have the crumb coating on the top for cover separation later? I counted seven layers of Crackers. The filling with the chopped nuts does not spread thinly very easily and I just did what worked quickly. This was done in mid-afternoon with the Yom Kippur deadline at sunset. I know the cake took 40 minutes while a Savory Noodle Kugel was baking. A piece of Parchment Paper for a cover and it sat in the fridge until serving time at the After-Dinner. The parchment paper let the cake slide out of the “mold” easily. I flipped the cake onto a serving platter first and then removed the pan and Parchment Paper. The “cover” Parchment Paper removed first and stuck filling scraped off and spread on the about-to-be bottom of the cake; the rest of the Parchment Paper peeled away reasonably nicely. A heavy dusting with Graham Cracker Crumbs.

        This is a rather small cake but it is so rich as to be better for being small. I placed the Graham Crackers so that the joints were not all aligned vertically. Pinched off some corners of the Crackers to match the corners of the pan. After about 30 hours in the fridge, nominal temp about at freezing, the cake cut easily and cleanly with a narrow spatula. Flavor is beyond fantastic. It would be fun to taste Deb’s cake and compare final flavors! :-)

        1. Dusty

          Next day: The cake has the flavor mostly of the Graham Crackers. It is still excellent and very rich. I had it for brunch along with leftover apple slices [without honey. Enough calories awreddy!]. The little cake will easily make at least 10 servings.

  36. Thea

    This cake! It is my nemesis. I was beaten in a work baking competition by a guy who made this cake (against your spiced applesauce cake). This looks exactly like his, it was absolutely delicious – can’t wait to give it a go myself. He called it a Russian Cream Cake, filled with sweetened sour cream – which I think was made with sour cream and powdered sugar, so it was a little thicker and didn’t run everywhere.

  37. TinaD

    This is funny. I had a similar, though less complex, dance with frustration after my grandfather died and left me the recipe for Hungarian nut roll (kalacs, or, apparently, if you are Polish, which I’m not, kolachi)…but only the dough. Dough is simple–sort of a thick yeasted strudel pastry, I even found a Craftsy class that does a version of it. Filling is another matter entirely; the one I remember from childhood had ground walnuts and lemon and maybe sugar and…something. But the cookbooks and the websites and whoever usually cook the walnut filling. With thickeners. And apples. Sometimes raisins. And are inclined to omit the lemon in favor of flavors like cinnamon. These make perfectly nice fillings, but they aren’t the “something”; the effect is rather more breakfast oatmeal than I remember. When I ask my mom, who was there and thus should know, she says, vaguely, “just grind some nuts…” When I ask other Hungarians, they say “get it from a bakery.”

    1. Cory

      My Hungarian grandmother taught me to make nut roll. The filling is super-simple. Grind some nuts. Add sugar to taste. Add a little cinnamon if you like. Add a bit of milk until it is sticky. Add golden raisins if you wish – my grandmother did. Roll it up in your dough. Good luck!

      1. Diane

        I make both nut roll and the same dough filled with poppyseed. Your filling sounds right. I add plain raisins because I always seem to be out of golden raisins. I use a food processor and watch it very carefully so it doesn’t turn to paste. Maybe 8-10 clicks. But, my mother taught me to cook the filling for a few minutes to better incorporate the sugar. You must let it cool. The other trick she had is to spread the pastry with a very thin layer of jam (raspberry, strawberry or apricot) before adding the nut or poppyseed filling.

  38. Nika

    Very good recipe. If you are still struggling with figuring out the dough for the layers, this is the recipe I use (in Russian, but it has pictures for the steps): The steps for the layers are as follows: melt the sugar in a pan until golden brown, add honey, add butter, cool it down a little, add 1/3 of flour, add eggs (this is how you do not end up with scrambled eggs, flour will cool the mixture down), add baking soda and citric acid, add the rest of the flour, mix everything well. With this method the dough is not sticky at all once it cools down and there is no need to reheat it.
    To all the people wondering if using cream cheese instead of sour cream is a good idea: no, don’t even try. Yes, sour cream may be sloppy and messy, but that’s not the kind of cake which requires excellent frosting/decoration work. There were a lot of good suggestions on how to deal with it in the comments. I sometimes use coarse crumbs and walnuts/pecans between the layers to help hold the cream in place. Sour cream is what makes the cake moist and gives it its unique flavor and texture. The layers are dry and very cookie-like and will not get enough moisture with cream cheese (and it is too fatty anyway).

  39. My Russian friend from Khabarovsk in the RFE uses boiled [caramelized] EagleBrand sweetened condensed milk for the filling. Obviously, you must have five hours, and a large paying so you don’t blow up your house. The cakes are not cookies, and salted crackers for the coating are required to “pop” the flavors.

