Loaf cakes for a sweet Rosh Hashana

Ungar flavors her honey cake with brewed coffee, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger, and sometimes adds walnuts or almonds.

Dorie Greenspan's double-chocolate marble cake, flavored with dark and white chocolate (photo credit: ALAN RICHARDSON)
Dorie Greenspan's double-chocolate marble cake, flavored with dark and white chocolate
(photo credit: ALAN RICHARDSON)
Many families look forward to enjoying on Rosh Hashana the time-honored holiday sweet treat – honey cake.
“To be perfectly honest, I was never a great honey cake fan,” wrote Carol Ungar, author of the new book Jewish Soul Food – Traditional Fare and What It Means. “That’s because the only honey cakes I ever ate were the store-bought kind – sticky, sickly sweet, not really worth the calories. But homemade honey cake is something else entirely. It’s complex, subtle... and quite exquisite, especially paired with a cup of coffee or tea.”
Ungar flavors her honey cake with brewed coffee, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger, and sometimes adds walnuts or almonds.
“A pre-Yom Kippur gift of honey cake... is the secret to a prosperous New Year,” and therefore many synagogues distribute honey cake slices on Yom Kippur Eve, wrote Ungar. In Yiddish, honey cake is called lekach, and Ungar pointed out that “in Yiddish lekach translates as ‘moral lesson.’” (By the way, lekah means the same in Hebrew.)
Ofer Gal, author of Ugiyot Boutique: Les Gâteaux de la Boutique Central (in Hebrew), which features recipes from the Tel Aviv pastry shop Boutique Central, developed his honey cake over the years by modifying a classic recipe. He told me he adds a small amount of plum jam to the batter to contribute moistness to the cake and to enhance its flavor. (See recipe.)
Honey cake can be used as a base for other cakes. To prepare apple honey cake, for example, Gal adds fresh apple slices in toffee caramel sauce to the batter. He also uses honey cake layers to make his Dobos torte, with a filling of toffee caramel and praline cream. His toffee caramel is made of sugar cooked until deep brown, to which he adds cream and butter.
Gal emphasizes the importance of baking honey cake in advance and refrigerating it to improve its flavor and texture. He wrote to me that as the cake chills, the jam seems to melt into it and makes it moister. At the bakery, he prepares the cake up to a week in advance and keeps it in the refrigerator.
Dorie Greenspan, the author of Baking Chez Moi: Recipes from My Paris Home to Your Home Anywhere, makes a spiced honey cake, which actually is her version of French pain d’épices (spice cake), flavored with orange zest, dried lavender, peppercorns, fresh ginger and chopped dried cherries. Much of the cake’s flavor depends on the honey, wrote Greenspan. Like Gal, she emphasizes that the cake should “ripen” for a couple of days and calls it “the quintessential good keeper.”
Since we are a family of chocolate lovers, along with the honey cake there has to be a chocolate dessert. This year we plan to serve Greenspan’s double-chocolate marble cake, made with two kinds of chocolate. (See recipe.)
Faye Levy is the author of 1,000 Jewish Recipes, of Fresh from France: Dessert Sensations and, in Hebrew, of Sefer Ha’ugot (the book of cakes).
Although Ofer Gal flavors this honey cake with cinnamon and cloves, he told me it’s not a spice cake; the spices provide only a subtle background flavor. You can top the cake with sliced almonds, as in the recipe, or use walnuts or hazelnuts; or you can bake the cake without a topping.
To make individual honey cakes, bake the batter in muffin tins at 170°C (340°F) for about 20 minutes, depending on the size of the muffin cups.
To help the honey and the jam blend easily into the batter, Gal adds them to a warm mixture of oil and water.
Makes 2 loaf cakes about 26 cm. (10 in.) long
■ 0.6 cup (150 ml.) water
■ 0.85 cup (200 ml.) canola oil
■ 0.6 cup (200 gr. or 7 ounces) honey
■ 2 Tbsp. (50 gr. or 2 ounces) dark plum jam (povidla)
■ 4 eggs
■ 1¼ cups (250 gr. or 8.8 ounces) sugar
■ 2.4 cups (300 gr. or 10.6 ounces) flour
■ 2 tsp. baking powder
■ 2 tsp. baking soda
■ Scant 1 tsp. cinnamon
■ ¹⁄3 tsp. cloves
■ 50 gr. (about 2 ounces) sliced blanched almonds (optional)
Preheat oven to 150°C (300°F). Prepare 2 English cake pans (long, narrow loaf pans) 26 cm. (10 in.) long. If the pans are nonstick, no preparation is necessary. For other pans, or for added “insurance” even with nonstick pans, you can line the base of the pan with baking paper and spray it with oil spray.
