October 03, 2005
I'm not Jewish, but I am very interested in Jewish food and the traditions that go along with them. I find the sheer number of dietary prohibitions kind of boggling, but I greatly enjoy many of the foods that go with the various holidays.
In a somewhat ecumenical spirit, I occasionally do a cook-along with a variety of different religious and secular food-related holidays and events. Since it is currently Rosh Hashanah on the Jewish calendar, I decided that honeycake was the way to go.
A few years ago, I was given a wonderful cookbook by Claudia Roden - The Book of Jewish Food. The recipes for challah (my favourite bread to make) and honeycake alone are worth the cost of the book, but there's an amazing amount of other good recipes as well. Like most of my favourite cookbooks, this one is part story, part history, lots of recipes, and has a very distinctive personality.
The cake itself is rich with things that I enjoy in their own context: coffee, rum, orange zest, and above all - honey. It is incredibly sweet, containing almost a cup each of sugar and honey, but that makes it an amazing "keeper" that can last for most of forever without spoiling. In fact, I find that it is invariably better the next day, as the first day it can be a teensy bit on the dry side. It gets moister as time goes on, which is a bad thing in blueberry muffins, but a good thing in honeycake.
I've been a fan of the very notion of honeycake since Winnie-the-Pooh's little friend Roo jumped up and down with glee at the notion of "chocolate honeycake!" for their picnic. My latest cookbook, Nigella Lawson's Feast contains a chocolate honeycake... adorably decorated with marzipan bees (which brings to mind David Sylvian's album Dead Bees on a Cake but which is disconcerting at the moment, as my kitchen is lately filled with dying bees). I may have to make that one next.
In the meantime - L'Shana Tova to my Jewish friends - Happy New Year! May it be a sweet one.