Honey cake and the related ginger cake have been favorite Jewish cakes since the early Middle Ages in Germany. Although the earliest recorded German recipe for Lebkuchen (honey-sweetened gingerbread) is from the sixteenth century, there are much earlier mentions in Jewish records—some as early as the twelfth century, when it was the custom for young boys attending heder (Jewish school) to bring a piece of honey cake on the first day. In Eastern Europe they became Jewish festive cakes and were eaten at all joyful celebrations, such as betrothals and weddings. Honey cake is the traditional cake of Rosh Hashanah, symbolizing the hope that the New Year will be sweet, and also of Purim. This one is moist and delicious with a great richness of flavor. It should be made at least 3 days before you want to eat it, and it keeps a long time.
Yield: One 9-inch cake
1 cup (200 g) sugar
½ cup (125 ml) light vegetable oil
Scant 1 cup (250 g) dark liquid honey
2 tablespoons rum or brandy
½ cup (125 ml) warm strong black coffee
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
A pinch of salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon powdered cloves
Grated zest of 1 orange
2 cups (300 g) flour, plus extra to dust the dried fruit and nuts
½ cup (50 g) coarsely chopped walnuts or slivered almonds
1/3 cup (40 g) golden raisins
Beat the eggs with the sugar till pale and creamy. Then beat in the oil, honey, brandy, and coffee.
Mix the baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves, and orange zest with the flour. Add gradually to the egg-and-honey mixture, beating vigorously to a smooth batter.
Dust the golden raisins and the walnuts or almonds with flour to prevent them from dropping to the bottom of the cake, and stir them into the batter.
Line a 9-inch (24-cm) pan with greaseproof paper or with foil, brushed with oil and dusted with flour, and pour in the batter. Or divide between 2 9-by-5-inch (24-by-13-cm) loaf pans. Bake the large cake in a preheated 350°F (180°C) oven for 1¼ hours, or longer, until firm and brown on top, and the smaller ones for 1 hour.