On an uninteresting road between Kilburn and West Hampstead, there is an intriguing looking place called “Done Our Bit Club”. I haven’t been inside but I imagine that it’s full of old men drinking ale, telling each other stories of the old days, perhaps in the army, and contentedly agreeing that they have all done their bit and can now relax and enjoy the rest of their lives. Whenever I pass it I wonder what you have to prove to become a member, and, more importantly, whether they would consider that I have done enough of my bit to join. If the club really is what I imagine it to be, then I’m guessing that I have not done my bit, but this post is in the interests of progressing matters on that front.
If you’re Jewish, it’s obligatory to eat certain things. These include:
- Smoked salmon
- Gefilte fish
- Chopped liver
- Chicken soup
- Gedempt meat
- Cheese cake (but only on Shavuot)
Even if you don’t like some of those foods, as I don’t, it’s obligatory to have a recipe up your sleeve for most of them (you can exclude the ones that you are morally opposed to, like gefilte fish and cholent) and to have views on all of them, because for Jews, food isn’t just food, it’s culture.
But then, because everyone is making the same things but using different recipes, often passed down through the generations, there is a certain element of competitiveness. So even if you don’t like the food yourself, yours is the best one. When I was younger, when people were talking about chicken soup (this is what young Jewish people talk about), I would feel compelled to say “my mum’s and grandma’s chicken soup is the best, you should try it if you think you’ve had good chicken soup because theirs is BETTER” when I myself wouldn’t eat it (I love it now that I have grown up and realised that it’s delicious. And it is the best chicken soup ever).
Also, there are a lot of really horrible versions of some of these dishes out there. So if an independent survey of people (or just guests who are invited for dinner) decides that my (or my mum’s or grandma’s) recipe for something is the best then I feel that I have to tell people about it, even if I myself wouldn’t eat it.
On Rosh Hashanah, it’s obligatory to eat honey cake. Jewish festivals are full of symbolism like this – honey is eaten in order to symbolise a sweet new year. Fruit like apples and figs are dipped in honey and eaten on each night of the festival, but honey cake is the traditional way that most Jews ensure that they can extract as many calories as possible out of the tradition of eating honey.
The recipe I’m sharing here makes a really great honey cake. It’s kind of a family secret and I thought twice about sharing it on here, but I think perhaps my “bit” is improving the general standard of honey cake on the world. It’s everything that a honey cake should be – dark, sticky, moist, and a little bit spicy so that it isn’t cloyingly sweet. It’s easy to make and can and should be made several days or weeks in advance, as it improves with age, like a fruit cake. Jews eat it throughout the holiday season, and it’s the way everyone in my family breaks thei Yom Kippur fast.
Except me. Whilst acknowledging that this is the best honey cake that you’ll ever eat, I’ll be breaking my fast with lemon cake. I’ll post that another time, but this is me, doing my bit:
- 6oz butter/margarine
- 6oz dark muscovado sugar
- 1lb clear honey (this is one whole jar)
- 1 heaped teasp mixed spice
- 1 heaped teasp cinammon
- 1 teasp ginger
- 2 heaped teasp coffee dissolved in 8 floz hot water
- 1.5 level teasp bicarbonate of soda
- 2 large eggs
- 12 oz plain flour
The recipe makes one large square cake (tin of about 25×25 cm) or 2 loaf tins. The mixture is liquidy so don’t use loose-bottomed tins (or if you do, you need to cover the outside with foil. It is easiest to get the cake out if you line the tin with baking paper.
- Make the coffee in a jug/bowl, and add the bicarbonate of soda.
- Put the butter, sugar, honey and all spices in a large saucepan. Tip for getting all the honey out: loosen the lid (but keep on) and put the jar in a bowl of boiling water for a minute or two. The honey will then pour out easily.
- Heat the mixture until everything is melted and dissolved together.
- Add the coffee/bicarb mix to the saucepan.
- When the mixture in the saucepan is cool, beat the eggs and add them into it.
- Add the flour and beat with an electric mixer or a hand whisk.
- Pour into the tin and bake at whatever your oven baking temperature is (mine in an electric fan oven is 160) for about 40 mins or until a fork comes out clean.
There’s no baby-friendly version because this just isn’t suitable for babies. Under 1 year babies can’t have any honey, even cooked, and I’ve even seen guidance in some countries to wait even longer. So this is just not for them – let them eat bread.
*Approximate nutritional values (1 slice)*
- Calories: 181kcal
- Carbs: 29g
- Fat: 6.9g
- Protein: 1.8g
- Sugar: 21g
- Sodium: 5.3mg