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Friday, September 23, 2011

Let There Be Honey Cake


Just the right blend of sweetness and spice. . . three times the charm with this recipe

 Behold!  My Even More Majestic and Moist Honey Cake 
 Marcy Goldman's Original Majestic and Moist Honey Cake (Cola Version)

Oh my!  Chocolate Honey Cake with Apple Compote and Raspberries,
adapted from Deb Perelman's Majestic Honey Cake adapted from
Marcy Goldman's Original Majestic Honey Cake



 May it be a Sweet New Year. 
May you be inscribed in the Book of Life.

These are the traditional blessings of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year which begins at sundown on Wednesday, September 28. . . 5772 already? 

In Jewish liturgy Rosh Hashanah is described as “the day of judgment, a day of remembrance.” According to “midrash" – the commentary on biblical stories  - this is the day that the “books” containing the deeds of all humanity are opened for review:  a Heavenly Audit, so to speak.   

Lest we forget: on this day there is also a reckoning with meals and that time-honored Jewish custom of feasting at every opportunity. Nowhere in scriptures is there mention of this sacred ritual, but on Rosh Hashanah, cooks in Jewish kitchens everywhere open their Books:  to recount and muster the mysteries and delicacies of briskets of beef,  kichel, kreplach tayglach, challah, kugels of all kind, and yes, the ever-present, prerequisite:  honey cake.

Symbol of hope and nourishment for a sweet new year - laden with honey, spices, sugar, fruit and nuts - honey cake should rise to the top of the list of favorite holiday recipes.  But no...

“Too dry,” my husband complains.

“Too sweet,” I think.

“Not a fan,” my son would say.

 Not enough bang for the baking in my estimation.

Oy. 



According to The Book of Jewish Food by Claudia Roden, honey cake has been a celebratory Jewish cake since the early Middle Ages in Germany, with the earliest recorded recipe for Lebkuchen dating back to the 16thcentury.  Perhaps the antiquity of the recipe explains why in so many variations it still produces that mildly disappointing texture and flavor,  more like a quick bread, than cake.  (Just saying.) 

In search of "delicious and delectable" – (in a recipe forgiving enough to mess with) -- I turn to smittenkitchen.com – and to the inimitable baker web-hostess, Deb Perelman.   Deb has posted what appears to be a slice of honey cake heaven, with nearly 400 comments of praise for her baking prowess  – all from a recipe she’s adapted from Marcy Goldman, cookbook author and keeper of the words on betterbaking.com.  


Oy. On and on it goes. 

Referring to both recipes, I go to work.  And this is where my brain chemistry fails me.   Three-and-a-half cups of flour?  Or maybe just three?  Three or  four eggs, what’s the diff?  Why use both baking soda and  baking powder?  Two cups of sugar,really?? And why not reduce the quantity of veg oil with a half cup of applesauce?  And what’s with all the liquid in these recipes?  Orange juice, coffee or tea, cola and alchohol?  What am I, a passenger on a plane?   And what about chocolate? Wouldn't a velvety-rich chocolate honey batter be better?  Would a half-cup cocoa plus a cup-or-whatever (who measures?) chocolate pieces do the trick?    

This is why there are test kitchens. Recipes aren't tablets handed down from the mountain. A good recipe takes time - even generations - to perfect. 



For good measure last weekend, I baked two cakes: one honey without nuts and one honey-chocolate with everything, including a healthy swig Grand Marnier. Both were very decent attempts at delectable, but not quite. . . right.  Noting the sublties of nature and bees, darker honey vs. light, brown sugar vs. cane, unbleached vs. whole wheat baking flours. . .   

I had to stop myself from running to the store for the ingredients to make a third cake. 

So trust me, my recommendation for better baking is to choose the original:  Marcy's “Majestic and Moist Honey Cake."   And please, follow her recipe.  To the letter.   Thank you,

Marcy Goldman’s Definitively Moist and Majestic Honey Cake.
As Marcy describes, “This one is queen of the realm - rich with honey, just perfectly spiced. Majestic in taste and stature."  (And it’s pareve, which means it’s a non-dairy dessert, a perfect ending to any Jewish holiday meal.)




HERE'S WHAT YOU NEED:
·          3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
·          4 tsp. baking powder
·          3/4 tsp. baking soda
·          1/2 tsp. salt
·          4 tsp. ground cinnamon
·          1/2 tsp. ground cloves
·          1/2 tsp. ground allspice
·          1 cup vegetable oil
·          1 cup honey
·          1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
·          1/2 cup brown sugar
·          4 eggs
·          1 tsp. vanilla
·          1/2 cup warm coffee or strong tea
·          1/2 cup coca cola, bubbles stirred out
·          1/2  cup fresh orange juice
·          1/4 cup whiskey (or substitute orange juice or coffee)
·          1/2 cup slivered almonds

·          1 cup bittersweet chocolate and walnuts, ground (optional)






HERE'S WHAT YOU DO
This cake is best baked in a nine-inch angel food cake pan, but you can also make it in one nine- or 10-inch tube or Bundt cake pan, a 9"x13" sheet cake pan, or two five-inch loaf pans.



A third version:  I added ground nuts, semi sweet chocolate 
and extra cinnamon 

1.      Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease pan(s). For tube and angel food pans, line the bottom with lightly greased parchment paper, cut to fit. Have ready doubled up baking sheets with a piece of parchment on top.
2.      In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves and allspice. Make a well in the center. Add oil, honey, white sugar, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla, coffee, tea, or cola, orange juice and rye or whiskey.
3.      Using a strong wire whisk or in an electric mixer on slow speed, stir together well to make a thick, well-blended batter, making sure that no ingredients are stuck to the bottom.
4.      Spoon batter into prepared pan(s). Sprinkle top of cake(s) evenly with almonds. Place cake pan(s) on two baking sheets stacked together. (This will ensure that cakes bake properly.)
5.      Bake until cake springs back when you gently touch the cake center. For angel and tube cake pans, 60-80 minutes; loaf pans, about 45-55 minutes. For sheet-style cakes, baking time is 40-45 minutes. Let cake stand 20 minutes before removing from pan.
6.  Enjoy.




Photos: VHenoch (or otherwise noted)
L'Shana Tova - Wishing you a Peaceful, Healthy
and Sweet New Year 


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