Everybody likes the idea of honey cake for Rosh Hashanah. I have a recipe from my great grandmother that fills me with nostalgic fondness, and several friends have sent me similar recipes from their own, mostly Russian-Jewish families. I have tried at least six honey cake recipes over the years, and everyone agrees that it’s a lovely idea for a way to start the New Year.
In prospect, that is. Eating it, however, is another story. Though cake seldom lasts long in my house, I have never baked a Rosh Hashanah honey cake that didn’t linger in sad, staling leftovers as the week wound down toward Yom Kippur. Sensitive to the superstition that, as we begin the year, so we will go on, I just don’t want to bake desserts any more that nobody really wants to eat. So for many years alternative seasonal sweets dominated my table: fruit tarts, gingerbread, apple pies. Invariably, however, some guest would ask, “What? No honey cake for the New Year?” And I’d feel bad.
Two years ago, I finally solved this problem with these easy, excellent honey cookies. They are part of a family of drop-cookie recipes that includes gingersnaps and cocoa cookies, but in this version the strong honey flavor, especially if you use a strong-tasting honey to start with, gives an unmistakable fragrance of the holiday. They are made with oil, so that they are automatically pareve. With a standing mixer they come together in mere minutes, and even without one they are pretty quick. The cookies are modest looking enough that it feels easy to reach for two of them; the batch is small enough for a modest crowd but doubles very easily; and, thanks to the oil and honey, they keep well enough that they will still be delicious when the last one vanishes from the platter or the pantry.
Makes about 50 (recipe doubles easily too)
2 cups flour
2 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
⅔ cup oil
1 cup sugar
¼ cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Turbinado sugar (or brown sugar set out to dry a bit in the air), for rolling
1) Preheat the oven to 350° F.
2) In a small bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda and salt, and set aside.
3) In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, beat the oil, honey and sugar until smooth.
4) Add in the egg and vanilla and mix until combined.
5) Mix in the flour, baking soda and salt.
6) If your dough is soft, refrigerate for 15-30 minutes until firm.
7) Shape the dough into 1-inch balls, about a half-tablespoon of dough in each. (If you have a tablespoon-size cookie scoop, divide each scoop into two balls for bite-sized cookies.)
8) Roll each in the turbinado sugar, making sure to coat the whole cookie.
9) Set sugared balls on a parchment lined baking sheet, about 2 inches apart. Bake 7 minutes, until the edges are light brown in color and the top surface of some cookies forms cracks.
10) Use a pancake-turner or a fish-slice to transfer cookies quickly to a rack to cool.
11) Stored air-tight, they will keep well for a week.
Happy New Year!
Elisheva Urbas is Hazon’s Editorial Director. She’s been an editor, writer and writing teacher for many years, both as a freelance working directly with authors, and with publishing houses including Jewish Lights, Farrar, Straus, Giroux and Harper & Row; and also works with non-profit organizations to plan their publications. Elisheva is a long-time trustee and past president of the Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan, of which her three daughters are alumnae.