Thursday, April 10, 2008


Although I still have some scruples about making it year-round, rather than hoarding the goodness for the High Holy Days, honeycake has become the dark horse in my baking repertoire. It takes about 20 minutes to make, requires no technique fancier than whipping egg whites, and contains no chocolate, and yet this humble plain brown spicy cake makes everyone's day. I couldn't even get a picture of the last one, which I made to accompany a dinner of chicken in red wine vinegar, because four people reduced it to a stub in about fifteen minutes. My boyfriend loves it, so I more or less added it to the rotation on a permanent basis. It's everything I love, too, a moist rich take on gingerbread, sticky and filled with honey and coffee.

Being the devoted holiday baker that I am, I'd tried honeycakes before this year, whenever Rosh Hashanah came around. They were usually dry, unimpressive things. Then Jessica arrived at a Rosh Hashanah dinner at Hope St. carrying a bread pan full of something completely different. For a year or two, I confined myself to requesting repeats each holiday season. This year, I requested the recipe, and Jessica graciously shared. She has graciously agreed to let me share it here, as well, with the stipulation that I properly credit Liz Brater's years of experimentation and trial. I honor those years, as they led to the determination of the proper oven temperature and pan size. Take my advice. Don't wait. Make it. And eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Aunt Ida's honey cake, as transcribed by Enoch Brater in 1958, adapted by Liz Brater, and retyped by Jessica Brater. Slightly adapted by Katya Schapiro.

3/4 c oil
1 c sugar
1 c honey
1 c coffee
2 eggs, separated
2 1/2 c flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 tea baking soda
1/2 tea ginger
1/2 tea ground cloves
1 tea cinnamon
1 tea salt
1/4 tea nutmeg
1/2 c nuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 325. Blend oil, sugar, egg yolks. Add honey. Mix and sift dry ingredients (be generous and creative with the spices (cardamom, ras al hanout...)--I rarely stick to the book on this one). Add the dry ingredients in two additions, alternating with the coffee. Mix just to combine. Beat the egg whites and fold them gently into the batter. Grease two large loaf pans (or an 8" round cake pan with 2" sides, or something of similar proportions--small pyrex brownie dish works well. Jessica and Liz Brater both prefer it in loaf form), and pour in the batter. Bake 60-70 mins (exact time will depend on pan shape and size, so test for doneness frequently). Nuts or raisins may be sprinkled on top, but it is also delicious in pure form.

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