Jews eat honey cake on Rosh Hashanah, AKA Jewish New Year, as a symbol of hope for a sweet year to come. This one is deliciously moist with an alluringly crisp edge.
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One day when my niece was about three years old, she declared, "I'm going to make a honey cake!"
I don't think she had ever heard of honey cake. But she does love honey. And I love her! So I started searching for honey cake recipes the minute I got home.
Honey Cake for Rosh Hashanah
Rosh Hashanah translates to "head of the year." The holiday celebrates the dawn of the new year according to the Hebrew calendar. It is one of the two High Holy days in Judaism (Yom Kippur is the other) and therefore one of the most important holidays.
Honey cake is one of the traditional foods eaten on the holiday. Honey symbolizes our hopes for sweetness in the year to come. It is also customary to eat apple slices dipped in honey on the holiday.
What makes this the best honey cake recipe?
The biggest complaint people have about honey cakes is that they are dry and lack flavor. I wanted something super moist and rich.
I searched for moist honey cake recipes and found one on Smitten Kitchen. It was a recipe by Marcy Goldman's A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking.
If anyone knows her way around a Jewish dessert, it is Marcy Goldman. Smitten Kitchen calls Marcy's cake "Crazy moist and soft and plush with a little crisp edge about the corners."
This cake is perfect for Rosh Hashana
The first thing you want in a Rosh Hashana honey cake is for it to be sweet. After all, that's the whole point, right? A sweet cake to usher in a sweet new year. This cake cake is sweet, and it is also:
- Not too dense
- Full of the flavor of honey
- Crisp around the edges
Honey gives the cake it's signature flavor and makes it plenty sweet. But this cake has other flavorful ingredients, too. Coffee and orange juice give it bitterness and tang to counter the sweetness of the honey.
What ingredients do you need?
- All-purpose flour
- Baking powder
- Baking soda
- Cooking oil
- Granulated sugar
- Brown sugar
- Vanilla extract
- Coffee or tea
- Orange juice
Marcy's version (and Deb's) includes cinnamon, cloves, and allspice. But I'm not crazy about a spice cake. I just wanted a cake that tastes like honey.
It may sound crazy, but I left all of those spices out. The result was perfect.
How to make it
You only need one bowl and a spoon to mix this cake. You could, however, use a stand mixer if you prefer. Just be careful not to overbeat it after adding the flour. Overmixing can make a cake tough and rubbery.
- Preheat the oven and spray the baking pan(s).
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
- Add the oil, honey, sugar, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla, coffee or tea, and orange juice. Mix thoroughly.
- Pour the batter into the baking pan(s) and bake.
- Let cool completely before slicing and serving.
A little trick that makes this honey cake pure magic
Remember those crisp edges I mentioned earlier? Before baking, I drizzle a bit of honey over the batter. It caramelizes in the oven, giving the bottom and edges of the cake an extra crispiness. It also adds the deep, rounded flavor of caramelized honey.
My niece was delighted and proud of herself for coming up with the idea. My mother, who doesn't even like honey cake, took home an extra-large hunk. [Breaking news: Mom called as I was writing this post, and said, "I just ate a third of the cake you sent me home with, and it is the most delicious honey cake I've ever had. I can't stop eating it."]
Tips for success
- This recipe makes a lot (us Jewish ladies worry that someone will go hungry, so we always make extra). You can use three 9-by-5-inch loaf pans or one 9-by-13-inch baking pan, or make 36 standard cupcakes.
- Alternatively, you can use a mini Bundt pan with 6 cups as well as a few different sizes of small loaf pans.
- Whatever size pans you use, be careful not to overfill them. Each pan should only be filled about halfway.
- Smaller portions will bake faster so be sure to adjust the cooking times and check early and often.
- If you just want less cake, you can reduce the recipe by 1/3 or even 2/3. See my recipe notes for details on how to cut down the quantity.
- The recipe uses cooking oil for its fat, which makes it kosher parve (no meat or dairy).
- The recipe calls for strong brewed coffee or tea. The bitterness of coffee or tea balances the sweetness of the honey. But you can substitute milk or water in the same quantity. Note that if you use milk, the recipe will not be parve.
- Feel free to add a diced apple or two, a cup of sliced almonds, a tablespoon of orange zest, or 1/4 cup of whiskey to the batter.
- The texture of this cake improves when it sits for a bit. I think it is best the day after it is made. Make it ahead and let it sit, uncovered, at room temperature.
This morning I learned inadvertently that honey cake, paired with a cup of coffee, makes a great breakfast. If you're a sweets-for-breakfast person, you might want to try this Japanese Souffle Pancakes recipe, too!
More Jewish holiday recipes you'll love
- Sufganiyot or Jelly Donuts for Hanukkah
- Potato Latkes for Hanukkah
- Classic Chopped Liver
- Vegetarian Chopped Liver
- Matzoh Fattoush
- Matzoh Toffee
- Honey Cake
- 3½ cups (420 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon table salt
- 1 cup (237 ml) vegetable oil
- 1 cup (237 ml) honey, divided
- 1½ cups (300 grams) sugar
- ½ cup (110 grams) brown sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup (237 ml) brewed coffee or strong tea
- ½ cup (119 ml) orange juice
- Preheat the oven to 350°F and generously grease the baking pan(s) with nonstick cooking spray, baking spray, or butter. (Use either three 9-by-5-inch loaf pans, one 9-by-13-inch baking pan, or any equivalent-sized pans.)
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
- Add the oil, 3/4 cup of the honey, sugar, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla, coffee or tea, and orange juice. Mix thoroughly, until all ingredients are combined and no lumps remain.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan(s), filling each about halfway.
- Drizzle the remaining 1/4 cup of honey over the batter.
- Bake in the preheated oven until the cake is set all the way through and feels springy to the touch (30 to 60 minutes, depending on the size of your baking dishes). A tester inserted into the center should come out clean.
- Let cool 15 minutes before removing from the baking dish. Slide a knife around the edges to help loosen the cake, if necessary.
1. This recipe makes three 9-by-5-inch loaf pans or one 9-by-13-inch baking pan, or 36 standard cupcakes.
2. Be careful not to overfill the pans—each pan should only be filled about halfway.
3. Smaller portions will bake faster so be sure to adjust the cooking times and check early and often.
4. You can cut this recipe down. To make one 9-by-5-inch loaf or 12 cupcakes, use 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/3 cup vegetable oil, 1/3 cup honey (save about 1 1/2 tablespoons for drizzling over the batter, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 2 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar, 1 large egg, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, 1/3 cup coffee or tea, and 2 1/2 tablespoons orange juice.
5. To make 2 9-by-5-inch loaves or 24 cupcakes, use 2 1/4 cups flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 2/3 cup vegetable oil, 2/3 cup honey (save about 3 tablespoons for drizzling over the batter, 1 cup granulated sugar, 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon brown sugar, 2 large eggs, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 2/3 cup coffee or tea, and 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon orange juice.
Amount Per Serving Calories 265Total Fat 10gSaturated Fat 1gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 8gCholesterol 23mgSodium 169mgCarbohydrates 43gFiber 1gSugar 28gProtein 3g