Every year since I can remember my mom always made a honey cake for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. It’s a wonderful recipe that she got from a very dear lady named Anne who lived in the same building in Queens that I grew up in. I have vivid memories of baking this cake with my mom in our little galley kitchen. It is one of the traditional recipes we have made for Rosh Hashanah over the years and is one of my favorites for it’s depth of flavor and utter simplicity.
Honey is one of the traditional foods served on Rosh Hashanah; it is symbolic of a sweet new year. We incorporate it into both savory and sweet dishes and we also dip both apples and challah into honey as part of the holiday ritual. In fact on this holiday, which begins the evening of September 28th, we refrain from eating tart or sour foods.
Now, I have made this cake umpteen times both in my mom’s kitchen and in my own and for years we both used a very simple, thin-walled loaf pan. When my parents retired my mom decided she wanted to move into her new home with all new things. Since she’s a baker, that meant lots of new baking paraphernalia. When my husband and I got married, I too got all new stuff. Rosh Hashanah came and went more than once and we both, of course, made Anne’s famous honey cake but for some reason one year I had a problem. All of a sudden the cake was not baking properly, it was completely collapsed in the middle. When I cut into it I realized it wasn’t fully cooked. What?
Okay, I tried again. Disaster number two: it bubbled over the pan all over my oven floor and the heating element (don’t even ask how I cried when I saw what my NEW oven looked like), which then needed to be replaced. I was confused, to say the least and immediately checked to make sure my oven thermostat was reading correctly, it was. I messed with the oven temperature and baking time but nothing was quite right. I called my mom.
Call in karma, call it coincidence, call it whatever you want but she was having the SAME problem. I was beginning to feel like I was living in an episode of “The Twilight Zone”. After chatting a bit we realized that we were both using new, sturdy, heavy loaf pans and were both having the same disastrous problems. Ding, ding, ding!
Great, now to find that old thin-walled loaf pan like the one we had used for many years past. While I looked, my mom suggested trying a different pan altogether so we both used Bundt pans and thankfully were successful.
I finally found the pan I was looking for in the supermarket of all places; I bought two, one for me and one for my mom. I called her immediately and the next time we saw each other I gave it to her.
So as much as I love, love, love this cake, if you make it I recommend you to use a thin walled loaf pan or any style Bundt pan.
This particular recipe has two very key ingredients, the first is a very particular variety of honey, buckwheat honey. I urge you to seek it out. It really makes a difference in the flavor of the cake. Buckwheat honey is a dark rich honey, not golden in color by any means. It has a malty or molasses like flavor, and is actually not too sweet. It is higher in antioxidants than lighter varieties of honey and is used in folk remedies for an assortment of ailments including a cough, but remember, don’t give honey to children under the age of 1 year. Please consult your pediatrician for guidance.
The other key ingredient is strong coffee which I make by doubling the ratio of coffee to water. So for example, if you normally use one scoop of coffee per cup of water, here you want to use two scoops of coffee per cup of water. Alternatively you could use espresso, which is what I often do. I use instant so I can make just the amount I need. Don’t judge.
This cake benefits from some forethought. It is best to bake it a day or two ahead for the flavors to really meld and come to life. Trust me it’s worth it! Oh, and it also freezes well. When it is completely cooled, wrap it in foil and freeze.
L’shanah tovah! Have a sweet New Year and enjoy some honey cake!
1 ½ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon oil
1 cup buckwheat honey
½ cup strong coffee, cooled
1. Pre-heat your oven to 325 degrees.
2. Either grease and flour or spray a 9” loaf pan (or any bundt pan) with non-stick spray.
3. Whisk all of the dry ingredients together in the bowl of your mixer.
4. Thoroughly mix the oil, eggs and honey in a smaller bowl.
5. With the motor running on a low speed, alternately add the wet ingredients and the coffee to the dry ingredients until just combined. I usually do this in three passes of the wet and three of the coffee.
6. Pour batter into the prepared pan. (It will be looser than most)
7. Bake for 50 minutes to one hour, depending on your oven.
8. Cake is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with just a few crumbs on it.
Important Note: Do Not open the oven while the cake is baking.