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Honey cake — the best recipe

At Rosh Hashanah time everyone is looking for a recipe for this Ashkenazi classic. Here's the one I've chosen this year

    Photo: Hanna Geller-Golsdmith

    Whenever I make honey cake I'm flabbergasted by the sugar content.

    It's tooth rot incarnate and sits firmly in the ‘I wish I didn’t know how bad it is for me’ category of foods. This classification began when I trained as a chef and the reality of what’s in certain foods (briefly) put me off them. The huge lump of butter in a croissant dough. The bucket of oil that is mayonnaise. Ignorance is bliss where they are concerned.

    The bake all Ashkenazi Jews nosh over our New Year could not include more sweeteners. Most of the recipes I’ve tried list brown and white sugar, plus honey AND (to maximise rocketing insulin) golden syrup in their ingredients.

    In the current anti-sugar climate, its days as a Yom Tov classic are surely numbered. That said, Rosh Hashana would not be the same without the traditional treat and we don’t eat it all year long, so it's still on my 'to bake' list each year.

    If you're buying not baking, perhaps the nicest one I’ve tasted this season is the offering from St John’s Wood delicatessen, Panzer’s. It’s made from a recipe provided by food blogger, Hanna Goldsmith (www.buildingfeasts.com) who lives locally and is a regular to the store — which has been churning out Jewish classics for more than 40 years. I have always loved exploring the shelves of foods you wouldn’t find in other UK foodstores.

    I think the reason that it tastes so good is that Geller-Goldsmith has plumped for the same recipe as I did for her starting point. Marcy Goldman’s Majestic and Moist New Year’s Honey Cake which, as Goldsmith writes on her blog, first featured in Goldman’s A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking but is now staple internet fodder. Goldman made hers with honey only but Goldsmith and I swapped out half the honey for golden syrup. I used a generous measure of bourbon in mine too, as Goldman had. I'm not convinced it needed it, as it had gave it an odd flavour note that was not in keeping of my memories of my Grandma Betty Sedley's version. Grandma Betty was the best baker and even though I have her recipe, I've never managed to reproduce it.

    I digress. My cakes are now in my freezer, waiting for the big day. I tried Goldsmith's after she kindly invited me to a supper club she was hosting with photographer Jeremy Coleman in her Maida Vale home. There will be more about that on this blog in a day or two. 

    At the end of the evening, each diner was dispatched with a mini bundt-shaped honey cake. It was delicious — moist and full of spicy notes. Cinnamon haters may not enjoy it but are free to swap in ginger or mixed spice instead. Panzer's also baked up a couple, wrapped them beautifully and sent them to the JC offices where they went down a storm. 

    This is the recipe Goldsmith has on her blog. She has adapted it slightly for the Panzer’s version, reducing the white sugar content  by half. If you are too late to bake, you’ll find her version lining the shelves of the Panzer’s store this week. It's delicious. 

    Ingredients:

    440g plain flour
    1 tbsp baking powder
    1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
    1/2 tsp salt
    4 tsp ground cinnamon
    ½ tsp ground allspice
    250 ml vegetable oil
    175g honey
    175g golden syrup
    150g caster sugar
    100g soft brown sugar
    3 large eggs
    1 tsp vanilla extract
    180ml orange juice
    250ml freshly brewed coffee (or strong tea)

    Topping:
    Either a handful of flaked almonds; or
    Honey Glaze
    60g icing sugar, sifted
    1 tbsp honey
    1-3 tsp hot water

     

    Method:

    ·       Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F)

    ·       Grease and line loaf tins.

    ·       In a large bowl whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices.

    ·       In another bowl, mix together remaining ingredients, adding coffee last.

    ·       Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and add the wet ingredients, mixing with a strong whisk or wooden spoon and combine until all ingredients are fully incorporated.  (You can try to mix it in an electric mixer, but it is a very wet batter and mine goes everywhere!)

    ·       Pour into the prepared pans and sprinkle the top with almonds if using

    ·       Put cakes on a baking sheet in the oven and bake for 40-45 minutes, until the cake springs back when gently pressed.  As the batter is liquidy it may take extra time, depending on your oven.

    ·       Allow to cool for at least 15 minutes before removing from the pan.

    ·       While the cake is cooling, if you want to glaze the cake, mix together the icing sugar, honey and 1-3 tsp hot water, depending on how thin you want it.

    ·       When the cake is still warm, trickle, spoon or brush the glaze over the cake.

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