My office is close enough to the Watertown Free Public Library that I can spend my lunch break there and know I can make it back to my desk with time to spare. It’s a great library – full of sunlight and helpful librarians. The children’s department looks massive and I keep on meaning to take Lilli there on the off chance we get to spend the day together. Best of all, it’s part of the Minuteman Library system, a consortium of more than 30 local towns’ libraries. So if for some reason the Boston Public Library – a place that a librarian friend calls a library “on steroids” – doesn’t have what I’m looking for, I have 30 more chances that the book, or movie, or album, can be found.
This past summer I went in search of travel books to Montreal. I remembered that Watertown’s collection was more up-to-date than the BPL’s when I planned our trip to Europe a few years ago. And as tends to happen, I found myself in the cookbook section where I was excited to find The Mile End cookbook, the cookbook of the deli in Brooklyn founded by Montrealers who missed their hometown’s smoked meat.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, the cookbook also featured a walking map of their favorite food joints in the Mile End. And this was on top of a book devoted to smoked and pickled things, two of my favorite ways of preparing foods. I bookmarked and Xeroxed recipes that piqued my interest. There’s an olive oil cake recipe I plan on baking for Chanukah, but first up is this honey cake.
This honey cake is divine. It’s moist. It’s warm and spiced up because it is by their parents’ old neighbor, baker extraordinaire Marcy Goldman, who based it on a gingerbread recipe. It calls for a cup of honey, which sounds like a lot, but the bear on my counter still has honey in his belly. I only had dark brown sugar in the house, which gives it an extra nice molasses feel.
The first step is something I’ve never done before, which is combine orange juice and honey in a saucepan then add baking soda to it. It fizzles and bubbles like a fourth grader’s volcano, and it gets set aside. I actually baked this cake in a number of steps, in between dinner, bath time and post-bedtime, so I can confidently say it’s OK if you set aside the saucepan for an hour to tend to something. This recipe is machine-free, just calling for some whisking and stirring. Place your eggs in a bowl of warm water if you forget to take them out ahead of time.
Two caveats with this recipe: I’ve baked it twice and can report that the bake times the recipe calls for need to be just about doubled, at least with my oven. Also, I’ve oiled and floured the Bundt pan very well, but this cake does not flop out when flipped. Just cut out the pieces to serve. It still tastes delicious.
Best wishes for a sweet and happy new year. L’Shana Tova Umetukah!
Honey Cake from the Mile End Cookbook: Redefining Jewish Comfort Food from Hash to Hamentaschen by Noah Bernamoff and Rae Bernamoff
1 cup orange juice
1 cup honey, plus more for drizzling
½ teaspoon baking soda
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup (packed) brown sugar
1 cup sugar
¾ cup canola oil
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoons ground cloves
1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Toasted almonds (optional)
Powdered sugar (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350F. Combine the orange juice and honey in a large saucepan. Place it over medium-low heat, bring it to a simmer, and simmer until the liquids have come together and you can no longer feel any honey sticking to the bottom of the pan, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and add the baking soda; stir to combine, then set the pan aside.
In a large bowl, combine the eggs and sugars and whisk vigorously until smooth. Then add the oil and whisk until the mixture is completely emulsified and smooth. Pour the reserved orange juice mixture into the egg mixture and whisk for a few seconds to combine.
In another large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt; mix together with a spatula. Pour the liquid mixture into the dry ingredients and whisk, scraping down the sides with a spatula, until any lumps are eliminated, 10 to 15 seconds.
Grease a Bundt pan with oil or cooking spray and dust the pan liberally with flour, tapping out any excess. Pour the batter into the pan and bake on the middle rack of the oven until the surface starts turning a golden brown about 15 minutes. (Or longer, depending on how badly your oven needs to be recalibrated.) Rotate the pan 180 degrees and tent it lightly with aluminum foil. Continue baking until a thermometer inserted reads 200F and a knife comes clean. Another 20 to 25 minutes. (Or more, depending on how badly your oven needs to be recalibrated.) Cool the cake completely on a wire rack. Invert it onto a serving plate and drizzle it with honey. Top with toasted almonds and powdered sugar, if you like.
Is it sad that it never even occurred to me that a library would have cookbooks?