You might think that this recipe is just another stop on my interminable journey around the cakes of France. Well, I suppose it is but, in this case, Choclette of Chocolate Log Blog is largely to blame. For the December We Should Cocoa challenge Choclette has specified the combination of chocolate and orange. That made me think immediately of nonnettes.
Nonnettes are deliciously moist, sticky cakes originally made by nuns and are often associated with this time of year, although you can buy them anytime. The ingredients and method are very similar to pain d'épices but they’re normally flavoured more strongly with orange. Marmalade is placed on top of the mixture before baking and sinks into the cakes as they cook. Nonnettes don’t normally contain chocolate, but I saw some with chocolate on sale the last time I was in France and I’ve been intending to make a batch ever since.
This version is pretty close to the traditional recipes that I’ve come across but I’ve simplified the spicing. There are many versions of spice mix for pain d'épices and nonnettes but they will often contain a mix of cinnamon, cloves, ginger, aniseed, cardamom and probably a few other spices as well. I’ve just used cardamom here because I wanted a delicate, scented effect that didn’t muddy the orange flavour. (To make the ground cardamom, remove the seeds from the pods, toast quickly in a dry frying pan and then crush.) I’ve used a small amount of rye flour in this recipe because I was told (in no uncertain terms by someone French and bigger than me) that all pain d'épices and nonnettes must contain rye flour for both texture and flavour. I stand by that advice but I’ve come across plenty of recipes which omit the rye, so feel free to use all plain flour if you don’t have rye to hand.
Although it’s not strictly traditional, it’s easiest to use a muffin tin for these cakes. I used silicone muffin moulds but if you don’t have silicone, then grease the tin carefully because the honey can make these cakes a little difficult to remove. You should get somewhere around 12 –14 nonnettes with this recipe.
200 g runny honey
100 ml water
100 ml milk (semi-skimmed or full-fat)
100 g light brown soft sugar
80 g butter
½ tsp orange extract (or orange liqueur)
250 g plain flour
50 g rye flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp ground cardamom seeds
Finely grated zest of ½ orange
70 g white chocolate chips
Marmalade (around 12 – 14 teaspoons of, preferably, thin-cut or peel-free marmalade)
6 tbsp icing sugar
A little orange juice
Put the honey, water, milk, brown sugar, butter and orange extract into a saucepan. Heat gently, stirring all the time, until the butter has melted, the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is smooth and uniform. Take off the heat and pour into a mixing bowl.
Mix together the flours, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and the ground cardamom. While the honey mixture is still warm, sieve the flour mixture onto it and whisk the two together until smooth. Stir in the orange zest and the chocolate chips. Put the mixture into the fridge and leave it there until thoroughly chilled – at least an hour.
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Spoon the mixture into the muffin moulds until they’re somewhere between two-thirds and three-quarters full. Place a teaspoon of marmalade on top of each nonnette. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes. It can be a little tricky to judge when the cakes are ready – they should be golden brown and, although still soft, they should spring back when pressed gently. While the nonnettes are still warm and in their moulds, mix the icing sugar with enough orange juice to create a thin icing. Paint the icing over the nonnettes with a pastry brush. The idea is to create something resembling a thin sugar glaze rather than an iced cake. Allow the nonnettes to cool before attempting to remove them from the moulds.
Traditionally it’s said that the flavour of nonnettes should be allowed to develop and that you should adopt nun-like restraint and not eat them until the following day. In my view, that’s not a realistic expectation.