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Honey Cake-Off: Day 3

Nova Scotia Honey Orange Sponge Cake. (Bill Webster -- The Washington)

Hoo-boy. You may notice this slice of honey cake heaven is oddly shaped. That's because all did not go according to plan. What was described as "light" could not be contained. This could have been operator error -- When I pulled it out of the oven, in my head I sounded similar in tone to some e-mails we get at the Food section: "I followed the recipe TO THE LETTER!" Or maybe my oven doesn't do well at temps below 350 degrees. Or it could be the result of some very successfully beaten egg whites.

Recipe Included

The recipe comes from "Cooking Jewish," a thick paperback full of family and friends' dishes, by Judy Bart Kancigor, a California author who grew up in New York. This particular honey cake was baked by her mother, Lillian Bart, who sounds like a candidate for one of those "strong Jewish women" posters found in Judaica gift shops. (She, in turn, got it from her Canadian friend Corinne, who lived in Nova Scotia; hence the name). Just last week, Kancigor posted some maternal memories on Workman's Facebook site: a four-day chicken soup her mother had adapted from a family relative, the way Bart taught her daughter to clean a kosher chicken, and the ways in which Bart "accepts with grace all of life's challenges." Lovely.

Judy, Judy, Judy.

My honey sponge floweth over. What can I say? I was working around the house, checking the timer every now and then. At some point, the cake began smelling "out loud" -- fellow bakers know what I mean. Often, that's when some batter has plopped to the oven floor and is getting scorchy black. I figured that couldn't be the case, because I had decided to slip a double thickness of baking sheets under the pan, originally meant only to promote even heat.

In fact, some cake batter had spilled into the center tube -- another first in my baking career -- and created a tuberrific little cake all its own. I ate that while I was cleaning up.

Right out of the oven. (Bonnie Benwick -- The Washington Post)

As Martha likes to say, it was a good thing, that move. Once the cake had cooled and triage had been performed, I still managed to salvage three-quarters of it. Vesuvial aspects aside, testers here loved its flavor and the lightness, ranking it far higher than the traditional ones they had tasted thus far. The recipe does not use brewed coffee so it looks lighter, as you can see. The four-part punch of orange juice, orange zest, orange liqueur and orange extract may seem excessive, but it works.

I'm going to keep trying to contact Judy, sending e-mails to her Web site, etc., to find out what went wrong. I really want to know. Sure, I could have consulted a brace of Jewish mavens who could look over this recipe and diagnose areas of concern. But I want to hear it from the woman who's enjoyed this cake in all its glory. I promise to report back.

Nova Scotia Honey Orange Sponge Cake
12 servings

(Bill Webster -- The Washington Post)

Adapted from Kancigor's "Cooking Jewish" (Workman, 2007).

1 cup cake flour
1 3/4 cups (all-purpose) flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
1 cup corn oil
2 tablespoons orange juice
2 tablespoons orange liqueur
Finely grated zest of 1 orange (3 to 4 teaspoons)
! teaspoon orange extract

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a 10-inch tube pan (with a removable bottom) with a circle of parchment paper cut slightly larger than the tube pan insert. Press the extra paper against the sides of the pan.

Sift together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, ginger,and salt on a large sbeet of wax paper or parchment paper.

Beat the egg yolks in the bowl of a stand mixer or an electric hand-held mixer on medium-high speed, gradually adding 3/4 cup of the sugar until the mixture is thick and lemon-colored; this will take about 3 minutes.

Reduce the speed to medium and add the oil and honey, then the orange juice and zest, liqueur and extract. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture in several additions, mixing to incorporate after each one.

Beat the egg whites in a separate clean bowl (with clean beaters, using a stand mixer or an electric hand-held mixer) until soft peaks form. Add the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar 1 tablespoon at a time, beating 10 seconds after each addition. Then increase the speed to high and beat for 4 minutes, until stiff peaks form.

Gently fold in one-quarter of the beaten egg whites to the cake batter to lighten it, then fold in the remaining three-quarters of the egg whites. The cake batter should be light and almost foamy. Transfer to the prepared tube pan and place the pan on a baking sheet; bake for 30 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees and bake for about 45 minutes, or until the cake springs back when touched.

Let the cake rest in the pan for 30 to 45 seconds, then invert the pan on the neck of a sturdy soda or wine bottle; let the cake cool completely.

Run a rounded-edged knife a round the center tube and sides of the cake, then gently lift the tube from the pan. Gently slide the knife between the bottom of the cake and the pan, then lift the cake off the pan. Cut the cake into slices and serve.

-- Bonnie Benwick

Next up (on Monday): A cake of majestic proportions.

By The Food Section  |  September 11, 2009; 12:00 PM ET
Categories:  Recipes  | Tags: Bonnie Benwick, Rosh Hashanah, honey cake, recipes  
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