Honey Cake, Hold the Sin, er…nuts


by Jean Graubart, Director of the Leo & Anna Smilow Center for Jewish Living and Learning

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is a time of hope, reflection and great optimism.  Along with the prayers that mark the occasion  the foods we eat are a way to ensure sweetness in the year ahead. 

Honey cake is the much revered and traditional dessert at the holiday table.  It may be superstition that keeps us eating this sweet, but it’s one that’s been handed down through the generations and certainly can’t do us any harm! Take the opportunity to wish your friends and family sweetness in the new year and to carry on a delicious tradition. 

There is some debate as to whether or not to put NUTS in the honey cake.  The Hebrew word for walnut is אגוז-“egoz” and its numerical value is 17 (much like הי -“chai”/life is 18).  17 is also the numerical value for חטא-“het” the Hebrew word for sin.  During the holiday we are asking forgiveness for our sins and so some say that to eat walnuts would be putting sins into our body.  Those who are especially cautious (some might say especially superstitious) avoid all nuts during the holiday.  Sort of the “better to be safe than sorry” model for living.  But if you love nuts, why not throw in a handful of pecans.

Honey cakes come in many forms, some dense and spicy, others filled with raisins.  My favorite is one that tastes primarily of honey and is not overcome by other flavors.  

ROSH HASHANAH (and all year round) delicious Honey Cake

Zest of 1 lemon or orange (large or small pieces are fine)    1 cup water
1 cup honey
½ cup brown sugar packed (I like dark)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs (large or extra large)
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda

Preparation time is about 15 minutes
Baking time about 1 hour
Yields about 10 slices

Preheat oven to 325

  1. Combine zest and water in a small sauce pan and heat to a boil for 1 minute, remove from stove, cover and set aside
  2. Combine oil, honey and brown sugar and mix well (wooden spoon or electric mixer)
  3. Add eggs 1 at a time beating/mixing well after each one
  4. Strain zest from water and discard zest
  5. Add 1/3 cup of the warm water to the bowl and beat on low speed 1 minute or with wooden spoon for 1 minute
  6. Add flour and baking soda slowly as you mix in
  7. Put in last 1/3 of lemon or orange water and mix until smooth  (Batter will be very thin)
  8. Pour into a greased loaf pan (9”5”)  (spraying well with Pam or the like is best)
  9. Place loaf pan on a baking sheet.
  10. Bake until cake springs back when touched very lightly in the center or when a wooden pick inserted in the center, comes clean, about 1 hour
  11. Cool cake in pan 15 minutes, turn out

This cake lasts throughout the holiday so enjoy.  Keep fresh by covering  with tin foil or plastic wrap.

Remember to add honey to your homemade round challah and to dip it into honey, rather than the salt used for dipping on Shabbat. If you want to go all out, keep all bitter or sour foods off the table for your holiday meal.

And finally, be sure to say the blessing that marks the festive occasion:
“May it be Thy will to renew unto us a good and sweet year.” 

And so is our wish to you and your families from the staff at the Washington DCJCC.

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