The first time I ever tasted honey cake, I was in high school. General Amherst Highschool, Amherstburg, Ontario.
A classmate, Ivan, had brought several slices to school for lunch, baked and wrapped up for him by his Ukranian mom. When the wrapping was removed, the heady fragrance of the honey and spices hit me, point blank. I was hooked and I hadn’t even tasted it yet!
Naturally Ivan shared those slices with us, his eager classmates. It was amazing! Uber moist, deep honey and spicy flavour, and the richest whiskey coloured piece of cake I’d ever seen. From that moment, he became a rock star in our estimation: our connection to a very special cake. And trust me, his mom was kept busy baking it for all of us. We would put in very insistent requests.
At the time it never dawned on me to ask his mom for the recipe. I was the eater, not the baker. And next thing I realized, I was an adult without that honey cake.
Going forward, I compared every spice cake recipe to this one. There was something just so special about it. Many recipes just fell short. Either they were too dry, not spicy enough, not ‘honey’ enough. You know what I mean.
And then a few years back, I went again on the mission to find that keeper recipe that would live up to my memories of that fantastic cake. And guess what, I found it. I found it on Chabad.org, a website dedicated to Jewish cooking, culture, etc. I found it and it is called Lekach. The recipe had all the expected spices, as well as some lovely extras: coffee and whiskey. Well, I was intrigued. I mean, whiskey!! There is no dairy in this recipe, all the moisture comes from oil (I use grapeseed), honey, coffee, whiskey and apple cider (or OJ).
It turned out perfectly. Moist, spicy, honey, depth from the coffee and whiskey. I have to admit, I increased the amount of whiskey, and decreased the amount of orange juice in the recipe. Cuz I like whiskey! And it gets better with age. Wrap it up tightly in plastic wrap, and put it in an airtight container, and the next day you will be floored at how wonderful it is. If I get a craving for this cake, I have no problem stopping and baking one up: it is a one bowl and whisk kind of recipe. Cut it up and freeze half, you won’t regret having this kicking around.
Note: this recipe makes a lot of batter. I can fill 2 6-cup bundt pans with one recipe. Which is great, because I can immediately have one to munch on, and one in the freezer for company etc. Also, ensure that you grease your pan(s) well. Or spray and flour. Whatever method you use, don’t skimp. The batter has 1 cup of honey, which will make the final cake caramelize as it bakes. Don’t leave it too long in the pan, as those sugars will harden to the pan, After 20 minutes make sure you are removing them from their pans.
I realize that for some, this is a seasonal cake. Traditionally it is baked in the Autumn for the days leading up to the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. But why should we confine such a wonderful cake to just a week or so of the year? Why, I ask you? Mind you, I feel the same way about gingerbread! Should I get a petition started? How do you feel about baking or cooking special dishes, even though no where near the time when traditions dictate they be served? I’d love to hear your thoughts. And honestly, if I could only have one cake for the rest of my life, it would be this one. Forget the carrot cakes, cheesecakes, chocolate cakes etc. This one is hands down, head and shoulders above them all (for me!)
Update: I make this every year and am never disappointed. It makes me downright giddy to know that I will be biting into a slice. Am I obsessed? Some might say so…that’s fine. These days I am adding more spices to the cake, to kind of combine gingerbread and honey cake into one. You certainly don’t have to. I am sharing the optional spices in the recipe below with you, just in case you are inclined to try my newer version. They will be in the Notes section of the recipe below.
Heady Spicy Honey Cake
An extremely moist, spicy honey cake with the added depth of coffee and whiskey. If you only have one cake on hand, may it be this one. The recipe makes enough for two bundts, so there will always be one ready in the freezer!
- 3½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground cloves
- ½ teaspoon ground allspice
- 1 cup vegetable oil I usually use grapeseed oil
- 1 cup honey runny (I use buckwheat)
- 1½ cups granulated sugar
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup warm coffee or strong tea
- 1/2 cup whiskey (successfully substituted this with either coffee, tea, orange juice or applesauce, according to the original recipe source)
- 1/4 cup orange juice or apple cider
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
In a large bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, salt and allspice. (or more spices as per Notes below)
Mix all the wet ingredients (vegetable oil through vanilla) together in another bowl.
Make a well in the center of the flour, and add the wet ingredients. Using a strong wire whisk or an electric beater on low speed, mix until you get a thick, smooth batter.
Pour batter into well-greased pans. (well greased is vital- the honey will make the batter sticky once it bakes up)
This recipe makes quite a lot of batter, so depending on the size pans you use, you may have some left over. You can pour the leftover batter into another pan, or into a cupcake tin and make some honey cupcakes. This makes 2 6-cup bundt pans.
Bake at 350° F until a skewer comes out clean, approximately 50–60 minutes for a bundt pan. Oven temperatures vary tremendously, and the type of pan you use also influences baking time, so do the toothpick test rather than relying on the clock.
In fact, I can take out one bundt pan at 55 minutes, but other one needs another 8 or so minutes.
In the original recipe, the amount of orange juice is 1/2 cup, and the whiskey is 1/4 cup. I inverted these amounts. Cuz I like whiskey. Feel free to switch them back if so inclined. It will still taste good.
Adapted from Chapad.org
In my newer version I add the following to the existing spices:
1 1/2 tbsp cinnamon (in addition to the 1 tbsp+1tsp cinnamon)
1 tbsp ginger
1/2 tsp cardamom
1/4 tsp nutmeg
I replace the orange juice with apple cider