Rosh Hashanah — Hebrew for “head of the year,” or “first of the year” — is known as the Jewish New Year. It is a celebratory holiday, but also a time for introspection — for both looking back at the mistakes of the past year, as well as planning for the year ahead.
And like most holidays, Rosh Hashanah has its customary foods and traditions. Honey plays a particularly important role during this holiday. We eat apples dipped in honey, to symbolize our wish for a sweet new year, and do the same with challah bread.
But my favorite way to incorporate honey into my holiday cooking is in a traditional Honey Cake, whose sweetness symbolizes our wishes for the upcoming year. And this one? It’s the very best.
For those of you who may be unfamiliar, Rosh Hashanah Honey Cake is most reminiscent of a spice cake, as there is always the presence of at least two or three spices, such as nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, or ginger.
If you’ve ever had (and been disappointed by) a too dry, overly sweet, one-note version of this cake, be prepared to fall in love. After many tries (and fails!) over the years, I’ve come up with a cake so good that you just may find yourself making it throughout all the seasons. It’s super moist, perfectly sweet and so, so flavorful. And your house will smell heavenly as it’s baking in your oven.
Although the cake is typically made in a loaf pan, I’ve found that increasing the ingredients and baking it up in a Bundt or tube pan yields a much more moist (and pretty!) cake. The circular shape also nods to the cycle of the year (which is why you’ll often find circular loaves of challah bread during this holiday).
I’ve also expanded the spices to include cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, which not only gives tremendous depth of flavor, but also offsets what could be a cloyingly sweet dessert. The grated zest of an orange brightens things up too. And while the inclusion of bourbon is optional, I think it provides a smooth and subtle note.
Finally, I always bake this cake at least a day in advance, to let the flavors deepen and develop — this makes all the difference in my experience.
So whether you’re celebrating the holiday like I am, or simply looking for a delicious, easy, do-ahead dessert (thinking bake sales and back-to-school nights here!), make this Honey Cake a sweet part of your repertoire!
Classic Honey Cake
adapted from Epicurious
Makes: 10-12 servings
- 1 cup + 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, divided
- 1 1/3 cups sugar, divided
- 2 1/2 cups flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 cup honey
- 1 cup brewed coffee
- 3 eggs
- grated zest of 1 orange
- 2 tablespoons bourbon (optional)
- Preheat oven to 350 F. Brush a Bundt or tube pan with 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil and coat with 1/3 cup sugar.
- Using the whisk attachment, mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices in a mixer on low speed until combined. Add the remaining 1 cup vegetable oil, 1 cup sugar, honey, coffee, eggs, orange zest, and bourbon (if using). Mix on low speed until dry ingredients are moistened, then increase speed to medium until well blended.
- Transfer batter to your prepared pan and bake until a tester comes out clean, about 50-60 minutes. Cool cake in pan on wire rack for 20 minutes, then remove from pan. To do this, slide a thin knife or angled spatula around the inner and outer edges of the cake. Place the rack on top and, holding the rack and pan together and using dish towels to protect your hands, invert the pan so that the rack is now on the bottom. Carefully remove the pan from the cake and let cool completely on the rack. Cover in plastic wrap and store at room temperature for at least one day, and up to one week in advance.