It all sounds good in theory. Want to celebrate the Rosh Hashanah wish for a sweet New Year? Easy. Eat some sweet honey cake. It sounds like just the ticket: A moist, slightly sticky treat, fragrant with spices and perfect with a cup of tea. The reality of the taste doesn’t always live up to the sweet symbolism, though. All too often, a slice of honey cake ends up being dry, strangely tough, and packed with cloying spice. Luckily, I’ve eaten bad honey cake so you don’t have to. Here are five signs that a honey cake recipe will live up to the sweet dream.
1. Enough oil in the batter. One big reason why honey cake often ends up so dry? Not enough fat in the batter. The healthy helpings of honey in the batter convince some recipe developers that they only need a few spoonfuls of vegetable oil. Wrong. At least a cup is needed for a truly moist crumb.
2. Sugar as well as honey. It’s also easy to assume that if you’re making honey cake, there’s no need for non-honey sweeteners. Nope: since honey is super-dense, it’ll weigh the cake down if you rely on it exclusively as your source of sweetness. The best recipes have nearly equal parts of honey and sugar (or even brown sugar).
3. Three kinds of spices. Most honey cakes cry out for the addition of sweet spices to add nuance to the honey’s subtle sweetness, but some recipes just call for cinnamon. A trio of sweet spices, like cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove, deliver a deeper, richer flavor.
4. A hit of coffee and citrus. So now you’ve got plenty of sweetness, richness, and spice. That means you need something sharp and acidic to balance out those flavors. An ingredient list that calls for brewed coffee and orange juice or zest fits the bill nicely (a little booze never hurt, either).
5. An overnight rest. Most honey cake recipes will point out that the treat will keep for at least a couple of days. But only a truly brilliant one will assert that honey cake is actually better when baked a day in advance. Like gingerbread and its French cousin, pain d’epices, honey cake mellows and deepens in flavor when it gets an overnight rest.
With its velvety chocolate glaze and snowy flakes of sea salt, this dressed-up honey cake is perfect for Rosh Hashanah. It’s equally ideal for any other occasion or celebration, whether it’s a dinner party, an impromptu gathering of friends, or a school bake sale. It’s that simple—and that good. Don’t be surprised if people start pestering you for the recipe after their first bite.
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground clove
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
1 cup pure honey
3/4 cup lukewarm coffee (brewed, or instant dissolved in water)
1 1/2 teaspoons packed grated orange zest
For chocolate glaze:
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons well-stirred canned unsweetened coconut milk (not light)
2 teaspoons light corn syrup
4 ounces bittersweet (60% cacao) chocolate, finely chopped
Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon (optional)
a 10-inch Bundt pan; nonstick baking spray (shake well first; see Cooks’ Notes); cake tester or wooden skewer for testing cake doneness
For cake: Heat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Generously spray pan, including center tube, with baking spray. Whisk together flour, baking powder and soda, salt, and spices in a large bowl. Whisk eggs well in another large bowl and whisk in sugar, oil, honey, coffee, and zest until well combined. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the honey mixture, then stir with the whisk until the batter is smooth. Pour batter into pan (it’s liquid enough to level itself in the pan), and bake in oven until springy to the touch and a cake tester comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Let cake cool in the pan on a rack for 20 minutes. Loosen cake from the pan with a thin rubber spatula, then invert cake onto the rack (see Cooks’ Notes) and cool completely.
For glaze: Bring coconut milk and corn syrup to a simmer in a small heavy pan, stirring until combined. Remove pan from heat and add chocolate. Let chocolate stand 1 minute, then stir until chocolate is melted and glaze is smooth. Let glaze stand, stirring occasionally, until thickened slightly, but still pourable. Transfer cake to a cake plate and slowly pour the chocolate glaze over the top of the cake, letting it drip down the sides. If desired, let the cake stand at room temperature until glaze is set. Just before serving, sprinkle glaze lightly with flaky sea salt, if using.
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