Honey and Rosh Hashanah are synonymous. We bake it into our challahs, we dip our apples into it and of course use it in our desserts, particularly in honey cake.
There are many different recipes for honey cake. But it is not just the recipe that influences the flavour, it is also the type of honey used - there are many varieties, each with their own individual identity.
Honey can be classified according to floral sources, so there are acacia, pine, orange blossom, lime, rosemary, thyme, sunflower, clover, leatherwood and eucalyptus honeys. The taste will also vary according to the country of origin, because the climate and soil influence the final product in just the same way that they do with vines and wine.
Polyflora honeys are honeys made from the nectar of many different flowers. The most common supermarket brands are honey blends, made from different types of honey and blended to achieve a particular taste rather like a blended tea or whisky.
There are a variety of ready-made honey cakes on sale in the shops, but what do they taste like? We gave a selection to 10 foodies. All the cakes were parev and could be frozen. We judged the cakes on their appearance, texture, honey flavour, taste and home authenticity.
Here are the results from the honey-cake jury.
Locations around London, £3.99
With its gingery taste, moist texture and the inclusion of raisins, this was quite different from all the other cakes. In some ways, it resembled more of a home-made style fruitcake than a typical honey cake. The use-by date was not too long - a good sign, indicating not too many preservatives.
Locations around London, £3.90
l This called itself a "Honey Slab", and was garnished with a sprinkling of almonds. It had a good flavour and looked as authentic as a home-made cake, making it quite a popular choice, although perhaps a little too sweet for some of the testers. The pack had no weight and only a brief list of ingredients.
Borehamwood, Herts. £3.99
This seems to have quite a high flour content, was pale in colour and lacked a strong flavour of honey. It was a little dry so perhaps the addition of a more flavoursome honey would have improved it. Its best-before date was a month ahead, so there was plenty of time for it to mature.
Stamford Hill, N16. £3.15
This looked more like bread than a cake, the honey flavour was subtle and, for some, quite pleasant. The best-before date was also a month ahead, giving it time for the flavours to improve. The label mentioned sugar, eggs, honey, flour, oil and spices but gave no weight measurement.
Outlets nationwide. £1.99
This was the largest cake and offered good value for the money at under £2, especially when a jar of honey itself can be anything from £3-4. However it might have been more appropriate to call it spicy ginger cake because this was the primary flavour. This cake's long use-by date may have explained the slightly synthetic aftertaste. On the plus side, no other cake displayed the list of ingredients in such detail.
Overall, the best cake was Grodzinski, with Parkway coming a very close second. Osem came last, but it was certainly top for value for money. But do they beat a good home-made honey cake? Why not try it for yourself? Below is my favourite honey cake recipe.
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Preparation time: 25 minutes
Cooking time: 50 minutes
Makes: 1 cake. Parev.
175g plain flour
75g caster sugar
½ teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon mixed spice
bicarbonate of soda
100ml vegetable oil
225g clear honey
zest of 1 orange
100ml apple juice
Garnish: icing sugar
● Pre-heat the oven to 180°C /350 F°/ Gas mark 4.
● Grease and line 1x900g (2 pound) loaf tin.
● In a large bowl or food mixer, combine the flour, sugar, ginger, cinnamon, mixed spice and bicarbonate of soda.
● Add the oil, honey, zest of orange, eggs and apple juice and beat together until smooth.
● Pour the cake mixture into the prepared tin.
● Bake for about 50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake mixture comes out clean.
● Leave to cool in the tin, then turn out and wrap tightly in foil. Store for 2-3 days before serving to allow the flavours to mature.