  40. This made me laugh: ‘This will quickly become a huge mess’. Sometimes the bigger the mess, the better the cake. I imagine this would taste heavenly. I adore honey so would use a heavy-flavoured one to ensure it shone through.

  41. Kelly Ryan

    Than you so much for this recipe! I have loved your Boozey French Toast for years!.
    I had this cake for the first time in a hole in the wall cafe in Prague, and I still remember it as the best thing I had ever tasted. I also remember there being a lot of nuts as I was breaking my paleo diet to eat it, and they made me feel a little better. I think it was called medovik there, but I thought they said it was the company who made it … of course this was eons ago. I look forward to giving this a go when I get back to my kitchen — and maybe I will look for a way to make it paleo-ish.

    1. deb

      I feel like it has potential, my bigger concern is that it has a bendy toughness to the cookie before it is soaked that gluten plays some role in. But I imagine it would be fairly forgiving of g-f flours, regardless.

  42. Golly. You were convinced the cake was a failure, yet you still went to the trouble of putting a pretty flower on top. I am so very impressed. Which I hope makes up for the involuntary LOL I did when I recognized that photo from the other day, the one with all the icing dripping out between the cookies. Sooo funny. You should sell it to a birthday card company.

    1. deb

      Heh. I’ve had enough flops over the years that I know that it’s worth testing all my theories (i.e. “would a stencil work for a more unique look?”) even on a flop so when I get it right, I’ll have that much less research to do. Except, it turned out to be wonderful: double-yay.

  43. Hi Deb! First, I’m a huge fan of your blog. I’ve been reading it for years, but as in that joke the soup was never hot enough for me to speak up. But here your post leaves me with a sense that you weren’t completely satisfied with the process, and I can’t tell if the result was even worth all the frustration.
    Anywho, this cake was my favorite growing up (I’m originally from Belarus), but my mom didn’t make it. It was a time where you were screwed if you didn’t have the recipe: no internet, no way to find it. I am an obsessive baker, and because I was determined to find THE BEST recipe, I did the whole ATK thing and came up with something that makes sense, is relatively easy to make and tastes divine. I even translated it into English, so if you are interested in a frustration free version, drop me a line and I’ll share!
    P.S. The cake you made is Medovik (one version of it), Smetannik has no honey in it, and the dough is made with sour cream, hence the name. They look similar though, that’s why people confuse them I guess.

    1. deb

      Thank you! I should have said more at the end, this post had run so much longer than most and I wanted a quick exit: WE LOVED THIS CAKE. It was perfect. I was so happy all of my handwringing and obsessive research paid off — I really feel, in hopefully a way that doesn’t sound boastful, just excited — it was the best I ever had and if you’re someone who loves this but making it at home has eluded you, make this. But I would love to see your version. I am sure it is amazing.

        1. C

          Is there a link? I am intrigued but a bit daunted, even if the results are great. I’d love to know how the two compare and am willing to try a frustration-free recipe.

          1. Sorry, no link! It’s my own recipe developed through trial and error, perfected through the years. I’ve been making this cake without deviating from the final recipe for about 6 years now, and it’s pretty much hassle free with reliably great results every time. I’d post the recipe here, but it’s against the rules!

            1. deb

              Sorry — don’t mean to be a meanie about posting recipes. It’s more that a) it’s very easy for a comment section to become a recipe dump (i.e. a gazillion copied-and-pasted recipes, not meaning that your or any recipe is a dump!) and it’s a lot to scroll through that nobody would know what to do with it when what we really need to know is why x recipe might work better than y recipe, etc. Also I am afraid of someone telling me I’m running a copyrighted recipe of theirs and I had no idea because it was just a copy-paste in the comment… Regardless, thank you for offering to share it. I’d love to see as well!

  44. Garlic + Zest

    I love/admire/am in awe of your dedication to making this — and I have to say, it’s a stunner! It does remind me of a dobos torte, but then it’s also like those chocolate icebox cakes made with layers of chocolate wafers and whipped cream. Either way, it doesn’t suck! I want to make this one!

  45. MMD

    Hello, beautiful looking cake!
    I would suggest draining the sour cream overnight in order to avoid having a soft and runny fill. This is what I do and what is usually recommended with a sour cream that is not as high in fat as the original-Russian-recipe sour cream.

  46. Chrissy

    Holy cow. I am pregnant, and now I am craving this like crazy. I need this NOW! Not sure I can wait two days, and I’d probably screw something up anyway. Le sigh.

  47. Deb, I love you for making this! Medovik is my favorite!!

    The last time I made it I added a cup of whipped cream to the sour cream, and it helped keep the cream inside. That said, it made the cake taste incredibly buttery and rich, perhaps even too much so. Who knew that could be possible?

    My mom sent me a recipe for a “lazy medovik” a while back which is a more traditional-looking cake with very similar flavors; I’ll send it your way when I find it.