Warm the water and oil in a small saucepan.
Remove from the heat. Add honey and jam and mix until smooth.
Beat the eggs on high speed of a mixer until lightened in texture. Add the sugar gradually while beating, and continue beating the mixture until it is thick. Sift the flour into the mixture, stirring gently with a rubber spatula. Add the honey mixture and fold it in gently. Gently add the baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and cloves.
Transfer batter to the pans, filling them by four fifths. Sprinkle with sliced almonds.
Bake for about 50 minutes. To check, insert a small knife into the cakes; if it comes out dry, remove cakes from oven.
Refrigerate cakes overnight so they will become moist and won’t crumble when sliced.
This recipe is from Baking Chez Moi. “Aside from their obvious tastiness,” wrote Greenspan, “marble cakes are beloved because they are hearty, long-lasting and good from breakfast through late-night snacking. And... they’re fun to make. Running a knife through the dark and light batters, producing arcs, curves and swirls, can make anyone feel like Picasso. In fact, the temptation to keep swirling is so strong that the risk of ending up with a cake that goes from marbled to monochromatic is high. Resist!”
When I asked Greenspan what she thought about serving this cake for Rosh Hashana, she wrote, “I love serving loaf cakes for the holidays because they look beautiful, they’re easy to make, they serve a crowd and they’re delicious the next day and the day after that – if there are leftovers. In fact, if the last pieces are a little stale, they can be turned into the best treat: Pop the pieces in the toaster and serve them warm with butter.”
To make this cake parve, use margarine, nondairy milk and nondairy white chocolate; or omit the white chocolate and simply leave half the batter white and, if you like, add an extra half-teaspoon vanilla extract to the white batter.
Makes 8 servings
■ 2 cups (270 gr. or 9.6 ounces) all-purpose flour
■ 1¼ tsp. baking powder
■ ¾ tsp. fine sea salt
■ 170 gr. (6 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
■ 1 cup (200 gr. or 7 ounces) sugar
■ 4 large eggs, at room temperature
■ 1½ tsp. pure vanilla extract
■ ½ cup (120 ml.) whole milk, at room temperature
■ 113 gr. (4 ounces) best-quality white chocolate, melted and cooled
■ ¼ teaspoon orange or peppermint oil (optional)
■ 110 gr. (4 ounces) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
Center a rack in oven and preheat oven to 165°C (325°F). Pull out an insulated baking sheet or stack two regular baking sheets one on top of the other. Line the (top) baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Butter a 23-cm. x 13-cm. (9-in. x 5-in.) loaf pan, dust with flour and tap out the excess; set it on the baking sheet(s).
Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together in a small bowl.
Working in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, beat butter on medium speed for three minutes, or until smooth. Add sugar and beat for another two to three minutes, then add eggs one at a time and beat for a minute after each one goes in. Batter may curdle, but you needn’t worry. Reduce mixer speed to low and mix in vanilla. Still on low speed, add flour mixture in three additions and milk in two, beginning and ending with dry ingredients and mixing only until each addition is incorporated.
Scrape half of the batter into another bowl. Using a flexible spatula, gently stir white chocolate into half of the batter. If you’re using orange or peppermint oil, stir it in as well. Stir dark chocolate into the other half of batter.
Using a spoon or scoop, drop dollops of the light and dark batters randomly into a prepared pan – don’t think too much about the pattern – and then plunge a table knife deep into the batter and zigzag it across the pan. It’s best to move forward and not to backtrack. Don’t overdo it – six to eight zigzags should suffice.
Bake cake for 80 to 90 minutes, or until a tester inserted deep into the center comes out clean. Check the cake at the halfway mark, turn it around and, if it’s getting too brown, cover it loosely with a foil tent. Transfer the cake to a cooling rack and let it rest for 10 minutes, then unmold it, turn it right side up on a rack and let it come to room temperature.
Wrapped well, the cake will keep at room temperature for up to four days. It can be wrapped airtight and frozen