Every old recipe tells a story, and my favorite Rosh Hashanah symbolic food is not my grandmother’s honey cake–we kids hated its strong, smoky, almost bitter taste–but my mother’s “honey cake lite,” a recipe she picked up from her friend, Corinne Pink, from Nova Scotia.
Is it the honey cake itself that is so satisfying or the memories it brings back of that summer before I turned 14 when my parents let me skip camp in favor of accompanying them as they sang their way through New England and Nova Scotia?
I was still smarting from the previous summer when my bunkmate, Ellen Radutsky, made my life a living hell (and Jewish summer sleep-away camp in New York in those days was a full eight weeks–do you know how long eight weeks seems when spent in a living hell?) While Ellen Radutsky and her ilk were waging color war, I got to visit Molly Picon, the legendary star of Yiddish theater, screen and television, at her home at the foot of the Berkshires. She and my parents were friends, often sharing the stage on the Sunday WEVD live radio show, The American-Jewish Caravan of Stars. The diminutive Miss Picon had all the counters in her home built to her specifications, and we felt like giants!
After the requisite visit to my brother at camp–maybe he was living in hell too, but no one was listening–I finally got to see firsthand how my parents actually made a living: entertaining and fundraising for Israel bonds. Through the years my mother would tell the story of how I was watching my dad from offstage and became so hysterical with laughter that she didn’t know if the folks that could see me behind the curtain were laughing at him or at me. He was so corny at home. Maybe he saved the good stuff for the paying customers.
In Nova Scotia the most memorable part of the trip for me was the arrival of Princess Margaret, who almost killed herself stepping out of her shoe as she exited the small plane. For my mother, the most impressive moment was when Corinne sent her mother out into the yard to dig up potatoes for our dinner.
As summer turns to fall with Rosh Hashanah in the air, I once again retrieve Corinne’s honey cake recipe, lighter than the old standby, really a honey sponge, and remember fondly that long-ago summer when lifetime memories were made. These days I like to serve thick slices with my Aunt Sally’s Apricot Pineapple Sauce, the start of a new tradition.
This summer I forged new memories when my granddaughter, Lauren, and I visited my brother and his family at their second home in Kauai. What an opportunity for the two of us to bond in this spectacular setting! Karina, Gary and their six-year-old son, Jared, like to observe Shabbat on the beach, and every Friday Karina bakes the challah, packs up the candles and wine, and then it’s blessings at sunset with toes in the sand, steps from incoming late surfers and perhaps a sleeping monk seal.
What are the odds that the challah recipe Karina uses is sweetened with honey, making it all the more perfect for Rosh Hashanah, when sweetness is the order of the day? With this story in mind, I asked her to shape the loaf into the traditional holiday round, symbol of the cycle of life, for the photo op. Perhaps years from now Lauren will think of that summer excursion she spent with grandma every time she bites into a piece of challah.
Rosh Hashanah Challah
1 1/4 cups warm water (110°F)
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 eggs + 1/2 egg for brushing
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- In large bowl, sprinkle yeast over water. Beat in honey, oil, 1 1/2 eggs and salt. Add flour 1 cup at a time, beating after each addition, kneading with hands as dough thickens, until smooth, elastic and no longer sticky, adding flour as needed. Cover with damp, clean cloth and let rise 1 1/2 hours or until dough doubles.
- Punch down risen dough; turn out onto floured board. Knead 5 minutes, adding flour as needed if sticky. Divide into thirds; roll into long snakes about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Pinch ends of the 3 snakes together firmly and braid from middle. Bring ends together curving braid into a circle. Pinch ends together. Place on greased baking sheet. Cover with towel; let rise about 1 hour.
- Preheat oven to 375°F.
- Beat remaining 1/2 egg; brush loaf generously. Bake about 40 minutes until you hear hollow sound when thumped on bottom. Cool on rack at least 1 hour.
Adapted from allrecipes.com.
Nova Scotia Honey Orange Sponge Cake
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
3/4 cup + 1/4 cup sugar
6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
1 cup corn oil
1 cup honey
2 tablespoons orange juice
2 tablespoons orange liqueur or brandy
Grated zest of 1 orange
1 teaspoon pure orange extract
Aunt Sally’s Apricot Pineapple Sauce (recipe at ocjewishlife.com)
- Preheat oven to 325°F. Line 10-inch tube pan with removable bottom with circle of parchment paper cut slightly larger than bottom. Press extra paper against sides of pan.
- Sift both flours and baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, ginger, and salt together.
- Beat egg yolks very well with electric mixer on medium-high speed. Gradually add 3/4 cup sugar until mixture is thick and lemon-colored, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to medium; blend in oil and honey, then orange juice, liqueur, zest, and extract. Reduce speed to low; gradually blend in flour mixture.
- Using clean, dry bowl and beaters, beat egg whites on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Add remaining 1/4 cup sugar very gradually. Raise speed to high; beat until stiff peaks form. Stir 1/4 of egg whites into batter to lighten it. Fold in remaining egg whites in three additions until incorporated.
- Scrape batter into prepared tube pan; bake on center oven rack 30 minutes. Reduce temperature to 300°F; bake until top of cake springs back when touched, about 45 minutes more.
- Let cake rest in pan 30-45 seconds. Then invert pan on its little feet (if your tube pan has them) or over a soda bottle (making sure it sits level) and let the cake cool completely.
- Run knife around center tube and sides of pan; lift tube from outer pan. Gently slide knife between bottom of cake and pan; lift cake off pan. Slice, top with sauce and serve.
Source: “Cooking Jewish” (Workman) by Judy Bart Kancigor
Aunt Sally’s Apricot Pineapple Sauce
Makes about 2 pints
1 pound dried apricots, snipped to the size of raisins
1 can (20 ounces) crushed pineapple, undrained
3 1/2 cups sugar
Grated zest of 1 orange
1 cup orange juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
- Place the apricots in a medium-size saucepan, add water to barely cover, and bring to a boil. Boil until almost all the water has evaporated, 8 to 10 minutes.
- Stir in the pineapple, sugar, orange zest, orange juice, and salt, and bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat to a steady, but not hard, boil and cook, stirring often, until the apricot-pineapple mixture is fairly loose (looser than you would like to serve it, as it will congeal as it cools), about 30 minutes. As the liquid evaporates, you will need to stir more often to make sure the mixture does not scorch.
- Serve warm over the cake.
Jlife food Editor Judy Bart Kancigor is the author of “Cooking Jewish” (Workman) and “The Perfect Passover Cookbook” (an e-book short from Workman), a columnist and feature writer for the Orange County Register and other publications and can be found on the web at www.cookingjewish.com.