  48. Fel

    I like the cake very much – I also had it in Slovakia and Czech Republic (as “medovnik”), as well as in Poland (“cudak”), but heard the name “Marlenka” as well and that it originates from Georgia (there I heard could have a dark version, with cocoa, and can be eaten hot).

  49. moniqueo

    Hi Deb
    There is a whole company in Perth Australia making a similar ‘honey cake’. Since tasting there’s I had also looked at several conflicting recipes, but then given it a miss. I think I might actually be able to try making it now with your help.

    PS I am pretty sure the company uses ground walnuts on the layers also, but layers the cookie disks with a honey caramel sauce type concoction. It isn’t tooth achingly sweet though, just right.

  50. Laurie Confer

    Could you whisk a bit of the hot honey mixture into the beaten eggs first, to get them ready for the heat, then whisk that mixture into the rest of the hot honey on the stove? This is the technique I use for lemon meringue pie, a la Betty Crocker.

  51. Monika

    Whiffled through a couple of my OLD cookbooks (Time-Life Russian and Anya Von Bremzen’s Russian) and they had medivnik as a honeyed loaf cake with dried fruit and nuts. On looking at your recipe, it looked kind of familiar to me (dough and method of mixing) – it’s almost the same recipe as my gingerbread house dough, except it doesn’t have the cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and cardamom that the house recipe has. (The gingerbread house recipe is also out of a Time-Life book, but in the German one). The melting pot strikes again!!!

  52. Ripple

    I made this 10 days ago for Rosh HaShana. It is indeed divine. I seems very complicated and messy, but once you set out to do it, it’s not that big of a deal. Dough is simple, filling is a breeze and rolling out the layers is a bit of a chore, but by the second one you get the hang of it.

    Two quick comments though:

    1. I rolled the dough as thin as possible, baked, cooled and then cut to shape. Think it might be easier to form very thin layers.

    2. I worked from Hebrew recipes and none had condensed milk in them. All recommended high fat content sour cream, which is thicker. The filling was essentially cream mixed with sugar and honey.

  53. This is very similar to a Hungarian recipe that is oh so famous and beloved in my family. My mom would prepare it on special occasions, in rectangular form, cut it into diamonds and dust with powdered sugar. I have even used the recipe to create glorious wedding cakes! It is usually the requested birthday cake and holiday treat around here; yep, it’s good! Here’s the Hungarian version:
    Thanks for sharing the Russian version!

  54. Hilary

    I’ve been looking for a reliable recipe for this ever since I read about 20th Century Cafe’s version!

    Question: would it be easier if you chilled the icing BEFORE adding it to the layers? Would this help with the runny mess? Seems like it would still be able to soak into the layers.

    1. deb

      I don’t think that the runniness has anything to do with temperature. I mean, I take the sour cream right from the fridge and whisk it. I think it’s just the way sour cream with sugar is. But it all works out, just a little messy getting there.

      1. Ilze

        Hi, Deb!

        I can tell from my personal experience with honey cakes that chilling sour cream after sugar has been added (in my version it’s sugar and not sweetened condensed milk) actually helps to make things more manageable.

  55. Anna Bets

    Hello from Moscow! This is the favorite cake of my family, the same ingredients for the layers, but i boil it on the “water bath” Filling = butter+sweetened condensed milk . Always bake double portion and prefer square layers.
    And please be sure – it’s Medovik )

  56. Janet

    Have you already found Toné-Café on East 17th Street? It’s a take-out place that serves Georgian food. The original location is on Neptune Avenue in Brighton Beach.

      1. emilyadi

        Cool! Yes, it tasted very good, thank you! My mom loved it. My boyfriend…well, I think he expected it to taste a little different. He said he was expecting a tres leches type cake, since he saw me using sweetened condensed milk. I guess he missed the sour cream going in…

    1. Oooh yours came out great, Emily! I love the face on it! Did you use the leftover scraps from baking, or did you supplement? I haven’t ground my scraps yet but I don’t think I’ll have nearly that many to work with (I may have eaten cake batter for dinner that night…).

  57. laurie655

    Have you ever made vinatarta? 5 or 7 layer “cake”. Icelandic. Prune based filling between shortbread type baked layers, spiced with cardamon. Needs several weeks of “curing”. It is my Christmas go-to recipe for my children who have a partly Icelandic background.
    The thin layers concept obviously spans many countries with only the ingredients differing. Fantastic comments from all over!

  58. Natalia

    Cannot wait to make this cake. I think it will become a Christmas favorite. I used to make a walnut torte, very time consuming. It used a lot of walnuts, but the rum was the best part. I do want to ask about a Honey Cake my mother used to make. She was from Poland and every year right after Thanksgiving she would make a honey cake in a sheet pan. It was a spice honey and it was very very hard. She would lightly cover it and put it away and miraculously by Christmas it was so soft. She would then lightly ice it with a Chocolate topping. I have never bin able to find a recipe that resembles this. Can u help?

