November 9, 2022

The Honey Cake – Against All Odds

I’ve baked cookies a few times recently with my little grandson.  Nothing sweeter than that.

When there are messes – chocolate chips fall on the counter and get scooped up by little hands, for example – it’s expected.  It’s part of the delight of creating together.

Can I Still Bake?

But when I set out on my journey to make a Joan Nathan honey cake for Rosh Hashanah, I was on my own. The house was quiet. No one to watch me falter.

Ingredients check: baking powder still active. Amazing. Baking soda, too. The flour? Oh dear.  It said “best by 2010.” So I popped over to the grocery store to get fresh.

Then I carefully set out all the dry ingredients on the counter, as well as the measuring cups and spoons.  I was still feeling confident, positive.

Time to start.  Where is the sifter? I couldn’t find it; it had been that long.  Finally, I used the “flashlight” app on my iPhone to spread illumination into those deep lower cabinets. Whew!  There it was.

Then I pulled out the hand mixer. Um. Did I fry its motor last time I used it? I couldn’t remember, but I decided to hope for the best.

Step by step, I followed the recipe. It was going well.  When, then, did the salt bowl (pictured above) get half dumped over? My husband turned this beautiful dish from a piece of cherry wood.  I scooped about half the salt pile on the counter back into the dish and wiped the rest into the trash.

Beware the False Sense of Security

After sifting the dry ingredients into a large bowl, I made a well in the middle (the way Mom taught me) and poured in the wet ingredients – egg yolks, fresh lemon juice, honey, oil, and warm coffee. Then I started . . .not panicking, but pondering.  Did I need a mixer? The recipe didn’t say.  So I started with a spoon. Ahh.  Maybe it was that warm coffee, but it blended together beautifully.

When it was time to beat the egg whites into stiff peaks, I discovered that the mixer still worked.  Then I folded and folded the snowy whites into the café-au-lait colored batter.

As I write this, the cake is in the oven. The dirty dishes are cleaned. The counter tops are wiped free of flour, salt, and various sticky bits.

Plan B

If all else fails, a local farmer’s market makes wonderful apple cider doughnuts this time of year.

Darn. Darn. Disclaimer: in writing this post, I thought I should see if I could find the honey cake recipe online to share with you.  Here it is, modified from the cookbook I used.  So now I know I did it wrong. I should have used a mixer . . . A real baker would have known that, of course. Well, at this point, I think you know not to follow my baking instincts.

Nu, So How Was It?

The fam gave me varying reviews.  One said it reminded her of summer; another said “citrusy,” because of the grated lemon rind and fresh lemon juice.  One (British) said it tasted like ginger cake — and he was quite happy to take a chunk home. My husband? Well, he felt the same way as he does about mandel bread. Don’t ask.

Several of us, including me, loved the flavors. Next time, I just need to (a) mix better and (b) bake for a shorter time if I use the silicone bundt pan again.  (Yes, I am going to bake again. I have to get better sometime. Right?)

To Joan Nathan: I love the depth and richness of your cookbooks — the images, the stories, and the history.  And I am committed to becoming a better cook, with the help of your recipes.

Like to read about cooking? You might enjoy this post about easing interfaith celebration tensions through cooking. Or this post about cook extraordinaire Allesandra Rovati’s recipe for a Hanukkah treat.

Please feel free to share with other kitchen-challenged or kitchen-loving friends!

Feel free, too, to pass along any tips and instructions to me. As we enter the year 5773, I’m eager to do better — on many fronts.

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