Friday, December 14, 2012

Here's a Honey Cake, Honeys

Orange Honey Cake. See recipe at the end of the post.
It was a party-on-demand. At Thanksgiving, some of our best friends suggested -- no, make that insisted -- that we have a Hanukkah latke-making get-together. Why not? I'm always game to fry something, and given that I'm really not planning much of a Christmas celebration this year (it will be just two days before I move back to DC, and I can't be bothered with much of a hullabaloo -- can you say "Bah,  humbug"?), this would be a fun way to get our holiday entertaining in. After all, I've got much to celebrate: a year in Maine about to end, a new cookbook under my belt, and another I-can't-tell-you-yet project in the works.

As the date neared, I knew I'd make latkes with our own potatoes and onions, but I also had a hankering to use our beets and carrots, and maybe sweet potatoes, for some other versions, too. But I was most excited about the chance to make a honey cake. I know it's usually a Rosh Hashanah thing, but what can I say? We have fantastic honey from the beehives, I was planning to serve some of my own mead, too (more on that another day), and I couldn't get the idea of honey cake out of my head.

I remembered that Bonnie Benwick, my inimitable deputy food editor at the Post (who is handling the section this year in my absence), had put several honey cake recipes through the mill a few years ago. I perused her blog posts to refresh my memory, and the one that stuck out -- literally -- was a molten version that, unlike the cliched chocolate dessert of the 1990s, wasn't really supposed to be molten. This cake, made from a recipe in "Cooking Jewish" by Judy Bart Kancigor, exploded out of the tube pan in a disastrous bit of baking. That, I remembered. What I had forgotten was the fact that despite the snafu, Bonnie salvaged enough of the cake for testers to try -- and we loved it best of all. Light (no surprise there, given the explosion), and tinged with orange flavor, it was a winner.

So I'd make it. In the spirit of giving that this season represents, hopefully I'd fix it, too. And when the Let's Lunchers -- our monthly group of bloggers -- decided to post on celebrations for December, I knew what I'd share.

With six beaten egg whites going in,
surely the cake wouldn't need the other
leaveners, right? I would see.
One read through the recipe gave me an idea as to the culprit. The cake is a separated sponge, one of my favorite styles, meaning that rather than beat whole eggs into the batter, you separate the whites and yolks, make the batter base with the yolks, and beat up the whites to stiff peaks and fold them in. This is how souffles are made, and it's one of my favorite ways to get a puffy omelet. But with six egg whites adding such lift, why would you also need baking soda and baking powder for a total of three leavening agents? You wouldn't, so I didn't. Now, I'm not saying Judy is wrong for putting them all in there -- it probably worked fine for her, perhaps because of differences in oven temp or pan size, but I wasn't going to chance it.

Out went the baking soda or powder. Instead of the spices called for, I put in this intoxicatingly fragrant Persian spice mix (cinnamon, cardamom, black pepper, and more) I bought at Sofra Bakery and Cafe outside Boston. Instead of orange extract, I tipped in a little Fiori di Sicilia, a vanilla-orange elixir I get from King Arthur Flour. The cake bakes slowly, at just 325 degrees, and it didn't start to rise until after 30 minutes had gone by, and then it did so, beautifully. It didn't shoot up and over the pan as in Bonnie's case, but looked pretty perfect by the time an hour and a half had passed and it passed the toothpick test

I simplified the recipe in one other important way, too: The cake is supposed to cool upside down on a wine bottle or the like, just as angel food cakes do, to avoid sinking under its own weight. But I figured that since it wasn't as airy without those two leaveners, I wouldn't need to do that, and I was right. Easy, breezy. I topped it with whipped cream and almonds for serving.

The latkes were scarfed down in a flash -- all three kinds of them -- but it was the honey cake that stole the show. 

Orange Honey Cake

12 to 15 servings

Based on a recipe in "Cooking Jewish" by Judy Bart Kancigor.

1 cup cake flour
1 3/4 cups (all-purpose) flour, plus more for preparing the pan
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup honey
2 tablespoons orange juice
2 tablespoons orange liqueur
Finely grated zest of 1 orange (3 to 4 teaspoons)
1 teaspoon orange extract
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon confectioners sugar
1 cup sliced almonds

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 10-inch tube pan (with a removable bottom), cover the bottom with a circle of parchment paper, butter it, and flour the pan.

Sift together the flours, cinnamon, allspice, ginger, and salt on a large sbeet of wax paper or parchment paper.

Beat the egg yolks in the bowl of a stand mixer or an electric hand-held mixer on medium-high speed, gradually adding 3/4 cup of the sugar until the mixture is thick and lemon-colored; this will take about 3 minutes.

Reduce the speed to medium and add the oil and honey, then the orange juice and zest, liqueur and extract. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture in several additions, mixing to incorporate after each one.

Beat the egg whites in a separate clean bowl (with clean beaters, using a stand mixer or an electric hand-held mixer) until soft peaks form. Add the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar 1 tablespoon at a time, beating 10 seconds after each addition. Then increase the speed to high and beat for 4 minutes, until stiff peaks form.

Gently fold in one-quarter of the beaten egg whites to the cake batter to lighten it, then fold in the remaining three-quarters of the egg whites. The cake batter should be light and almost foamy. Transfer to the prepared tube pan and place the pan on a baking sheet; bake for 30 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees and bake for about 45 to 60 minutes more, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with just a few crumbs (but no liquid).

Let the cake rest in the pan for about a minute, then invert onto a rack to cool completely.

When it is cool, beat the cream and confectioners sugar together until soft peaks form. Spoon the cream on the cake and sprinkle the almonds on top. Cut the cake into slices and serve.


  1. Mmm, congrats on your sweet success :) Wish I could have joined the party!

    1. Thanks, Rashda! One day, I hope you can! Happy holidays...

  2. That sounds and looks great. I've never made a honey cake but it's one of those things I see and think I should try every year. Perhaps it's time I get around to it!

    1. Unfortunately, a lot of them are veeeeeerrrrrrrry heavy, even if they're moist. This one is nice and light, thanks to those egg whites. Hope you try it!

  3. Wow, I've never made a cake this way before! Can't wait to give this a try.

    1. It's a fun thing to do, Emma. You gotta get your folding technique down -- always a good thing for a cake baker to know -- but otherwise it's a breeze.

  4. Sounds like a winner of a cake! Love the Fiori di Sicilia from King Arthur - thanks for the enablement to restock!

    1. It's one of my favorite elixirs in the kitchen! Thanks, Lucy.

  5. Hi Joe, what a beautiful and fragrant cake! The persian spice blend sounds wonderful-- I need to get my hands on some. Happy holidays!

    1. It's pretty special, indeed. Happy holidays to you, too!

  6. Orange, spices, and honey--all winning ingredients for a cake in my book! Yum! Happy holidays!

  7. Cool! Just saw this. "Cooking Jewish" is my go-to Jewish cookbook ever since I reviewed it for "The Baltimore Sun." I'm sorry our paths didn't cross before you left Maine:( I just relocated back East, to Brunswick, Maine, from Oregon.