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Honey Cake – A Lighter Take

September 15, 2012

Honey cake, also known as Lekach, is a favorite cake of Eastern European Jews.  There are written references to it dating back as early as the 12th century in Germany.  Honey cake is a traditional dessert served on Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year, symbolizing the hope that the coming year will be sweet.

Back in the Bronx, we would select our holiday desserts at our go-to bakery on Lydig Avenue, called Helen’s Bake Shop.  Sponge cake, marble cake with an apple ribbon at the bottom, mandelbrot and honey cake. Honey cake wasn’t  one of my favorites, but I always preferred the one with nuts. It seemed to really pep things up.

Some people love this cake.  Others assume it is heavy (dense and loaded with honey) and discreetly steer clear of it as they reach for the the mandelbread (see my Mandelbread post) or the apple cake (see my apple n’ honey cake post.)  I can’t say I want to eat a piece of cake that’s going to sit there on top of the rest of the meal no matter how strongly it links me to my ancestors.  But I do appreciate the tradition.  A lot.  Solution?  Lighten it up, boost the flavor, and throw in a few lovely surprises.

Honey with flavor-boosting additions

Orange zest ups flavor & moistness quotient

Add dry to liquid ingredients

Always add dried fruit and/or nuts.

Fruit and nuts in need of dusting. Achoo!

Honey cake batter in slightly different-sized pans

This cake batter can be baked in a 9″ square baking pan (for 70-75 minutes) or in loaf pans. If you try mini loaf pans, remember to adjust the baking time down. Keep checking regularly with a toothpick after the 30-minute mark.

Cakes are done

Un-traditional traditional honey cake

Honey Cake – A Lighter Take

slightly adapted from The Book of Jewish Food


2 eggs
3/4 c. sugar
1/2 c. canola or safflower oil
3/4 c. good-quality honey
2 T. rum or brandy (a lovely touch)
1/2 c. warm espresso or strong black coffee (I like using instant espresso powder)
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
pinch of salt
1 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. ground cloves
zest of 1 orange (another nice touch)
2 c. flour, plus 1 t. for dusting nuts and raisins
1/2 c. walnuts, chopped
1/3 c. golden raisins


Preheat oven to 350°.  Lightly grease and flour two 9″ loaf pans (I used one 9″ and one 8″ because that’s what I had, and it still worked.)

Using a stand mixer or by hand, beat eggs thoroughly with the sugar until pale and creamy.  Add in oil, honey, brandy and coffee, and beat well.

In a small bowl, mix the 2 cups of flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves and orange zest.

Add the flour mixture gradually to the liquid ingredients, while stand mixer is set on low (this way you won’t get a flour shower) then beat until batter is very smooth.

Dust golden raisins and chopped walnuts with the extra flour to prevent them from sinking to the bottom of the cake.  Fold them in to the batter.

Divide equally between prepared loaf pans and bake for 55 minutes or until inserted toothpick comes out dry. Cool on wire rack and invert when just slightly warm. You can leave loaves  (say that fast 5 times) in pan but they’re a bit trickier to slice. Serve in full or half-slices.

Enjoy this cake and create joy throughout the year. Come and get it!

A modern take on the traditional honey dish


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