There is never a good time for hard times. Lately it can seem that difficulty, hardship and conflict may be taking a permanent seat at our collective table. Even the unseasonable hot spell this summer cannot reasonably be seen as just a weather non sequitur; thoughts immediately turn to the uncertain future (or is it present?) global warming may be opening up for us. Yet Jewish tradition provides a typically encouraging technique for helping change our attitude toward a woeful New Year’s reflection upon our lives and the state of the world: Eat something sweet that the year may be sweeter!
In that spirit I am offering a few missiles to fire at the specter of discouragement during the Days of Awe — luscious recipes for honey cakes from around the world that cannot help, if you try them, to clear your mind of gloom and refresh your mood with sweetness and hope.
Honey has been ageless in its golden warming glow during thousands of Jewish beginnings, so go ahead, succumb to the ancient dream of sweeter times and make a new honey cake! And while you’re at it, pick up some of the stunningly delicious honeys from our region and across the continents, like buckwheat, chestnut, thyme and jasmine. Each recipe will taste new every time you try it.
First, from Italy and the lovely tradition of olive oil cakes:
Dolce di Miele
3 cups all purpose flour
1 cup honey
4 Tbs. sugar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 Tbs. baking powder
Grated zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup hot water
2 Tbs. rum or cognac
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. cloves
Line a 9”x9” square pan with greased parchment or wax paper and set the oven to 375º. In a large bowl, combine the honey and the sugar with the hot water, stirring until the sugar dissolves, then work in the remaining ingredients, adding the raisins and nuts last. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and bake 45 to 50 minutes or until the center springs back when touched and an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a rack for 10 minutes, then turn out to cool. Turn right side up and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Serve with bananas or peaches warmed in honey and brandy or rum.
Serves 9 to 12
And another Mediterranean oil cake, this time with creamy cheese:
Greek Pistachio Honey Cake
3/4 cup thyme (or other herbed) honey
2/3 cup sugar
2 Tbs. each of orange juice and lemon juice
6 Tbs. fruity olive oil
23/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 lb. unsalted, shelled pistachios, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup mashed Greek fresh feta cheese, or ricotta, fresh chevre or cream cheese
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ea. nutmeg and cloves
1 pinch kosher or sea salt
1 tsp. baking powder
3 Tbs. unsalted shelled pistachio nuts, toasted 5 minutes at 350º
Oil a 5”x9” loaf pan and line the bottom with oiled parchment or wax paper. Heat the oven to 390º. In a saucepan, combine the honey, sugar, orange juice and lemon juice. Bring to a boil and cook for 5 to 6 minutes. Set aside to cool for 10 minutes. Using a mixer, beat together the oil and eggs, add the flour, pistachio nuts, cheese, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, salt and baking powder. Add the cooled honey and sugar mixture and beat until thoroughly combined.
Pour the batter into the pan and bake for about 45 minutes (check after 30 minutes). A toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake should come out dry when done. Immediately turn out on a rack to cool. Serve sprinkled with toasted pistachios and sweetened cream or chevre.
Makes 8 to 10 thick slices
This is a lovely, rich and simple Arabic-style honey cake.
Arabic Honey Cake
1/3 cup melted butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup honey
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 400º and butter an 8” cake pan lined with parchment or wax paper. Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla together until the mixture whitens. Add the melted butter and mix well.
Sift the flour and baking powder together and gently fold into the previous mixture. Pour into the prepared pan and bake 10 and 12 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the topping. Melt the butter on medium heat. Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Pour the topping gently on the cake and return it to the oven for another 15 to 20 minutes.
Cool until just warm in the pan, then turn out carefully and put onto a serving plate. Cut into eight wedges to serve.
Makes 8 portions
Here’s one from the apiarist’s recipe box that, after ripening for two days, will keep from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur.
Beekeeper’s Bundt Cake
2-3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp. ground cloves
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp. ground nutmeg, freshly grated if possible
3/4 tsp. cream of tartar
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
1-1/2 Tbs. canola or other light vegetable oil
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
3 large eggs, beaten
1-1/2 cups wildflower or other medium-colored honey
1 cup sour cream
1 cup dried cranberries or cherries
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
Sliced almonds for garnish
Preheat the oven to 350º. Grease and flour a 12-cup Bundt or 10-inch tube pan, tapping out the excess flour. Set aside. Sift together the flour, spices, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt into a mixing bowl.
With an electric mixer, beat together the melted butter, oil and both sugars until well blended. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then add the honey and sour cream all at once and beat until you have a smooth batter. Beat in the flour mixture one cup at a time, beating well after each addition. Fold in the cranberries and nuts. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
Bake until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes. Invert the cake onto a wire rack and let cool. As soon as the cake is cool enough to handle, press the sliced almonds into the top. Place the cake in an airtight container to ripen for two days before serving.
Serves 12 to 15
Apples and honey waiting to be dipped together are the signal that the Days of Awe have begun. This cake combines the two deliciously, and you can increase its moistness while decreasing fat by substituting some or all of the oil for applesauce and/or pumpkin puree.
Honey Apple Bundt Cake
1 cup sugar
1 cup canola or other light vegetable oil
3/4 cup honey
1 tsp. vanilla
2-1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
3 apples, peeled, cored and shredded or chopped
3/4 cup toasted hazelnuts (filberts) or other nuts, chopped
Grease and flour a 9” Bundt pan and set the oven at 325º. In a large bowl, stir together the sugar and oil (or applesauce or pumpkin). Beat in the eggs until light, then stir in the honey and vanilla. Combine the dry ingredients and stir into the batter just until moistened. Fold in the apples and nuts.
Bake for 45 to 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the crown comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes before inverting onto a rack and tapping out of the pan.
Finally, a fun batch of little individual cakes from France, baked in cupcake liners.
Coco Au Miel (Coconut Honey Cakes)
1-1/4 cups milk
2 Tbs. honey
3 cups shredded coconut, unsweetened
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
2 large eggs, well beaten
Line muffin tins with cupcake papers and set the oven at 400º. In a heavy saucepan, bring the milk and honey to a boil over medium heat, simmer one minute and set aside. In a large bowl, combine the coconut, sugar, flour and baking powder. Slowly add the milk mixture and stir until smooth. Stir in the eggs until well blended. The mixture will be quite liquid.
Pour the mixture into the paper cups, filling them nearly full. Each time you fill a cup, give the batter a stir to redistribute the coconut. Bake until the cakes are golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center emerges clean, about 20 to 35 minutes. Cool in the pan on a wire rack.