Saturday, October 4, 2008

Honey Cake

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, took place on Monday and Tuesday of this week. It commemorates the creation of man as described in the Old Testament, and marks the beginning of ten days of repentance that concludes with Yom Kippur. These days are known as the High Holidays or Yamim Noraim (translated as the Days of Awe). Most Jewish communities observe Rosh Hashanah on two consecutive days due to the difficulty of determining the date of the new moon, and some say this is supposed to constitute one long day. The traditional Hebrew greeting is leshana tova, meaning “have a good new year”.

Rosh Hashanah service includes a number of special prayers and religious poems. In addition, the shofar, a ram’s horn, is blown during the holiday to awake people from their “slumber” and alert them to the coming judgement. During the afternoon of the first day, prayers are recited near naturally flowing water to cast off one's sins. This practice is called tashlikh and may be accompanied by throwing bread or pebbles into the water as a physical manifestation of those sins.

The Rosh Hashanah meal include apples and honey to symbolize a sweet New Year. This is a late medieval Ashkenazi tradition though it is now almost universally accepted. A round challah bread (as opposed to the traditional braided style) is served to symbolize the cycle of the New Year. Other traditional foods include dates, spinach, leeks, gourds, black-eyed beans, and pomegranates – all of which are mentioned in the Talmud. In addition, meat from the head of an animal (such as tongue or cheek) may be served to symbolize the “head” of the New Year.

When I lived in Boston, my friends Karen and Matt would have me over for dinner on Rosh Hashanah. This Monday, my boyfriend and I went to a service at a reconstructionist congregation, followed the next day with dinner at his aunt and uncle's house. For my contribution to the meal, I made this incredibly moist honey cake, adapted from a recipe by Marcy Goldman. It was a hit! The cake only dirties one bowl and it’s dairy free for those of you who have dietary restrictions.

Leshana tova!

2 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 eggs , lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup honey
3/4 cup warm coffee or strong black tea
1/2 cup orange juice

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Grease and flour a 10-inch Bundt pan.
3. In a large bowl, mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, allspice and salt. Mix well.
4. Make a well in the center and add remaining ingredients. Use an electric mixer to completely blend the batter, making sure no ingredients are stuck to the bottom or sides.
5. Pour batter into baking pan, and place pan on a cookie sheet. Bake for 60-75 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean. This is a very moist batter so it may take even longer to fully bake.
6. Let cool for 20 minutes before removing cake. Allow to cool to room temperature before serving.


Anonymous said...

Vera and I passed the Rosh Hashanah prayers along the banks of the Seine (at Ile St. Louis) in Paris -- we didn't know about the tradition of praying near the water and were wondering. Then I come here, of all places, and find the explanation! The casting off of sins/evils into water seems to be almost universal -- common to so many religions and mythologies.

-- Preets

spartica said...

I love your website! Your photos are gorgeous and the recipes sound yummy! I put a plug for your website on

I hope you don't mind, but I "lifted" your photo for honey cake as it looks similar to mine and I don't have any pictures of my honey cake :( You can see it here:

Lashannah Tova!