majestic and moist honey cake – smitten kitchen

A few days ago, someone emailed me asking me if I had a recipe for honey cake. You see, honey cake is something traditionally eaten on the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah), which falls next week as eating honey is supposed to encourage a sweet New Year, doubly so if paired with apples.

slow like honey

But every honey cake I have been forced to try has been wretched (apologies if it was yours). They were dry and never sweet enough. They were coarse and totally unloved. And if I find myself at an occasion where I see a honey cake, well, I wonder why they didn’t ask me to make dessert instead, but then I steer clear of it just the same. This life is too short to eat terrible cake.


I said as much to this reader, and that’s when it hit me: Right, this is my job! This is what I do! I take things that I think are terrible and I try to find a better way to go about them. That’s why this person emailed me, right? (Sometimes I forget.) And seeing as I don’t dislike honey, and I don’t hate spices and I don’t hate tradition or the Jewish New Year, well, it was time.

I did a bit of research and learned that there was a recipe out there by one cookbook author Marcy Goldman that everyone is quite mad for — in a good way. And I was feeling pretty good about the copious tastes I’d had of the batter (um, before remembering how much booze was in there and look at that! It’s party time in here!) when it went in the oven but then.

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Well then something terrible skitted across the floor and I just don’t want to talk about it. I screamed–like movie starlet screamed, ungh–and dropped the spatula. And by the time I got off the phone with Alex [“Come home NOW. Come home NOW. Come home NOW.”] and somewhat talked myself off my I’m-leaving-NYC-and-never-coming-back ledge, I realized that the cakes had fallen in the oven.

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And now, dear reader, I am torn as to whether this recipe needs to come with a warning. Was it my scream and the ensuing trauma that made the cakes fall? Are there issues with my baking soda (quite likely, it’s old as dirt)? Is there something wrong with this cake recipe? (I doubt this, nobody else who has mentioned it made reference to a sunken midsection.) Are you completely horrified that I shared this story (despite my mother asking me nicely to spare you our shameless details)?

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I’ll tell you what I do know, though: This honey cake is perfect. It’s warmly spiced and crazy moist and soft and plush with a little crisp edge about the corners and if you know someone with a thing for honey cake, be they bringing in the year 5769 with revelry or not, you’ve got to wow them with this one. Concave or not, it is everything honey cake was once supposed to be, and with this recipe, might be again. [Note: The concavity of the cake has since been remedied, hooray.]

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2023 Note: It has been fifteen years since I first shared this cake, which is crazy as I haven’t gotten any older at all. If you grew up with dry or bland and heavy honey cakes for Rosh Hashanah — the Jewish new year in which eating honey symbolizes our hopes for sweetness in the year ahead — Marcy Goldman’s honey cake is a dream: plush, fragrant and phenomenally delicious. Yes, it has 17 ingredients and yes they’re as seemingly random as orange juice, coffee, and whiskey but together they’re exceptional, as special as a cake you make once a year should be.

However, I’m long overdue to update the recipe with some of the minor changes I’ve made over the years, and to address ongoing questions and concerns (like the cake sinking, reference in the post). I hadn’t meant to make this cake approximately 10 times in a 6-week period, but hey, my apartment smells amazing and nobody minds. A rundown of notes, tweaks, and updates are at the end of the recipe.

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