Rosh Hashana is not complete without honey cake to represent the start of a sweet year ahead. Honey cake has a bad rap since most tend to be dry and either taste bland or like an ambiguous spice cake of some sort. You wouldn’t know honey was the star of the cake. Every year I go through the same ritual of deciding which of my many honey cake recipes to make although I am never quite satisfied with any. In recent years I have been moving towards streamlining the process by mixing and matching favorite elements from each recipe to make my own signature honey cake.
The basic recipe I started with is from Marcy Goldman’s classic cookbook A Treasury of Jewish Baking. Her honey cake is pretty much the standard for my generation. This is the recipe I have been playing around with since my college age daughter was in diapers.
As I worked through creating a keeper cake, I was inspired by other honey cake flavor variations:
- A bit of lemon juice adds a classic lemon honey flavor.
- Cocoa and chocolate flavored coffee both counterbalance the sweetness of the honey.
- A hint of cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg add just the right amount of spice flavor
- Equal parts white and brown sugar give a deeper flavor than just white sugar.
- The best local honey is recommended because it has a stronger flavor than everyday supermarket honey.
- To add texture and boost the honey flavor a crunchy honey almond glaze is placed over the top of the cake in the last few minutes of baking. This addition elevates the honey cake to a dessert worth looking forward to and less of a holiday obligation.
My ideal version is now a moist honey cake with a distinct honey taste not overpowered by other ingredients such as alcohol or an abundance of spices. Complementary flavors add a bit of complexity and balance out the cloying tendency honey brings to the table.
3 ½ cups all purpose flour (I use White Lily)
2 tsp baking powder (non aluminum is preferred)
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp kosher salt
1 Tbs Dutch process cocoa
2 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg, fresh ground if possible
1 cup canola oil
1 cup honey
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 Tbs fresh lemon juice
1 ¾ cup warm coffee (chocolate flavored if possible)
Almond Honey Crunch topping
4 Tbs unsalted butter
4 Tbs light brown sugar
4 Tbs honey
3/4 cup sliced almonds
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease pans.
Makes three cakes using 8×4” loaf pans, 11×7” baking pans, or 8” square or round baking pans. When making honey cakes for gifts I buy paper loaf pans from local or national cookware stores (like Sur La Table) or from various online sites. The pans come in different sizes and do not need to be greased. Place on sheet pan and fill them ¾ full before baking.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease pans. Cut parchment paper to fit bottom of pans.
Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cocoa, cinnamon, and nutmeg into large bowl. Make well in center of bowl.
In another bowl mix oil, honey, white and brown sugar, eggs, vanilla and lemon juice, and coffee together. Add to flour mixture and mix until well combined.
Spoon batter into the prepared pans and bake in center of oven just until toothpick inserted comes out clean and cake springs back when touched.
Cooking times depend on the oven and pans used. It takes about 35-40 minutes for smaller loaf pans, 45-55 for baking pans and 50-60 minutes for larger loaf pans.
While cakes are baking add butter, light brown sugar, and honey to medium saucepan and cook until butter just melts.
Whisk until combined into a beautiful honey color.
Add almonds and set aside.
Once cakes are set, remove from oven. Divide almond crunch evenly and place gently along center of each cake. Place cakes back in oven until honey almond mixture melts over top of cake; 2-3 minutes.
This cake tastes best the day after it is made….if you can wait.