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Honey Cake is the sweet treat many Jews eat on Rosh Hashanah, AKA Jewish New Year, as a symbol of hope for a sweet year to come. This honey cake recipe is deliciously moist with an alluringly crisp edge.
One day when my niece was about three years old, she declared, “I’m going to make a honey cake!”
I don’t think she had ever heard of honey cakes. But she does love honey. And I love her! So I started searching for honey cake recipes the minute I got home.
Why Do We Eat Honey CAkes during Rosh Hashanah?
The holiday celebrates the dawn of the new year according to the Hebrew calendar. It is one of the two High Holy days in Judaism (Yom Kippur is the other) and therefore one of the most important holidays.
Honey cakes are traditionally eaten on Rosh Hashanah because honey symbolizes our hopes for sweetness in the year to come. It is also customary to eat apple slices dipped in honey on the holiday.
What does Shana Tova mean?
During Rosh Hashanah, you’ll often hear the greeting “Shana Tova umetukah!” Or simply “Shana Tova!”
It’s the Jewish version of “happy new year,” translating more specifically to mean “have a good, sweet year!”
What makes this the best honey cake recipe?
The biggest complaint people have about most Jewish honey cakes is that they are dry and lack flavor. I wanted something super moist and rich.
I searched for recipes for honey cakes that are nice and moist and found one on Smitten Kitchen. It was a recipe by Marcy Goldman’s from her cookbook A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking.
If anyone knows her way around a Jewish dessert, it is Marcy Goldman. Smitten Kitchen calls Marcy’s honey cake “Crazy moist and soft and plush with a little crisp edge about the corners.”
This Honeycake recipe tastes wonderfully moist with a lovely crunchy edge. Plus it will fill your home with a delightfully sweet fragrance.
This cake is perfect for Rosh Hashana
The first thing you want in a Rosh Hashana honey cake is for it to be sweet. After all, that’s the whole point, right? A sweet cake to usher in a sweet new year. This cake is sweet, and it is also:
- Not too dense
- Full of the flavor of honey
- Crisp around the edges
Honey, of course, gives the cake its signature honey flavor and makes it plenty sweet. But this cake has other flavorful ingredients, too. Coffee and orange juice give it bitterness and tang to counter the sweetness of the honey. It really is the perfect honey cake recipe.
What ingredients do you need?
- All-purpose flour
- Baking powder
- Baking soda
- Cooking oil (or soft butter)
- Honey (you can use any honey you like. I love a good wildflower honey or orange blossom honey!)
- White sugar
- Brown sugar
- Large eggs
- Vanilla extract
- Brewed coffee or black tea
- Orange juice (for extra orange flavor, you can add orange zest, too!)
Marcy’s version (and Deb’s) includes cinnamon, cloves, and allspice. But I’m not crazy about a spice cake. I just want a cake that tastes like honey.
It may sound crazy, but I left all of those spices out. The result was perfect.
How do you make this easy honey cake?
You only need one bowl and a wooden spoon to mix this cake. You could, however, use a stand mixer or an electric hand mixer if you prefer. Just be careful not to overbeat it after adding the flour, as this can make a cake rubbery.
- Preheat the oven and spray the baking pan(s).
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
- Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients—the oil, honey, white sugar, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla, coffee or tea, and orange juice—and mix thoroughly. You can also mix everything in the bowl of an electric mixer and use the whisk attachment on medium-high speed.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan(s) and bake in the preheated oven. You know it is done when the cake is golden brown, springy to the touch, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
- Let cool completely before slicing and serving.
A little trick that makes this cake even better
Remember those crisp edges I mentioned earlier? Before baking, I drizzle a bit of honey over the batter. It caramelizes in the oven, giving the bottom of these honeycakes and edges of the cake extra crispiness.
The honey glaze also adds the deep, rounded flavor of caramelized honey. If you’re lucky you’ll even get a few bits of burnt honey around the edges of your honeycake, which is extra delicious.
