Honey creations can sweeten new year


Talk about serendipity. Last week, I decided to write my High Holidays article on honey. This week, archaeologists digging in Tel Rehov, Israel, uncovered compelling evidence of why the Torah repeatedly refers to Israel as “the land of milk and honey.” Specifically, according to the Jerusalem Post, they discovered evidence of a 3,000-year-old beekeeping industry, including ancient honeycombs, beeswax, and what they believe are the oldest intact beehives found anywhere in the world.

The discovery was especially interesting to me because of its location in what had once been the middle of a thriving city, an unusual place to keep thousands of bees. An expert from Haifa University, Ezra Marcus, suggested that this location might have been linked to the religious practices of the city’s residents. This might explain why honey is eaten over the High Holidays as a symbol of a sweet year to come. So as we prepare for our holiday meals, I thought it might be interesting to take a closer look at this ancient symbol.


Honey is available in a number of different forms: creamed, comb honey, and liquid. Creamed honey is machine-spun to make it easier to spread. Honeycombs have a wax-like texture that is entirely edible. The liquid form of honey is the most commonly used for cooking. All honey will eventually crystallize with age. To bring the honey back to its liquid form, place the bottle or jar in a warm water bath or briefly in the microwave until the crystals have dissolved.

Nutritionally, honey is a source of energy. It has some vitamins and minerals and, in the darker varieties, is a source of antioxidants. Honey has 64 calories per tablespoon, slightly more than sugar. But because it tastes sweeter than sugar, you can achieve similar sweetening results with half as much. Doctors recommend that children under the age of one year not be fed honey because the bacterial spores can cause infant botulism.

Honey varies in both color and flavor depending on the source of the nectar. Darker honey, such as wildflower and buckwheat, has a much stronger flavor than lighter honey, such as orange blossom and clover. Thus milder honey should be used for sweetening and darker honey for flavoring.

As my friend and colleague Anne Cori, the Kitchen Conservatory owner/chef, explained, “Darker honey is more difficult to use because the taste is so strong and overpowering.” Anne speaks with added authority, since her husband Tom is a beekeeper. She enjoys cooking with his Cherry Blossom honey.

Anne is a fabulous cook and a honey enthusiast who has lived her life around cooking. “I spent 10 years cooking in restaurants,” she told me. “I went where the food was good — France, Italy, and New Orleans.” She ran a catering business in St. Louis for 10 years before buying the Kitchen Conservatory in Clayton and transforming it into the area’s premiere gourmet cookware store and cooking school.

I asked Anne if she could create for my readers a uniquely spiced honey cake suitable for the High Holidays. She was delighted to take on the challenge, and the result is a perfect way to welcome the Jewish New Year. Indeed, I was so inspired by Anne’s creation that I came up with my own holiday honey confection, which I adapted from Greg Patent’s Baking in America.

And one helpful honey tip: before measuring out your honey, lightly oil your measuring cup. You will be amazed how quickly and cleanly the honey comes out of the cup.

G’mar chatimah tovah!

Anne Cori’s Honey Cake

1/4 cup rum

1/2 cup raisins or chopped dried apricots

1/2 cup honey

1/4 cup strong coffee or espresso

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

Grated zest of one orange

1/2 cup butter, softened*

1/2 cup sugar

2 eggs, separated

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter or oil a 9-inch cake pan.

Warm the rum and add raisins/apricots. Add the honey and espresso and stir to dissolve; reserve.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour with the baking powder, baking soda, five-spice powder, and salt; set aside.

In a large bowl, mix together the butter and sugar. Add the egg yolks and orange zest. Fold in a half of the reserved liquid/fruit mixture, then half of the flour mixture, then the rest of the liquid/fruit mixture, and end with the rest of the flour.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until just stiff. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter. Transfer batter to prepared pan.

Bake honey cake for 30 minutes. Cool, turn out of the pan, and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

* If you plan to serve the cake with a meat meal, Anne suggests that you substitute the same amount of neutral oil, such as canola, corn, or safflower for the butter.

Margi’s Chocolate Honey Fruit and Nut Squares

2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 cup unsalted butter (or 1/2 cup unsalted margarine for parve)

1/2 cup honey

3/4 cup sugar

3 large eggs

2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

12 ounces moist pitted dried Medjool dates, each cut into 4 pieces *

4 ounces dried pitted Rainier cherries *

1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter or spray a 13×9 inch baking pan with cooking spray.

In a small bowl, sift together the cocoa powder, flour, and salt; set aside.

Melt the butter over low heat in a medium saucepan. Stir in the honey and remove from pan from the heat. Stir in the sugar and add the eggs, one at a time, stirring to combine. Add the vanilla. Gradually stir in the flour mixture until the batter is smooth. Mix in the dates, cherries, and walnuts.

Using a rubber spatula, transfer the batter to the prepared pan, smoothing the batter so that it is evenly distributed in the pan.

Bake for 22-25 minutes, or until top is dry and a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out with just a few crumbs on it. Place pan onto a cooling rack. Once cool, cut into squares or diamonds and place on a serving platter.

Store tightly covered, at room temperature, for up to 4 days or freeze for up to one month.

* Both dried Medjool dates and dried Rainier cherries are available at Trader Joe’s.