Honey is the traditional token of sweetness for the Jewish New Year -- Rosh Hashana -- this year on Sept. 20. So it seems natural that September is also designated National Honey Month.
Since ancient times, honey has been associated with happiness and prosperity, and among Jews it was a symbol of the Torah and peace. In the Book of Exodus, when God called on Moses to deliver the Israelites from the Egyptians, he promised to lead them to "a land flowing with milk and honey."
Other foods for this holiday -- raisins, currants, prunes, dates, candied citron, apples, carrots, sweet potatoes -- also represent hope for a sweet future. But honey is the supreme symbol.
At the beginning of the holiday meal, people dip sliced apples in honey with the hope that if the first taste of the new year is sweet, the rest of the year will be sweet, too. Dessert also brings a taste of honey in the form of lekach, Yiddish for honey cake. The tradition of serving this cake is believed to be based on the biblical account of King David handing out sweet bread to "the whole multitude of Israel."
Often raisins are added to honey cake for additional sweetness; spices such as ginger, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves for punchy flavor; brewed coffee for body; beaten egg white for a light texture, and walnuts or almonds for crunch. Because the cake keeps well, even improves upon standing, it can be prepared ahead.
Honey tastes sweeter than table sugar because it is 25 percent sweeter. Its flavor and color depend on which flowers the bees buzzed around. For cooking, choose a mild-flavored honey, such as clover, acacia, alfalfa or orange blossom. Save the dark, full-bodied honey, such as that made from the nectar of buckwheat blossoms, for use as a spread.
This Rosh Hashana splash your holiday table with gold: Think honey desserts for a sweet and happy new year.
RUSSIAN SPICED HONEY CAKE
3 tablespoons butter or margarine, softened
2 eggs, separated
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup walnuts
1/4 cup currants
In a large bowl, cream butter. Gradually beat in honey unti smooth and creamy. Add yolks, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Reserve 2 tablespoons flour. Combine remaining flour with cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cloves and nutmeg. Add to honey mixture, about 1/3 cup at a time, mixing after each addition. Combine raisins, walnuts and currants with reserved flour and toss. Fold into batter. Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Stir 1/4 of the whites into the batter; fold in remaining whites. Grease and line 8 1/2 -by-4 1/2 -by-3-inch loaf pan with parchment paper; grease surface of paper. Pour batter into pan. Bake in a preheated 300-degree oven 1 1/2 hours or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let stand on a rack 5 minutes. Remove cake from pan, remove paper and cool on rack. Wrap in aluminum foil and store at room temperature. Flavor improves after 1-2 days' aging. Serves eight. (Adapted from a recipe developed by the Honey Board.)