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Honey Cake-Off: Day 2

Oregon's Kosher Maven's Honey Cake. (Bill Webster -- The Washington Post)

When I asked Joan Nathan to choose from among the many honey cake recipes she's included in her cookbooks over the years, this was the first one that came to mind. (Sure, her work appears in the New York Times's Dining & Wine pages around major Jewish holidays, but the hometown food luminary has been a longtime friend of the Post's Food section.)

The maven was Runi Hyman, a Portland cook who fed transients for about 50 years, including many soldiers during World War II. Nathan ran Hyman's original recipe in the 1994 "Jewish Cooking in America." It called for what seems to be a double sifting of flour, a separation of egg yolks and whites, with the whites beaten to firm peaks and folded into the cake batter. It spent an hour in the oven.

Recipe Included

In the years before she published the 1998 expanded edition of "JCA," Nathan got feedback from her readers and amended the recipe substantially: one sift of all dry ingredients; no more separating the eggs; combining the sugar and all wet ingredients, beating them for a full 5 minutes, and a baking time reduced to 50 minutes.

How'd my go at it turn out?

Picture-perfect, for starters. It is one of the many honey cake recipes that call for warm coffee and a touch of citrus -- both acidic components that help cut the sweetness and add depth. It's comparatively light on the spice, too, using only cinnamon. The coffee also may lend the cake that lovely rich color.

The changes simplify the recipe and make for a more consistent, firm cake. Nathan said they would really make a difference, and she was right. It's even moist enough to survive a few minutes longer in the oven than it should have had (but don't tell). It's a good texture for dunking in coffee or tea; I'd leave out the nuts. Taste-testers here couldn't leave it alone all day, and pretty soon, only crumbs remained.

Oregon's Kosher Maven's Honey Cake
Makes one 10-inch cake (12 to 16 servings)

(Bill Webster -- The Washington Post)

Adapted from Nathan's "Jewish Cooking in America" (Knopf expanded edition, 1998).

3 1/2 cups flour, plus more for dusting the pan
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1/3 cup oil
1 cup honey
1 cup warm black coffee
1/2 cup slivered almonds (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease the inside of a 10-inch tube pan with nonstick cooking oil spray, then dust lightly with flour, shaking off any excess.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cream of tartar and cinnamon onto a large piece of wax paper or parchment paper.

Combine the sugar, eggs, lemon juice and zest, oil, honey and warm honey in the bowl of a stand mixer or an electric hand-held mixer; beat on low speed to combine, then on medium speed for 5 minutes.

Reduce the speed to low; add the flour mixture in several additions until incorporated. Stop the motor and stir in the almonds, if using. Pour the batter into the prepared pan; bake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean.

Transfer to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then carefully dislodge and let cool completely before serving or storing.

-- Bonnie Benwick

Next up: Up and out of the pan -- while it's in the oven.

By The Food Section  |  September 10, 2009; 12:00 PM ET
Categories:  Recipes  | Tags: Bonnie Benwick, Rosh Hashanah, honey cake, recipes  
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