The driver of the Rosh Hashanah Struggle Bus this week? That would be me. First stop, Honey Cake. A heady spice cake spiked with coffee and sticky sweet, Honey Cake was given a bum rap for years, often with childhood memories to blame. Mention of the dessert conjures a dry, non-descript loaf cake that grandmothers served in neat slices on floral china plates. My early recollections of honey cake are plucked from Friday night Oneg Shabbat receptions. Maybe the dessert competition was too stiff. Traditionally dressed in accordion pleated bakery paper and sliced thin, spice cake sweetened with Golden Blossom Honey was a matronly dessert. On the very next platter, eclairs iced in shiny chocolate and two-bite cream puffs dusted with powdered sugar tempted. Scalloped butter cookies beneath confetti sprinkles practically shouted PARTY! Honey cake? No thanks.
After (dare-I-admit) decades of baking professionally, I have learned to embrace the harbinger of the Jewish New Year dessert table. Recipes for honey cake have not deviated too far from the original versions scribbled in our grandmother’s cursive or clipped from the food section of local newspapers. In several recent revisions, there have been a few stumbles and falls, mostly from using too much leavening. Despite sunken middles and raw batter surprises, Honey Cake has earned a rightful place on the Rosh Hashanah dessert podium.
The second stop on the bus is Apple Cake. A grandmotherly hug of a cake, Jewish Apple is an oil based dessert generously spiced with cinnamon. Does it require too much fiddling? Probably not if you are preparing just one. But let’s pretend you are baking twenty or more of said cake. By the time you grease and flour the tube pans, peel, core and slice the apples, squeeze the orange juice, crack the eggs and only then, begin to assemble your dry ingredients, the thrill is long gone.
Toss into the mix an unforeseen fire alarm that chooses to unleash its deafening wrath ten minutes before an oven timer is set to buzz. An oven timer signaling the completion of an oven filled with apple cakes. This is when the driver, much like a captain on a ship, has to decide. Abandon the bus? Or go down with the apple cakes?
I opted for a little bit of each. Unwilling to relinquish the cakes, I turned off the oven and left them to finish baking with residual heat. Exiting the non-burning building, I waited on the sidewalk as the fire alarm wailed relentlessly. A workman from a neighboring building alerted us that this was indeed a false alarm. I took his word for it. Moments later, silence. Retrieving the apple cakes from the oven, I was relieved to see they did indeed ‘clean test’ with a knife. In my own little way, perhaps I had saved a small slice of Rosh Hashana 5776.
You can understand why I will take a pass on both the Honey and the Apple Cakes this year. Instead, I’m leaning towards a pie of the apple and plum variety. And since I’m not driving, a serious splash of applejack and apple cider glaze. May your New Year be as sweet as pie.
Professional Pie-isms & Seasonal Sarcasm