Let me start by saying – I am not Jewish, so I hope I don’t get accused of cultural misappropriation! Long ago when I was at school in north London approximately a third of the girls were Jewish. We learned quite a lot about Jewish customs, and festivals. I love food, and so many Jewish festivals, like many other religions and cultures, are associated with special foods. So in the spirit of world peace achieved through baking I would like to share some honey cake.
Rosh Hashana literally means ‘ head of the year’, and is the beginning of the Hebrew new year. It is traditional to eat sweet foods at this time, and wish your friends and family “Shana Tova” or “Shana Tova U’Metukah” which means ‘a good year’ or ‘a good and sweet year’. Apples dipped in honey are probably the most traditional food, to symbolise this wish for a sweet, happy year.
Honey cake is a popular traditional cake, because of its sweetness. There are of course many recipes for honey cake, some of them spiced with cinnamon and cloves, others quite plain, with the taste of honey to the front. Apparently honey cake can often be dry and boring. Well that’s not my experience with this recipe which I tried last year, and repeated again this year as it was so so good. I have found it in two places on the internet – I think this is the original one by Marcy Goldman from her book A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking. Then I found it again on Smitten Kitchen, with a couple of baking notes and minor changes. The change was the amount of baking powder. I made it with the original amount of baking powder and it turned out fine.
I have a bit of a thing for really good honey. The best honey I have ever bought was on a holiday in Sicily. It was proper artisan wildflower honey and it was absolutely delicious. Compared to commercial honeys – well, it’s impossible to make a comparison because they were like two different products. Sadly it is all gone now. The honey I used for this cake was a dark honey that a friend brought back from Poland for me. Last year I used a lighter honey and the cake came out a paler brown. This dark honey has a stronger taste, and I think it is ideal for baking. There is a bit of a revival in bee keeping round here, and it is possible to buy local honeys even in London. What a brilliant thing that is, because the threat to bees is very real. And without bees we will have an agricultural (and therefore food) disaster.
Anyway back to cake! The recipe is very easy. Mix all the dry ingredients together, and add the wet. I mixed all the wet ingredients together before adding them, but you don’t have to. I made a couple of small changes. I didn’t use quite as much white sugar – I reduced the amount to 1 cup instead of 1.5 cups. I also didn’t use whisky or rye, mainly because I couldn’t find any amongst our collection of random bottles of spirits that nobody drinks – sambuca anyone? And I didn’t use orange juice, again because I didn’t have any. I just increased the coffee. If you are concerned that the cake will taste of coffee don’t be. You can’t taste coffee flavour, it just enhances the general flavour.
I baked the cake in a 13” x11” tin, not a bundt tin, mainly because I intended to cut it into pieces and give some away. If I was making it for an occasion I would certainly use a bundt tin, because they look so pretty.
I highly recommend this recipe. It is moist and full of flavour. It’s worth using a fairly strong flavoured honey. I can imagine if you used a mild one the taste would get lost.
Thank you for reading, and I wish you all peace and happiness in the months to come. If you are feeling stressed by world happenings make a cake, brew a pot of coffee/tea and invite a couple of friends over. You will feel better – I promise!