    1. Hi Natalia…I grew up in Germany and this sounds awfully like Lebkuchen. I did a little digging for you to find the version that gets aged (mine is torn out of an old Brigitte and it’s in German):

      This recipe has more history and the chocolate glaze, but the Nuernberger Lebkuchen is softer from the beginning:

      Hope this helps.

      Deb, I’m enjoying the conversation as much as this fabulous recipe, which I’ll certainly be trying soon!

  59. Sofia

    Hi Deb! Even though I’ve had (and loved) this cake many times, I haven’t been truly inspired to make it until now. I’ve always known it as medovik (as it’s labelled at all the Russian bakeries in my ‘hood), while smetannik is a cake that has chocolate and vanilla layers, sour cream filling, and a chocolate ganache topping. They’re similar and I can totally see why there’s no consensus, but they are two distinct Russian cakes, regardless of what they’re called, that are both worth seeking out. Loved this post and will be back for the recipe when I’m ready to finally make it :)

  60. Dot

    Hi Deb, I’ve made this cake this weekend because I just couldn’t resist. Your pictures are beautiful and the blog made me laugh so much! I am slightly disappointed with the way mine turned out. It still tastes grrat but for some reason the cream filling turned out quite runny and so I really don’t get the layering that you achieved. I also have lots of the mixture left over. Do you have any advice here? Thanks, Dot

    1. deb

      Oof, it sounds like you needed all that filling in the cake for it to work. Was it impossible to keep it inside even putting 3/4 cup per layer? Did you use regular sour cream? I don’t mean the questions to be an interrogation ;) — if this isn’t working as written with regular ingredients, I definitely need to know.

      1. I’m not Dot, but wanted to reassure you about the ingredients – so far so good. My cake is still in the fridge, but I followed the directions as written, including using the 3/4 cup of frosting per layer, which seemed like a LOT but did result in using up almost all of it AND letting me achieve the layers.

        One note for anyone making it down this far – I got it in the fridge and revisited after 2 hours, and it was already a little too late to be able to nudge the layers into better alignment. Next time (if we like it!) I will be more precise in trimming the cakes before they go in the oven, and I will revisit the stack after letting it chill for about an hour, to see if it’s a bit easier to move the layers.

        I baked Tuesday and assembled Thursday and will be eating Saturday. I will update my post further upstream after I try the cake!

  61. Jessica

    I made this a few years back and could not get it to the thin layers you did. Four sufficed and kept it more cake-y. I, too, found great discrepancies with the recipes. Same issues with the frosting, and ended up creating a lopsided, melting mess. It tasted like a Lebkuchen more than a medovik. I love this recipe nonetheless, and haven’t attempted it since.

  62. Can I help you answer why some American versions use mixture of heavy cream and sour cream for the filling?

    It is because Russian Smetana in fact is cultured or soured heavy cream, which, if whipped is going to hold its shape like our heavy cream, but have the tang of sour cream.
    So to get the same texture and flavor here in US as Russians get in Russia, we mix heavy cream for fatness and stability, with sour cream for tang. If you do this, your cream won’t run and you’ll have more frosting between the layers of the cake because it stays put.

  63. Jenny

    I made this over the weekend and have a few suggestions if you’re wanting to use a cake ring to form the cake. I assembled the cake inside the ring, allowed it to chill for a few hours in the ring, and then removed the ring and allowed it to chill overnight. If I were doing it again, I would evenly spread the filling on top of the cookies without leaving a margin around the edge, because the cake ring kept everything in place so the filling didn’t spread all the way to the edges in some places. I would also save some of the filling to put around the outside of the cake after I took the ring off; I didn’t have very much that dripped down the sides because everything was so held in place, and ended up making some extra filling in order to adhere the crumbs. The cake didn’t turn out quite as pretty, due to some of these issues, but it was still delicious!

  64. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! I’ve been looking for this recipe forever and tried several duds. I love this cake! I’ve bribed friends to bring me medovik back from their trips to Prague. My husband special ordered medovik from some secret source as my Christmas present. Thank you for doing all the leg work to give us this recipe. I can’t wait to try this recipe.

  65. Laryssa

    This was delicious! Not heavy, and just the right amount of sweetness. Made 8″ rounds (after near tears when making the first 9″ round, which I realized after was actually 10″!), used 1/2 c. filling per layer when assembling, and had minimal oozing! I had no problems rolling out the dough when it had cooled, though the first round was a challenge. I ended up with 11 layers, so I made two smaller cakes – I was worried the added height and weight would cause too much filling to ooze out. Also sprinkled about 2 tbsp. toasted, finely chopped walnuts on the filling of each layer, since walnuts + honey + yogurt (which is almost sour cream) = awesome!

