Honey cake and the related ginger cake have been favorite Jewish cakes since the early Middle Ages in Germany. Although the earliest recorded German recipe for Lebkuchen (honey-sweetened gingerbread) is from the sixteenth century, there are much earlier mentions in Jewish records—some as early as the twelfth century, when it was the custom for young boys attending heder (Jewish school) to bring a piece of honey cake on the first day. In Eastern Europe they became Jewish festive cakes and were eaten at all joyful celebrations, such as betrothals and weddings.
This recipe is from Claudia Roden’s The Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey from Samarkand to New York. Honey cake is the traditional cake of Rosh Hashanah, symbolizing the hope that the New Year will be sweet, and also of Purim. This one is moist and delicious with a great richness of flavor. It should be made at least 3 days before you want to eat it, and it keeps a long time.
1 cup sugar
½ cup light vegetable oil
Scant 1 cup dark liquid honey
2 Tbs rum or brandy
½ cup warm strong black coffee
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
A pinch of salt
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp powdered cloves
Grated zest of 1 orange
2 cups flour, plus extra to dust the dried fruit and nuts
½ cup coarsely chopped walnuts or slivered almonds
1/3 cup golden raisins
Beat the eggs with the sugar till pale and creamy. Then beat in the oil, honey, brandy, and coffee.
Mix the baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves, and orange zest with the flour. Add gradually to the egg-and-honey mixture, beating vigorously to a smooth batter.
Dust the golden raisins and the walnuts or almonds with flour to prevent them from dropping to the bottom of the cake, and stir them into the batter.
Line a 9” pan with greaseproof paper or with foil, brushed with oil and dusted with flour, and pour in the batter. Or divide between 2 – 9×5” loaf pans. Bake the large cake in a preheated 350°F oven for 1¼ hours, or longer, until firm and brown on top, and the smaller ones for 1 hour.