Sneak Peek at the New Year: Chocolate Honey Cake

If you’re a member of my family, here’s a look at tonight’s dessert:

Tonight is the start of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year. S and I will be heading to my parents’ home for a big, celebratory dinner. On the menu:

Round Challah (one with raisins, one plain)
Apples Dipped in Honey
Gefilte Fish
Chicken Soup with Matzoh Balls
Roast Turkey
Honeyed Carrots
String Beans with Sauteed Mushrooms
Kasha Varnishkes
Mashed Potatoes
Baked Sweet Potatoes (I know, lotsa starch…)
Apple Cake
7-Layer Cake

You may have noticed an abundance of sweet things on the list, including lots of apples and honey. That’s the Jewish method of ushering in a sweet new year—no surprise, it involves food, as so many religious and cultural traditions do.

My contribution to the family feast is a new one, Chocolate Honey Cake. I found the recipe in Marcy Goldman’s A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking. I haven’t used this cookbook before, and I found the instructions a little vague—for example, at the end it says to sprinkle chopped chocolate on top of the cake when you remove it from the oven, and then stick the whole thing in the fridge. I’ve always heard that it’s bad for your fridge—and the other items in it—to put a very hot pan directly into it, which made me wonder if perhaps she meant for me to do something else. But I did it, and after a couple hours it doesn’t seem to have caused any harm (no curdled milk in my fridge!).

I can’t vouch for how this tastes, since we won’t be sampling it until tonight. It sure does have an awful lot of sweet stuff in it—sugar, brown sugar, and honey! And while it was baking it brought back an awful lot of memories, of the smells in my mom’s kitchen during the week leading up to Rosh Hashanah. She used to bake multiple honey cakes and give them to people, bestowing a symbolic wish for sweetness in the new year upon them. The addition of chocolate can only be a good thing, right?

Tune in tomorrow, for an update on the taste.

Chocolate Honey Cake
Adapted from A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking

1 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup Splenda [or skip this and make it a full cup of white sugar]
2/3 cup brown sugar [I used part dark, part light]
1 cup honey
1 t. vanilla extract
4 egg whites, plus 2 eggs [or just use 4 whole eggs]
½ cup cocoa powder, sifted
2 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
½ t. baking soda
1 T. baking powder
½ t. salt
¼ t. ground cinnamon
1 cup flat cola or brewed coffee, at room temperature
1/3 cup slivered or sliced almonds
½ cup coarsely chopped semi-sweet chocolate [I used bittersweet, since there was already so much sugary stuff happening]

Preheat the oven to 350. Grease the bottom only of a 9- or 10-inch angel food or tube pan. Cut out a circle of parchment paper and line the bottom.

In a medium bowl, blend the oil with the sugars, Splenda, honey, and vanilla. [At this point, mine looked frighteningly greasy. Not to worry, it will all blend together nicely when you do the next step.] Blend in the eggs and mix well. In a separate, larger bowl, mix together the dry ingredients. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and stir in the wet ingredients, slowly adding the cola or coffee. [I found this a little vague, too, so I just poured in the bowl of wet stuff and while blending it, I added the coffee a little at a time.] Blend well to make a smooth batter.

Pour the batter into the pan and sprinkle the top with the almonds.

Bake the cake for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 325 and bake another hour, or until the cake springs back when touched. [Yet another instance of vagueness—my cake smelled like it was starting to burn after 50 minutes so I took it out and touched it. It sprung back, but I still wasn’t sure. Finally I stuck a cake tester into it, which came out dry. I’m pretty sure it’s done!]

Sprinkle on the chopped chocolate. Shake the pan to loosen the cake from the bottom, but do not remove it. Refrigerate the cake to set the chocolate [this took several hours, since the chocolate didn’t set until the cake was pretty much completely cooled]. Once the chocolate is set, invert and remove the cake from the pan. [Here I deviate from her instructions—she says to serve it this way, upside-down, dusted with powdered sugar and/or cocoa. I thought the bottom, with its lovely sliced almonds and chunks of chocolate, was much prettier than the top, so once I got the cake out of the pan I flipped it back over so the good stuff was showing.]