  66. Rebecca

    I’m a long time lurker despite using your recipes to make about 95% of my meals. I just wanted to comment on this post, though, bc the timing was too perfect not to say something. I am also married to a Russian and have similarly found it a baffling mess to find consensus on most Russian recipes–especially cakes. I’ve given up making Russian cakes for my husband’s birthday despite them being delicious bc it was too difficult.
    So imagine my surprise and joy when I open up smitten kitchen on his birthday to find that you’ve posted an easy to follow recipe of his favorite Russian cake! Thank you!! I’m planning on making this next weekend and can finally bake something Russian without a lot of guesswork. :) :) If you ever feel the need to tackle any other Russian food, know that you’play have at least 1 extremely happy reader! ;)

  67. Hilary

    As a fellow American married to a Russian (though alas, my in-laws are not fantastic cooks), I appreciate Russian recipes! This looks fantastic and I will certainly make it soon, though perhaps not until a birthday or other extra special occasion — it looks like too much effort for Sukkot. Do you know about a Russian recipe called a walnut torte?

  68. Elley

    as usual, your posting of a new recipe bordered on psychic as i was going to the birthday party of a russian friend today. i assembled the cake friday night and did the finishing touches this morning. not sure what i did wrong with the dough, but i nearly gave up a few times because the layers kept sticking to the parchment paper. i had to tease the edges of each rolled out cookie with my fingers while holding my breath. it got marginally easier as the dough came closer to room temp.
    it was worth all the time and trouble when it came out so beautifully, and all the russians said it tasted authentic. my only regret was not adding enough frosting between the layers. i used maybe a half a cup each and it never quite made it to the edges.

  69. dinazad

    I first came across this cake in Poland, where it was called “czeski placek”, i.e. Czech cake (made by my friend and filled with vanilla butter cream and glazed with chocolate) Then I had it (or something very, very similar) in Prague, where it became a reason to sit in yet another café and have a piece (here it’s an “old Czech honey cake”). I also heard it was Armenian, Georgian, you name it. In any case: it’s fabulous! I fill it with Dulce de Leche and add ground walnuts to the crumb topping.

  70. Your post made me laugh so hard! I’m definitely not going to make this cake but it reminded me of a Chilean cake with dozens of thin cake/crepe layers stuck together with sweetened condensed milk. We called it the WW3 ultimate weapon. Eat a slice and die, basically. On the other hand, your cake does look good. I hope you get an answer about the walnuts bit. Love walnuts.

  71. Sarah V

    Loooooong time reader, first time commenter! Our fridge is slightly off-kilter and so putting the cake in meant it slid around a LOT before the icing had a chance to set. I fixed this by using metal skewers (long toothpicks or long wooden skewers for BBQing would work too) in the middle of the cake to help keep it all stacked straight while the icing set. Worked like a charm!! Hope others find this useful too!

  72. Nuala

    Any thoughts on whether the cookie layers could be made in advance and frozen, then thawed to assemble the cake? This seems like it would make an amazing thanksgiving dessert, but I try to do as much up front as possible.

  73. canuckerrant

    Just a quick question – how well does this work if the icing / filling is refrigerated before being added in between the layers? I’ve seen at least one other recipe for honey cake that does so, and it seems to me that it would keep the filling from, well, *oozing* quite so much if it’s chilled before stacking and refrigerating.

    1. deb

      I’m not sure how big of a difference it would make because the ingredients are cold — I take the sour cream from the fridge and use it as soon as I’ve mixed the milk in.

  74. Jenny

    “and when Rabbit said, ‘Honey or condensed milk with your bread?’ he was so excited that he said ‘Both,’ and the, so as not to seem greedy, he added ‘but don’t bother about the bread, please.’ ”

    I *was* going to make a plain old Bear-shaped cupcake for my son’s upcoming Winnie the Pooh birthday party, but now…

  75. Yay! I’m so glad you’ve discovered this delightful cake. Tender, moist, and light, with the perfect sweet/tart balance.

    The recipe I follow is a little different but the result is very similar. I often put walnuts on top and sometimes between the layers, and will sometimes sprinkle chocolate shavings on top instead of or in addition to the walnuts. I don’t bother with the crumb coating and don’t mind if the sweetened sour cream runs off the sides a bit :)

    A few years ago I entered this cake into a local Cake vs. Pie contest in Seattle and it placed second in the Cake category! (Pie took the grand prize that year.) Sadly, my Russian Anthill cake didn’t fare as well the following year :(

  76. I noticed a dough whisk in the photo, but not in the instructions…. does the dough whisk work well once the flour is added? Or did you decide a spoon worked better? I am always looking for a reason to use mine! Also, any thoughts on using gluten free flour here?

