While making lists and going over menu ideas for this year’s Rosh Hashana meals, I was struck by how little relevance was given to the honey cake. Sure, it was on the menu- it’s too traditional to do away with, and there are always a few diehard honey cake fans who would raise a hell of a fuss if it was left out. But why were the ribs- seared with pomegranate molasses and bourbon, and the brisket- braised with wine, apple cider and fresh plums, and the challah- swirled with apple butter and sprinkled with pearl sugar, getting all the attention? I decided it was high time to raise the status of the humble honey cake, and turn it into something worthy of being on the menu on its own merit, not just because it had to be.
The result is a cake you’ll want on any of your holiday menus- regardless of the holiday. I adapted the base cake recipe from a famous and dearly beloved one, because why mess with perfection? Filled with warm fall spices and luscious honey, the addition of coffee adds an undefinable but unmistakable richness to the batter, and strong whiskey complements the honey and helps keep this cake moist for days.
The gooey top of the cake is one of its best features, but I leveled it off (baker’s treat!) and topped it with creamy whipped mascarpone, which features more whiskey and helps temper the sweetness of the cake. A selection of the season’s best fruits- figs, concord grapes, jewel-like pomegranate seeds and jagged pieces of sparkling honeycomb finish this cake, completely transforming its image from homely, brown loaf cake to elegant dessert or even showstopping table centerpiece.
Best wishes for a year that is full of elevation, transformation, peace, happiness and beauty.
Yield: one 8″ cake (recipe can be easily doubled or tripled)
Cake base adapted from here
Why I love this recipe: full of warm fall spices, this honey cake is moist, sticky and deeply flavored, thanks to hot, strong coffee which lends an undefinable but wonderful richness to the cake and festive whiskey, which rounds out and complements the sweet honey. Not too sweet, creamy whipped mascarpone and colorful, holiday fruits and honeycomb decorate the usually staid Rosh Hashana classic.
Notes: this cake freezes well and keeps, at room temperature, covered on a counter, for a few days. This recipe can be easily doubled or tripled and baked in a bundt pan, in a tube pan, in loaf pans, or however you desire. Simply adjust baking times as needed. If making this cake for a meat meal, use non-dairy cream cheese and non-dairy whipped cream to create a non-dairy “mascarpone”.
For the cake:
- 1 cup + 2 tablespoons white flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/3 teaspoon baking soda
- 3/4 teaspoons fine sea salt
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/3 cup vegetable oil
- 1/3 cup honey
- 6 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 egg
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon strong hot coffee
- 1/4 cup whiskey
For the mascarpone + fruit topping:
- 5 oz mascarpone, chilled
- ½ cup heavy cream, chilled
- 2 tablespoons whiskey
- 3 tablespoons powdered sugar
- 5 – 6 fresh figs
- fresh pomegranate seeds
- fresh honeycomb
- ground cherries
- concord grapes, on the vine
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease one 8″ cake pan.
- In the bowl of a standing mixer, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices.
- Make a well in the center and add the oil, honey, sugars, eggs, vanilla, coffee and whiskey.
- On slow speed, combine the ingredients well to make a thick batter, making sure that no ingredients are stuck to the bottom of the bowl.
- Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until the cake springs back when you touch it gently in the center, around 55-60 minutes.
- Let the cake stand for 15 minutes before removing it from the pan. Then invert it onto a wire rack to cool completely. When the cake is cool, level the top.
- Whip the mascarpone with the heavy cream and the powdered sugar and slowly add in the whiskey. Refrigerate until cold.
- To assemble: Place cake on a cake stand. Top with whipped mascarpone. Decorate with the fruits and honeycomb. Serve immediately.