Honey cake impressive and simple
August 31, 2012 1:26PM
Updated: November 4, 2012 1:53AM
Harvesting honey isn’t a trade left solely for the apiarists anymore.
The backyard beekeeping hobby has galloped from the fields of formal bee farms to suburban backyards and even now to skyscraper rooftops. The bees are populating and the honey is flowing.
At this time of year, just before the weather changes and the honey is still soft in the warm climate, the urban bee enthusiasts are jarring up their honey by the heaps and showcasing them at farmers markets. And it isn’t just beaming pride that brings this honey to the markets; it’s taste, too. Each harvest could yield wildly (or slightly) different flavors.
Rooftop beds, cherry blossom trees and wildflowers provide outlets for the buzzing colonies, and the varying ambrosial extracts the bees bring back to the hives imbue their sugary gleaning. So sweet, so nectarous, so unpredictable, wild honey is nature’s most extraordinary gift. It’s only right, this late in the summertime, to exploit it for its delectable flavor.
An ancient recipe that seems to have traveled to the new world from the old country, honey cake can impress as well as any of the old American standards — from apple pie to strawberry shortcake. There’s something about its simplicity; it may just lie in the fact that the honey isn’t only a sweetener, it’s a staunch flavor, too — both baked in the batter and drizzled on top.
There are other bold additions in the classic recipe for honey cake, like cinnamon, orange and vanilla, but they all play second-fiddle to the starring ingredient — at least they should, that is. Many recipes play them up, but their overwhelming nature has the tendency to block out the mild tastes of the local honey.
This recipe keeps it simple and light on taste. The complementary flavors are there but are sparse. It is the unique, surprising floral flavor (whatever it may be at this harvest) that is there.
Firm and moist, this cake will cut like a banana bread — ideal for a summer night’s dessert or even a bedecked French toast breakfast. A classic at the Rosh Hashanah supper table, honey cake finds a nice little niche with the late summer meals, too.
21/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
11/4 cups vegetable oil
1 cup pure honey
3/4 cup lukewarm coffee
11/2 teaspoons packed grated orange or lemon zest
1/2 cup slivered almonds (optional)
11/2 cup confectioners sugar
2-3 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
Heat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Generously spray pan, including center tube, with baking spray.
Whisk together all dry ingredients in a large bowl.
In a separate bowl, whisk eggs and whisk in sugar, oil, honey, coffee, vanilla and lemon or orange zest until combined.
Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the honey mixture. Whisk until smooth and stir in almonds, if using.
Pour batter into pan greased tube pan or bundt pan and bake in oven at 350 degrees 45 to 50 minutes.
Let cake cool in the pan on a cooling rack for 20 minutes.
Loosen cake from the pan then invert onto the rack and cool completely.
Make glaze by mixing confectioners sugar with milk and vanilla. Pour over cake and let harden. Slice and serve with honey.
Adapted from Majestic and Moist New Year’s Honey Cake from “A Treasure of Jewish Holiday Baking” by Marcy Goldman, 2009.