Also, check out these 7 Tips for How to Bake a Cake.
My niece was delighted and proud of herself for coming up with the idea. My mother, who doesn’t even like honey cake, took home an extra-large hunk. [Breaking news: Mom called as I was writing this post, and said, “I just ate a third of the cake you sent me home with, and it is the most delicious honey cake I’ve ever had. I can’t stop eating it.”
Tips for success
- This recipe makes a lot (us Jewish ladies worry that someone will go hungry, so we always make extra, especially for special occasions like the high holidays). You can use three 9-by-5-inch loaf pans or one 9-by-13-inch baking pan, or three 9-inch round pan, or make 36 standard cupcakes.
- Alternatively, you can use a mini Bundt pan with 6 cups as well as a few different sizes of small loaf pans.
- Whatever size baking pans you use, be careful not to overfill them. Each pan should only be filled about halfway.
- If you are using several small pans, you can place them all on a baking sheet to make them easy to get in and out of the oven.
- Smaller portions will bake faster so be sure to adjust the baking time and check early and often.
- You can also bake the cake in a convection oven, but you’ll want to reduce the cooking time by about 25 percent.
- If you just want less cake, you can reduce the full recipe by 1/3 or even 2/3. See my recipe notes for details on how to cut down the quantity.
- The recipe uses cooking oil for its fat, which makes it kosher parve (no meat or dairy). You can substitute unsalted butter if you like.
- The recipe calls for strong brewed coffee or tea. The bitterness of coffee or tea balances the sweetness of the honey. But you can substitute milk or water in the same quantity. Note that if you use milk, the recipe will not be parve.
- Feel free to add a diced apple or two, sliced almonds sprinkled over the top, a tablespoon of orange zest, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, or 1/4 cup of whiskey to the batter or substitute almond extract for the vanilla extract.
- The texture of this cake improves when it sits for a bit. I think it is best the day after it is made. Make it ahead and let the finished cake sit, uncovered, at room temperature.
This morning I learned inadvertently that this cake, paired with a cup of coffee, makes a great breakfast. If you’re a sweets-for-breakfast person, you might want to try this Japanese Souffle Pancakes recipe, too!
Round out your rosh hashanah menu
If you’re looking for more holiday recipes, I like to serve my famous Brisket with Dried Fruit and Spices for just about every Jewish holiday, including Rosh Hashanah. Roasted Beet Salad with Harrisa Dressing is a great side.
If you’re feeling extra, you can serve this cake with vegan whipped cream and it will still be parve!
More Jewish holiday recipes you’ll love
If you love this honey cake recipe, check out these other Jewish holiday recipes! From crispy Latkes to Beef Brisket with Dried Fruit and Spices to Hamentashen, I’ve got the perfect recipe for every Jewish holiday.
Rosh Hashanah Honey Cake
- 3½ cups 420 grams all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon table salt
- 1 cup 237 ml vegetable oil
- 1 cup 237 ml honey, divided
- 1½ cups 300 grams sugar
- ½ cup 110 grams brown sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup 237 ml brewed coffee or strong tea
- ½ cup 119 ml orange juice
- Preheat the oven to 350°F and generously grease the baking pan(s) with nonstick cooking spray, baking spray, or butter. (Use either three 9-by-5-inch loaf pans, one 9-by-13-inch baking pan, or any equivalent-sized pans.)
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
- Add the oil, 3/4 cup of the honey, sugar, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla, coffee or tea, and orange juice. Mix thoroughly, until all ingredients are combined and no lumps remain.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan(s), filling each about halfway.
- Drizzle the remaining 1/4 cup of honey over the batter.
- Bake in the preheated oven until the cake is set all the way through and feels springy to the touch (30 to 60 minutes, depending on the size of your baking dishes). A tester inserted into the center should come out clean.
- Let cool 15 minutes before removing from the baking dish. Slide a knife around the edges to help loosen the cake, if necessary.