  77. Wasana

    I have been waiting for the day that you make this. We ate it at a Kyrgyzstan restaurant and have been dreaming about it since. I’m making this today after work and perhaps bring it to the break-fast super on Wednesday! Thank you so much for sharing!

    1. deb

      I just used a sheet of parchment, one leftover from baking, folded it up like you’re making a snowflake and cut the wedge into a teardrop shape. Put the crumbs all around this. I describe it in the last steps.

  78. As a lover of almost every dairy product I’ve ever tried (in our country and many others), I have to say, smetana is not EXACTLY the same as sour cream. I love sour cream. I did not like smetana (the one time I visited Russia). I have no idea what the difference is, but it struck me as very distinct from sour cream, so I have always found it funny that it gets consistently translated as sour cream. I’ve only had Russian honey cake once (from an Eastern European store in the Seattle Area) and it did not have a dairy-based filling/frosting, so I can’t comment on how either would turn out, but I suspect it would have a bit of a different taste if made with smetana, which is really an excuse for more experiments!

  79. Louise

    So, first, I am so upset. I made the layers and it is frosted – and I just realized that I think I forgot the baking soda. And I know why! I had to do the first step of butter, honey and sugar twice because the first time I slowly dripped the eggs in the slightly cooled mixture I ended up with something like egg drop soup. So, I started over and poured the honey mixture into a bowl so it would not retain the heat from the pot.
    I took the suggestion of using a cake ring – but instead I used a 9 1/2″ spring form pan. The base served as the cake base and I frosted all the layers and the sides in the springform. Then after it was chilled, I took off the sides and cleaned it up. It worked well.
    I think it would work better if the frosting was a smidge thicker so it did not run so much. I was wondering about a little powdered sugar – but that would change the flavor??
    I think the sour cream/condensed milk combo was fabulous – it would be great over fresh fruit.

    1. deb

      How did it all come out? I’m not convinced the baking soda does a ton here — darken the cake a little, maybe lightens the texture a hair but probably not much after being dropped into such a hot mixture. Did it taste okay?

      1. Louise

        Tasted fabulous. I don’t think leaving out the baking soda made a big difference. My friend from Ukraine said it was amazing – and right on. the flavor and texture are unique – not like any other cake I have ever tasted. I agree with others that it taste likes graham crackers. A few comments. I found I had to add almost another cup of flour to make it stiff enough to roll. I also found it easier to roll when it had sat for a few minutes. My division into 8 pieces was not that good so I ended up with 7 layers. Even though I had 8 – not 7 – I found I could use more frosting. Also, because I like the flavor of honey, next time I will use a slightly stronger tasting honey. Thanks for a great and unique recipe!

  80. Rawan

    I used to work at a daycare in Dubai and there was this sweet little bakery next door that would sell this EXACT cake. I love it and have wanted to recreate it at home, but never found anything that remotely resembles it, but hands down yours looks exactly like it! I can’t wait to try this next Friday! I’ll be sure to tag you in the photos on Instagram.

  81. Petra

    Love your recipes! And already made a few.

    Today I read in the comments that there is a pdf printing option in the posts. Unfortunately I can’t find it. Would you mind to remind me?

    1. deb

      I’m not even sure that there is. What there is in many browsers is when you go to the print menu, an option to print as a PDF. Does that work for you?

  82. Tally in Dubai

    I live in Dubai, which has a large population of Russian expatriates so honey cake is pretty common here and it is almost always the same.

    Out here, honey cake seems to be layered honey flavored sponge with buttercream frosting (once again honey flavored). It is very soft and creamy with a pleasant honey flavor that does remind you of graham crackers.

    It looks exactly like the cake you made but I wonder how the taste differs.

  83. LuisaCA

    FINALLY! I thought you had not gotten my request for Medovik. I wish I could have sent pix of my Abominable Snowcake as it dripped the sour cream frosting, but it ended up delicious!

  84. Super good cake! I unfortunately had the same issue another commenter did and my icing mixture turned into soup, so mine doesn’t have the right proportion of icing to layers like yours does, HOWEVER the bits that are properly softened by the icing are good enough that I’d absolutely try a round 2!

    – mix your icing FIRST and start off mixing half of the condensed milk into the sour cream. Make sure it keeps an icing consistency and doesn’t just turn into soup!
    – keep any extra icing you have around in case your layers aren’t as neatly defined as they are in the picture, you’ll want that extra icing as you eat the cake.
    – whisking the eggs into the sugar wasn’t nearly as heart-stopping as I envisioned. Just keep whisking constantly, pour slowly, and don’t do it on the heat!
    – the dough will stick to the parchment if it’s too hot- you want it warm to the touch but not fresh out of the pot.
    – lightly flouring the outside of the dough (like you’d flour a mochi ball) helped with the sticking even further
    – when you peel off the top sheet of parchment, peel it back almost parallel to itself (like you’d pull off a wax strip). If the paper is near perpendicular to the dough it wants to stick a lot more. It can also help to roll the dough out and then wait a minute for it to cool even further before peeling.
    – DO NOT try to ice this on a cake plate that doesn’t have a lip. I did, it was a disaster… transferred to a springform pan… that was a disaster… eventually it ended up in a bowl.

