Honey cake is the fruitcake of Jewish holiday foods: traditional, obligatory, and, with apologies to Mark Twain, a cake everyone wants to have eaten but nobody wants to eat. Until this outrageously good honey cake comes riding into town in a blaze of glory. This, my friends, is a honey cake to convert the faithless. A honey cake so good my children, who won't touch any dessert that is not predominantly chocolate, can polish one off in a single Shabbat and demand I bake more, like motza"sh.
What makes this particular honey cake so compulsively lovable? Where do we begin? It's moist and springy inside, framed by the most perfect Maillard reaction crunch your fertile imagination can conjure. It gets its sweetness from a near-proprietary blend of honey, brown sugar, and granulated sugar, balanced out by the bitter depth of coffee and the brightness of fresh orange juice. Instead of the kitchen-sink approach to autumnal spicing, it insists upon a proportionately generous ratio of clove and allspice to cinnamon--and nothing more.
Key ingredients for incredible honey cake
Honey cake, being a cake of the people, most of them living in less than optimal material conditions in backwoods shtetlach, is a laid-back kind of bake. Mix the dry stuff together, make a well in the center, mix the wet stuff in, put it in the oven. The only patchke things you've got to do, and yes, do them you must, is brew some coffee (instant works too) and squeeze an orange.
It may seem excessive to have not just honey but brown and white sugar too, but something about the ratios makes the cake perfect. It's fairly sweet, but not cloyingly so, speaking as a person who prefers dessert things just a toe over the savory line. I've not toyed with reducing the sugar because my family loves it so much as is; and that crust, you know?
You'll want to choose an oil that is liquid at room temperature and neutral in flavor. I especially like avocado oil here (I buy it in bulk at Costco)--it does not taste like avos, which my husband regards with outright horror and consequently, would not tolerate the slightest whiff thereof. Canola or grapeseed would also work nicely, but don't go for coconut oil for this cake.
Choosing a pan
Honey cake is particularly adaptable to varied panning ideas, so you can get creative in selecting which baking pan to use. The recipe will make one loaf or four to five mini-loaves, depending on how full you fill each cavity (good for gifting). You can double the recipe and bake it in a bundt or tube pan. This honey cake can also be baked in a silicone beehive mold that you ordered on a whim off Amazon, but did not live to regret because now the kids look forward to it every year, and that's pretty cool. My impulse purchase mold seems to no longer be available, but this honeycomb silicone mold is tempting me right now, and if you want to spring for it, I bet the Nordicware beehive cake pan is great.
Topping + embellishments
We like this cake best without glaze, but a nice option if you want to add a bit of visual flair to it is to simply spread creamed or spreadable honey on the top of the cooled cake. (We love Buzz + Bloom.)
Another decorative element that kids get jazzed about are sugar bees; Lucks brand is kosher and easy to get online. (A note: the OU wasn't visible on the outside of my shrink-wrapped package; but I decided to open it the outer shrink wrap anyway before returning and it was on the inside label.) Being all sugar and food coloring, the bees last a scarily long time, and my kids (and possibly other family members who shall not be named) insist on eating them anyway.
Outrageously Good Honey Cake (parve)
- 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
- ¾ cups granulated sugar
- ½ tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp baking soda
- ¼ tsp salt
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- ¼ tsp cloves
- ¼ tsp allspice
- ¾ cup hot, brewed coffee or 1 Tbsp instant coffee mixed into ¾ cup boiling water
- ½ cup freshly-squeezed orange juice, usually from 1 orange
- ½ cup oil, such as avocado or canola
- ½ cup honey
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- 2 eggs - room temperature
- ½ tsp vanilla
- Preheat the oven to 350°F / 180°C. Grease your pan--a standard loaf pan, long loaf pan, mini loaf pan, or silicone mold.
- Begin by brewing the coffee and squeezing the orange juice. Measure them out and set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl or stand mixer bowl, place all the dry ingredients. Stir to combine.
- Add the wet ingredients to the mixing bowl, making sure you measure out the oil before the honey so that the honey slides easily out of the measuring cup.
- Mix on low speed or by hand until a loose, wet batter forms.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan(s) and bake for 45 minutes for mini loaves/molds, 55 minutes for a long loaf pan, or 60-70 minutes for a standard loaf pan (or a double recipe baked in a bundt or tube pan). The cake should be just set in the middle, with a cake tester coming out with moist crumbs clinging to it. Underbaking is not so great, but overbaking is worse here, so err on the side of under.