The Jewish New Year, which begins in the fall, always feels more like the “real” new year to me. When I was a little girl, my grandfather used to come and stay at my house (he lived with my aunt and uncle) so that he could walk to the synagogue to celebrate the holidays, just as he did every Shabbat. My parents didn’t attend synagogue all that regularly, but over the years their “senority” in the congregation improved and their assigned seats got better – in other words, closer to where the “action” was taking place, which made it easier for me to concentrate. I remember sitting with my parents and playing with the fringes on my father’s tallit, and I remember that the services seemed to go on forever (it was a Conservative congregation), but I don’t remember much else about my family’s new year traditions. We had a live-in cook and housekeeper, so there must have been brisket, and there was store-bought honey cake – nothing that stood out or that I have kept in my own cooking repertoire.
My husband’s family, although Jewish, was fairly unobservant until I joined them. Not so much in terms of attending services – my husband and I are the only ones who belong to a congregation – but in terms of celebrating Jewish tradition through food and ceremonial rituals. So we will have a meal together tomorrow night and light the candles and sing the traditional blessings and dip the apples into honey, and connect to our heritage in a way that is meaningful.
I am a pretty good cook and have a broad collections of recipes from various sources that I draw upon for the holiday meals. The perfect honey cake seemed to be an illusion. Every year, I tried something new and always got close but there were always leftovers. Until I hit the jackpot. I’m not sure how I happened upon it, but I found Marcy Goldman’s recipe for the definitive honey cake. It turns out that Marcy is an absolute maven of Jewish baking – somehow, I had never found her over the years – but now it is my go-to cake and I am always asked to bring it when we are invited out for one night of the holidays. When my friend Ilene invited us to dinner tonight and I asked what to bring, she said, “the honey cake, of course.”
So I decided to share the recipe as my gift to you, to make your holidays a little sweeter (and to help you end your own search for the perfect honey cake).
A couple of tips – I make mine in an angel food cake pan, well sprayed with non-stick spray, and the bottom lined with a piece of parchment paper – this is critical for getting the cake out in one piece. I have never added the whiskey, apples, or almonds, but given how good this basic recipe is, the additions might just take it over the top.
Wishing all my friends and followers a sweet, happy, and healthy year. As we say, “L’shana tova” – a good year. And with this cake we can say “b’tayavon” – bon apetit!