Rosh Hashanah, the celebration of the Jewish New Year, begins Wednesday evening at sundown. We've already posted about Rosh Hashanah food customs and Rosh Hashanah gifts. It might be too late to order a gift delivered, but there's still plenty of time to partake in one big Rosh Hashanah custom: baking a honey cake.
Honey is a very traditional food during Rosh Hashanah. Its sweetness symbolizes the wish for a happy, sweet life in the upcoming year. It's common to have a Rosh Hashanah feast end with a beautiful, moist honey cake. And even if you don't celebrate Rosh Hashanah yourself, you can still enjoy this delicious cake full of fall flavors and spices. Here's what you'll need to make your own honey cake:
Rosh Hashanah Honey Cake
adapted from a recipe by Marcy Goldman
- 3.5 cups flour
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp + 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground cloves
- 1 tsp ground allspice
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 1 cup honey
- 1.5 cups granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 1 cup warm coffee
- 1/2 cup orange juice
- 3/4 cup chopped nuts
You can use your favorite nuts in this recipe. I'm using these delicious Cinnamon Pecans, that have a crunchy coating of cinnamon and sugar on the outside. The spices will go perfectly with the honey cake, and the pecans add just the right amount of crunch.
First things first, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F and prepare your pan. This honey cake can be made in 3 large loaf pans, two 9" cake pans, a 9x13" rectangular pan, or, my personal favorite, a bundt pan. I think the bundt cake looks the best, and--here is the terrible truth--this cake has a tendency to fall a little bit in the middle, so the bundt pan does the best job of hiding this. But whichever pan you choose, make sure you spray it really well with nonstick cooking spray.
The beauty of this recipe is its simplicity. You don't need special equipment, or ingredients, or even a mixer! Your own arm and a whisk will do. So start by whisking together all of the liquid ingredients: the eggs, honey, oil, vanilla, coffee, and orange juice all go in a bowl together.
Next, add both sugars to the liquids and keep whisking until they're dissolved into the liquid.
Now it's time to combine all the dry ingredients. This means the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves, and allspice all get whisked together in a big bowl. You're going to add the wet ingredients to this, so make sure you use a bowl that's big enough to hold everything.
Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, and pour the wet ingredients into it. Once it's all poured in, use that trusty whisk and stir everything together until it's smooth. At first you'll see some small flour lumps, but keep whisking gently and you'll end up with a beautiful thick honey-colored batter.
Don't worry, I haven't forgotten about the nuts. Chop them up coarsely--I like to leave some bigger chunks so that they don't just disappear into the batter. They do need a little chopping, though, otherwise the pecans are just too big. However, don't add them to the batter just yet.
Pour about 2/3 of your honey cake batter into the prepared pan. I like to keep the nuts and the batter separate, because the batter is thin enough that the nuts might just sink to the bottom--or in the case of a bundt cake, the top--of the cake, and that wouldn't look or taste very nice.
Now sprinkle all those chopped nuts on top of the layer of cake batter. Since they're being added to the middle, they have less chance of sinking straight to the bottom. After the nuts are added, pour the remaining cake batter on top of them.
You could just leave it that way, but I like to take a knife and swirl it gently through the batter, to disperse the nuts more evenly. Once you're done tinkering with the cake, put it into your preheated oven. Baking time depends on which pans you use. For a bundt pan, it will be between 60-75 minutes, while smaller loaf and cake pans are about 45-55 minutes. The best way to tell when it's done will be to press gently on top of the cake. It should spring back when you press down.
Here you can see how mine fell a little bit in the middle. All the moisture that gives it that great flavor and texture makes the batter a little delicate, and prone to falling if it's disturbed or even just baked in an uneven oven. However, the taste is still fantastic, and with a bundt pan, no one will even know.
Let the cake cool in its pan for 15 minutes before inverting it onto a cooling rack and allowing it to cool completely at room temperature. While it's baking it will smell fantastic, and you might be tempted to eat a piece while it's still warm from the oven. However, if you can hold yourself back, you'll be rewarded. While the cake is good when it's warm, the taste and texture really improve after it's sat and cooled for a few hours.
If you wrap this honey cake will with cling wrap, it keeps phenomenally well at room temperature for 3-4 days. It's great plain, but even better served with a side of spiced apples (another traditional Rosh Hashanah food.) Have a sweet New Year!
All images (c) Elizabeth LaBau. Text Elizabeth LaBau, adapted from a recipe by Marcy Goldman.