    1. I also think that if you end up with runny icing you could punch a larger hole out of the middle of the cake and pour icing in the hole to soak up into the cake overnight- would be a good way to get icing into the inner layers.

      In thinking about it I strongly suspect that I overbaked the layers by a bit and they’re not supposed to be as dry as they turned out (even soaking up the icing).

  85. Emily

    I love that it’s still summer in Smitten Kitchen, but I was wondering if you planned to change the ‘in season’ section with the seasons. I found that extremely helpful this summer plus the pictures are georgous! Thanks!

  86. what a dramatic intro for a cake – wow!, and the result is stunning! I´m usually not that much into bang multiple layer cakes, but I really am into honey, so I´ll definitely jump into Russian baking soon!

  87. Hey Deb,

    This looks like something that I really want to eat but may not have the time or inclination to actually make. This may be cheating but can you tell me which russian bakery you fell in love with this at?

    P.S. about to make the cauliflower soup recipe you just posted and am super stoked!

  88. Shirley

    Hi Deb!! I was waiting forever for a reliable recipe for medovik and it doesnt get any reliable than you!! Im just making it now and unfurtunately the dough came out really sticky (even after I added an extra oz of flour) and ive used a scale so all was measured well… Any ideas? Im afraid its not useable and I will have to start over(Ive tried to make first layer and coldnt get it out from the parchment paper, now its in the fridge, I thought maybe I will be able to get it out cold)

    Thank you


    1. Shirley

      Well, an update 😊 My first attempt with the dough was just as I finished making it since I wanted to work with it as it still warm like you said, I found it better (not to say perfect) to work with after it rested. Half an hour later it looked just like your photo! I guess it has a lot to do with room temperature and humidity levels and it varies between places. Since I couldnt get the first attempt out of the parchment paper I did this- I left the rolled dough between two parchment papers and put it on the baking tray and I put a smaller tray on the dough as a weigh and when it came out (after about 6 min at 350) it was perfectly and evenly baked, then I used my 9 inch ring to cut it. The secong one I baked without the weigh tray and it rose a little so once it came out of the oven I put the weigh tray on it so it will coll down leveled and so it did. The rest I baked with the tray on since I find it better. Thank you for another perfect recipe!

    2. Are you at higher altitude? I just wonder if that might be the cause- high altitude would probably need extra flour. I am, so it would be nice to know ahead of time if I’ll encounter that :)

  89. Katie

    Thank you for this! I lived in the Czech Republic for a while and I still miss medovnik! I’ve searched for a recipe, but the few I found either didn’t make sense or contradicted each other and eventually I gave up. But this looks great! So, so excited to make this.

  90. Lena

    I am Russian and this is my favorite cake but I have never made it. I always have seconds when my great aunt makes it at family parties. I will make this for my boyfriends family when they come to visit. Surely, this will make them love me right? ;)

  91. This post brought tears to my eyes—both of sadness and joy. You see, my grandma in the old country used to make this honey cake for every holiday. Those were some of my best childhood memories—of slathering the layers in sour cream, cutting off (and devouring) the uneven edges, cutting into the final product the next day (we always let it sit overnight to let the layers fuse and meld with the divine creaminess). I haven’t had it since I came to US 22 years ago and babushka Anya had passed on. But seeing it now on you blog inspired me to take it on—thank you!

  92. Sari

    I made this cake on Thursday, and it is wonderful! Your instructions were perfect, and it worked exactly as you said it would, thank you. It also lasts well, but will surely be finished before day 5!
    Sari, from Cape Town

  93. Glenna

    So, I’ve been thinking. I’ve never made a torte or cookie anything like this before. But the other day I was at this Kitchen Connection store or whatever it’s called and saw PRE-cut parchment paper. Isn’t that awesome? So being the impulse shopper that I am I went ahead and got a pack of 30. Still have yet to bake anything. Sweet Procrastination. Anyway, if there are any other lazy bones out there like me you can look for them. Besides I always manage to mess up when cutting wax paper. Just too flimsy.

  94. I have a similar recipe on my blog, where the layers are made with sweetened condensed milk and filled with whipped cream. It is called Milchmädchentorte, because in Germany sweetened condensed milk has that name. Don’t be afraid, the recipe is in german and in english.
    I do love honey so I will definitely try your recipe, too.
    Love your site!
    Greetings from Germany


  95. I love this! I’ve definitely gotten the same kind of question being that my husband is Jamaican. It’s always fun to explore those “signature” dishes, if you will. This one looks incredible. You did a beautiful job!

