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Honeycake for a Sweet New Year

Rosh Hashanah starts this evening and we need a honeycake–it’s traditional, plus I like it. Right. But traditional recipes call for boiling the honey with strong coffee (which takes a while), cooling it (which takes even longer), triple-sifting flour and baking soda and sugar and spices of various kinds, and then alternating between adding dry stuff and the honey-coffee mixture to some beaten eggs and oil. This is much more of a pain than it sounds in so few words. Picture wax paper and bowls all over the counter and the kitchen table, and a huge stack of stuff to clean afterward. All for one or two loaves of what’s essentially a rich gingerbread.

One year I got smart–I think it was the year I bought both Silver Palate cookbooks and found their gingerbread recipe, which is incredibly simple and calls for molasses–surely it would work with honey? And it does.

Then I took things a step farther–having made a bunch of box-mix cakes in the era when Duncan Hines started recommending applesauce instead of oil for a lower-calorie cake, I knew that worked pretty well, and it does here too.

Then I really got weird and microwaved the cake–you can, and it works, but my daughter and her friend are doing it this afternoon as a project (I’m tarping the entire dining table and floor) so this year I’m sticking with tradition. Even though the temperatures are back up in the low 90s.

You can mix everything in a big salad bowl with a whisk as follows, “sifting” included, but the food processor is also pretty good. Except that it’s more of a pain to wash.

Honeycake Without (Too Many) Tears
makes 1 loaf

Dry stuff:

  • 1 2/3 c. flour
  • 1 1/4 t. baking soda
  • 1 t. cinnamon
  • 1/4 t. ground cloves
  • 1 1/2 t. ground ginger
  • a little less than 1/2 c. sugar

Wet stuff:

  • a very little more than 1/2 c. honey–2/3 c. is too much
  • 1 large egg lightly beaten
  • 1/2 c. veg oil OR applesauce–works great, I recommend it

Hot stuff:

  • 1/2 c. HOT FRESH-BREWED COFFEE (can be decaf if you like, as long as it’s good–make some for yourself too while you’re at it……..)

Optional mix-ins:

  • a good handful or so of raisins and maybe a chopped peeled apple. Toss with a spoonful of flour (supposed to keep it all from sinking too much, I’m not sure that it’s true) and throw them into the batter just before pouring or sprinkle on top of the poured loaf and let them sink in, your choice.
  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line a 9″ square baking pan or a loaf pan with foil and then grease and flour the foil. Brew the coffee–you want it ready to go when you need it so you can stir the wet stuff into the dry quickly and not let the baking soda lose its fizz before it gets into the oven…Anyway, while you’re at it, make some coffee for the chef.
  2. Whisk the dry stuff together in a large mixing bowl or whiz it in the food processor for a couple of pulses–see, it’s sifted already. Try not to get it on the floor.
  3. Put the half-cup of oil or applesauce in the measuring cup, leave it in, and then measure the honey on top of it until the level’s another 1/2 cup. Then when you pour it all in, the honey won’t cling to the bottom of the cup as badly. Dump that plus the egg into the bowl or food processor on top of the dry stuff and mix just until the batter comes together.
  4. As soon as the coffee’s brewed, pour 1/2 cup over the batter and stir in well.  If you do this in a food processor, just be careful–start the food processor running on low speed before adding the coffee in a stream rather than dumping it onto the thick batter at a standstill and getting splashed when it starts up. Shield yourself a bit from the spout (paper plates are handy). It should smooth out pretty well.
  5. As soon as it’s smooth stop and pour it into the loaf pan. If you’re adding raisins and/or apples, scatter them on top of the batter and watch them sink in, but don’t wait around, get it into the oven. Bake 35 to 40 minutes for the 9″ square pan, maybe a little longer for the loaf pan and do a toothpick test. It’ll be done when it’s done–when the top is springy and the sides are pulling away a bit from the pan.
  6. Drink some coffee unless it’s after midnight. You deserve it. Sample the honeycake out of a sense of duty.

L’chaim tovim u’metukim! (to a sweet and good life!)

Happy New Year!

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