Let's talk honey

Adding a little extra sweetness to our tables this High Holiday season

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Bee sweet

This year, perhaps more than ever before, we all could use extra sweetness at our Rosh Hashanah table--so let's talk honey. Honey, an important foodstuff in the Jewish world, serves as a metaphor throughout the Torah and is mentioned 55 times in passages such as in Song of Songs 4:11, which says, "The sweetness of Torah drips from your lips, like honey and milk it lies under your tongue." 

Buy local

Jewish holidays have been historically marked with honey. Honey adds a delicious flavor, while sugar only adds sweetness. I urge you to shop for the best quality and local honey that you can find.  Whether you want to reduce your carbon footprint or support local agriculture, buying honey that is made by local bees is not a bad idea. Another reason to buy local honey is that international honey launderers have been known to ship contaminated honey from other countries to the U.S., indirectly via intermediate countries. The honey you purchase in your grocery chain might be labeled as a product of Australia, Thailand, or India, but there's a good chance it might not be coming from where you think it is.

Choose honey and olive oil

Honey instead of sugar

Honey has a 150% more sweetening power than sugar when added to foods. To obtain the sweetening power of honey, you need 1 1⁄2 times the amount of processed sugar. Honey is basically unprocessed. It also has a high moisture content which keeps breads and baked good moist.

Extra virgin olive oil instead of canola oil

Canola oil is highly processed and has a neutral flavor only after being deodorized. Olive oil is essentially squeezed from olives right off the tree and then bottled.


Chef Laura's Fruited Challah with Honey

Bread made with honey has a fantastic sweetness and flavor that can't be beaten by any other natural sugar. 

1 cup bread flour
2 1⁄2 teaspoons yeast
1 cup warm water (not hot)

Mix the ingredients together and cover for at least 30-40 minutes and as long as 2 hours to create a sponge.

2 whole eggs
3 egg yolks at room temperature
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt 1/3 cup of honey
1⁄2 cup extra virgin olive oil
4-5 cups bread flour

1 cup finely chopped dried fruit (don't just limit yourself to raisins--try figs, apricots, dates, cherries.)

Egg wash
1 whole egg, whisked
2 teaspoons water
Toppings: poppy seeds, sesame seeds, oats, pumpkin seeds.

1.      Whisk egg and water together

2.      Add the eggs, yolks. salt, sugar, or honey and oil to the sponge.

3.      Slowly mix in the flour. You may not need all the flour depending upon the humidity and water content of the flour.

4.      When the dough starts to pull together and off the floor of the mixer, stop adding flour. The dough should be tacky but not stick to your fingers (flour needs to rehydrate and that doesn't happen all at once, so keep dough a bit "damp".)

Add dried fruit and briefly mix until incorporated. Cover dough with a towel or, lightly rub dough with olive oil and cover tightly and place in refrigerator for up to 2 days.

5.      Allow the dough to rise at least 1 hour at room temperature, until doubled in volume or cover with plastic and refrigerate overnight. If you refrigerate dough, allow it to come to room temp and rise before braiding.

6.      Braid or pan the dough, cover with a clean towel, and allow it to rise 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350F.
      7. Egg wash and allow the wash to dry for 10 minutes and then brush the challah again. If you are using any toppings, sprinkle toppings on challah and bake for 15 minutes. Rotate the pan and continue baking for another 12-15 minutes or until medium brown.


Honey Cake with Dried Fruit

This double whammy of honey cake with dried fruit is a showstopper. Use a beautiful bundt pan to show off this delicious and gorgeous cake. 

3 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour
4 eggs
½ cup sugar

½ cup brown sugar
zest of 1 orange
3⁄4 cup best quality extra-virgin olive oil
1⁄3 cup applesauce

1/3 cup honey
3 teaspoons vanilla extract or 2 vanilla beans scraped
1 tablespoon baking powder

2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup chopped dried figs, dates, apricots, or raisins

Apple Cider Glaze
1 1/4 cup confectioner's sugar
3 tablespoons apple cider
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325F.

Grease an 11-cup bundt pan with olive oil or baking spray and dust with 2 tablespoons flour. Set prepared pan aside.

1. Beat eggs and sugar together in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until pale yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

2.      Add remaining 3 cups flour, orange zest, olive oil, applesauce, and vanilla. Stir with a wooden spoon until well combined. Add baking powder and salt and stir until thoroughly combined.

3.      Spoon 1/2 of the batter into bundt pan, and sprinkle dried fruit on top. Add the remaining batter. Bake until cake is deep golden brown and a wooden skewer inserted in center comes out clean, about 40-50 minutes. Transfer cake to a wire rack to let cool for about 20 minutes until you can comfortably handle the pan. Invert cake onto a wire rack.

4.      Whisk glaze ingredients together until thick and creamy. Drizzle on cake or sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Laura Frankel is a noted kosher chef, a cookbook author, and Culinary Director for a media company. Currently, she serves as Director of Catering at Circle of Life catering at North Suburban Synagogue Beth El.  


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