  96. RK

    Yes! We called it smetannik and it was my favorite growing up!!!! I used to help my mother make it. Thank you Deb for bringing back sweet memories (pun intended..)

  97. lynchsw

    I loved Medovnik (Czech name for the same/a similar cake) while living in the Prague but I could never find plausible sounding a recipe. Thank you for this! I can’t wait to get back to my own kitchen and start baking.

  98. Carrie

    After visiting Prague four years ago, I got the harebrained idea to make honey cake for Thanksgiving. Because of that, your befuddlement at the recipes you were able to find online is total deja vu. They were few and far between, and what I found were so completely different from each other, I didn’t know what to believe. The results that Thanksgiving were not great. Happy to bookmark this for a future attempt if I get ambitious again!

  99. Adaire Hiestand

    I think I may have a partial answer for your variation questions.. when we lived in Russia it was difficult to obtain many ingredients. Smetana was one standby I could usually find. And sugar usually but not so much honey – it was a bit harder to find in the city but easy in the country. I wonder if sometimes the recipes are from the people being so adaptable to using what they could find to make their food. Looks amazing!!!

  100. I’ve been having this exact dilemma for the past few months. I had it homemade in Hungary, and I couldn’t reach the lady who made it for a recipe. She called it Medovnik and made it with a cream and plum jam filling. As my search began, NONE of the recipes I read online made any sense, and no two recipes were the same. Not to mention how the ones with flour filling resulted in a giant question mark! After reading your recipe, I’m just a bit more encouraged to go back to my search using your recipe as a guideline. Thanks for posting it!

  101. Hendy

    So, I just made this, and here is my pennysworth. It looked amazing in the end, first of all, having been as disastrous in preparation as the pictures/recipe had suggested it would. But sadly, it was ultimately a failure. This is because the icing was just too runny, and simply never thickened as promised, even after a night in the fridge. I couldn’t have served it on the plate it had been assembled on, since the cookies were sitting in a swimming pool of icing. I decanted it, poured away the excess, covered it in crumbs, and it did look fab. But when cut to serve, the icing had drained away from between every layer, so what I was serving was eight dry cookies squashed together, with no icing between each layer as in SK’s picture. So it was dry and fairly tasteless to serve. Perhaps this is due to my preparing it in England, and the different qualities of the sour cream here? Less thick? If I were to prepare it again (which I won’t), I would endorse an earlier suggestion to add condensed milk cautiously to sour cream to create the right consistency, rather than automatically using the exact amounts in the recipe. Just too runny!! Shame. But it obviously is working well for lots of people, it just carried a risk warning in my opinion. Good thing I made a batch of (Smitten Kitchen!) brownies as well!!

  102. TomatoWench

    Here in Jordan this cake is known as Circassian cake… or something similar – anyway sounds as if it was brought from the Caucasus to here by refugees a century or more ago. I definitely recognize it. Interesting historical cake connection… thanks for the recipe!

  103. Lindsay

    Hi Deb,

    This looks fantastic! I was wondering about the eggs:

    Why can’t you temper them with a bit of the boiling mixture before reconstituting the whole thing back together in the pot? It seems like it might be a little less nerve wracking than adding them to the pot directly. I don’t mind the hand-mixing aspect at all, but I know that technique is used – especially in custard based recipes.

    I scrolled through your comments below, and while users made some reference to eggs, I didn’t see your respond to anything about this particular question. I apologize though if I missed it! I can’t wait for your next book!!!!

  104. OMG!! I am so happy to see this recipe. I went to Russia last year for the first time and once I discovered this cake I just had to have it everyday, sometimes twice. It was 2 weeks of honey heaven!

    I made it once from a recipe I found online and it was ok but I’m super excited to try yours. Thank you!!!

    ps: all the places I went called it Medovik.

  105. I hope I’m following the guidelines right now, but I just wanted to say “WOW what an in-depth post and story time on how you ended up making that gorgeous looking cake! I am Russian myself, and got so tempted to dive in and attempt making this cake.. although I gotta say I might be a bit too inexperienced to pull this one off! Anyways, your cake looks amazing!

  106. Jamie

    Ok so I just realized that I only put the 3 cups of flour in. The cookies/ cakes turned out fine to me though… hopefully this won’t effect the final result :) My house smells amazing and I tried a few of the cookie scraps and sneaked some dough too- very good!

  107. Kenna

    I had the sweetest Russian neighbor bring me one of these as a gift when I had my last baby nine years ago. I still remember how delicious it was! I’ll have to give this one a try. Thanks for the stroll down memory lane.