By Ronnie Fein
(The Nosher via JTA) — As a kid I would shiver at the prospect of eating honey cake, which I thought was too sticky, too pungent and too spicy. My mother served it every Rosh Hashanah because it was my Aunt Belle’s recipe and among the treasures of my father’s family, where the women were prize-winning bakers.
Tastes change. Years later, I actually looked forward to this once-a-year goodie. So I’d like to say that honey cake is an adult, acquired taste, but that’s not so. Because now I bake one every year and my young grandchildren absolutely can’t get enough of it.
Until recently I always made Aunt Belle’s version. But then I discovered date honey. It changed everything.
Date honey, called silan throughout the Middle East, isn’t actually honey made by bees, although it is nearly as thick, sweet and viscous. It’s a syrup made from dates and has a more robust flavor than bee honey. It tastes almost like liquid dried fruit, and I’m thrilled with it. I’ve used it on top of yogurt and ice cream, pancakes and such. I serve it with sliced apples on Rosh Hashanah. I’ve made baked beans using date honey instead of molasses.
Silan is one of the seven species mentioned in the Torah (Deuteronomy 8:8) and most scholars say it is date honey, not bee honey, that the Bible means when it speaks of “the land of milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8). All to say that Rosh Hashanah is the perfect time to use date honey when you bake classic holiday honey cake.
Date Honey Cake isn’t as heavy as regular honey cake. Aunt Belle’s recipe is citrusy and fragrant with spices, so there’s a gently seasoned, refreshing quality that balances the sugar load. I usually make the cake a few weeks before the holidays, wrap it well and freeze (for up to a month). Unfortunately my local supermarkets don’t stock date honey, but there are several kosher brands available online, which I buy several jars at a time.
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons grated fresh orange peel
1 teaspoon grated fresh lemon peel
1 cup date honey
1/2 cup cold, strong coffee
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1/3 cup sugar
Preheat the oven to 325 F. Lightly grease a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. Line the pan with parchment paper, then lightly grease the paper. Set the pan aside.
Mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, orange peel and lemon peel together in a bowl. Set aside.
Whisk the date honey, coffee and vegetable oil together and set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer set at medium speed, beat the eggs and sugar for 2-3 minutes or until well blended. Stir in the honey mixture and blend it in thoroughly. Add the flour mixture and blend it in thoroughly.
Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 60-70 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then invert on a cake rack to cool completely.
(Ronnie Fein is a freelance food and lifestyle writer and author of four cookbooks.)