It’s Rosh Hashanah and regular readers will know that I have a real love for holiday cooking. Jewish New Year is celebrated with apples and honey, and one of the traditional dishes is a dark and moist honey cake. Some people don’t like honey cake because bad versions tend to be dry. It can also be very heavily spiced with cinnamon and cloves, which I find a bit overwhelming. So in thinking about honey cake, I wanted to start from a recipe I knew would be good and moist and I also wanted to think about ways to alter the flavours a bit to my own taste.
I began Smitten Kitchen’s recipe, which she herself adapted from Marcy Goldman’s Treasure of Jewish Holiday Baking. But I wasn’t keen on the idea of whisky and I wanted a rather different flavour profile. So instead of the traditional spices, I made a chai masala – the aromatic spice mix that goes into Indian tea. Chai masala has some of the same notes as a spiced cake – cinnamon and cloves – but it adds to them cardamom, mace, ginger and nutmeg. I love masala tea and its blend of peppery and perfumey spices with sweet tea seemed like rather a good combination for a cake. I also replaced the booze with apples, partly to keep tea the predominant liquid flavour and partly because I wanted to add a bit of New Year apples to the mix.
My neighbour S invited me over for Rosh Hashanah supper with his family, so I had somewhere to take some of the vast amount of cake I baked. It was a casual affair but a recent death in his family had reminded him how important it is to come together for holidays, even if you don’t have time for a big event. It was lovely to be included and our haphazard mix of work colleagues, family members and neighbours made for a lively dinner table. We dipped apples in delicious Greek honey, shared gossip and put the world to rights – the perfect start to the New Year. So shana tova to everyone – here’s hoping your year is sweet and full of happiness!
Chai-spiced honey cake
- 3 1/2 cups plain flour
- 1 heaped tsp baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 4 tsp chai masala mix (see below)
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 1 cup honey
- 1 1/2 cups caster sugar
- 1/2 cup demerara sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup lukewarm Assam tea
- 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
- 1 medium sized grated apple
- seeds from about 20 green cardamom pods
- seeds from about 20 white caramom pods
- 1 large cinnamon stick, broken up
- 1/2 tsp cloves
- 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp mace
- generous grating of whole nutmeg
Start by making the tea (all recipes should begin this way, don’t you think?). Brew a very strong cup of Assam tea and leave it to cool down. Next make the chai masala. Toast the cardamom seeds, cinnamon, peppercorns and cloves one at a time in a cast iron skillet and let cool. Grind together in a mini-prep and add the ground ginger and mace. Grate over the nutmeg. Stir and taste for flavour balance. It should be quite gingery and a bit peppery but perhaps less than you would want for an actual tea masala.
Oil your cake pans – I did one 9″ springform pan and one loaf pan. This recipe makes quite a lot of cake but I think you could put them in more or less any kind of cake pan you wanted. Heat the oven to 350 / 180 / 4.
Next, sift the flour, baking powder and sodas, salt and spice mix. Be sure to sift the spice mix as there will be gritty bits you want to get rid of. Add all the wet ingredients – oil, honey, eggs, tea, apples, sugars, orange juice, vanilla. Whisk together thoroughly.
Pour the batter into the cake pans and pop them in the oven. Cooking time will depend on the shapes and sizes of your pans, but my loaf tin took 50 minutes and the round springform pan about an hour. They go brown quite quickly so test doneness by how wibbly the centre of the cake is. Let them cool for a while before removing from the pans — this cake has a tendency to stick so you have to be quite careful with it (and/or willing to accept slight malformation).
Serves quite a lot of people, really.