“Why does our house smell like Christmas?” my husband asked when he came home from the office on a sweltering day recently. I had spent the afternoon baking honey cake with our sons. “Um, that’s actually Rosh Hashannah,” I replied, referring to the autumnal Jewish New Year holiday for which honey cake is a traditional symbolic food. Regardless of which cold-weather religious celebration the rich aromas of cinnamon, ginger, orange zest, and honey conjure for you, I admit that this cake is not a food of summer. But it reminds me of my grandmother, who always kept a freshly-baked cake in her kitchen for in case friends stopped by or to feed me a snack or just to have for breakfast. And although these days it’s terribly in vogue — for reasons that are mostly excellent — to eat with the seasons, it shouldn’t really matter if you satisfy a craving for honey cake when it’s not about to snow outside. And so I made one. If your grandmother kept goodies like this around the house and you miss her, then you should make one, too.
Mema’s Honey Cake
2 cups dark honey
¾ 4 cup black coffee
3 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
¾ cup sugar
3 ½ cups sifted flour
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon powdered cinnamon
1 teaspoon powdered ginger
Grated rind of 1 orange
Grated rind of 1 lemon
10 or 12 whole blanched almonds (optional)
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 9 ½ x 5 ½ x 3-inch loaf pan. Cut clean brown paper, waxed paper, or baker’s parchment to fit the bottom and sides of the pan and butter one side. Place the unbuttered side of the paper against the pan.
Put the honey in a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil. Set aside, let cool, then stir in the coffee and oil. Beat the eggs with the sugar until light and thick so the mixture forms a ribbon when dropped onto itself. Stir in the coffee, honey, and oil mixture. Sift the flour and other dry ingredients into the batter; fold in gently with the fruit rind.
Pour the batter into the lined pan. If you like, make a pattern on top with almonds.
Bake for about 1 ¼ to 1 ½ hours, or until the top is golden brown and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan.
Do not peel off all the paper; just peel off what is necessary each time you slice the cake. This cake will develop more flavor if it is kept uncut for 24 hours. It keeps well in an airtight container.