Nobody I know likes honey cake all that much. Including myself. Unless you count my mother. But I don't because she's a food sentimentalist. Still, every Jewish New Year, in addition to securing temple seats, planning family gatherings and holiday fare, many of us begin plotting honey cake in a subconscious desire to make that particular dessert tastier by virtue of forethought. That strategy hasn't worked so far and I don't care what you've heard about honey cake improving with age like fine wine and chocolate cake (and brisket for that matter as long as you if you freeze it ASAP and then let it thaw slowly in its own juices.) To me, even at best -- moist and pungently sweet -- honey cake tastes like something that should be eaten the next morning with a frothy cappuccino.
I have another problem with honey cake: My son Eden. He is allergic to nuts, dairy, soy and only tolerates eggs in small quantities cooked at high heat. So I want to find a egg, milk, soy and nut-free, good tasting honey cake for my Rosh Hashanah dinners. Oh. And I'm willing to bake or buy. Any takers? Look, omitting milk from honey cake isn't a big deal since original recipes assumed kosher households. And nuts are excluded from many traditional recipes floating around cyber space. Eggs are far more problematic. Most classic recipes for honey cake call for three to four eggs. I went online and found a lovely sounding bakery that indeed offers a nut, egg and dairy free cake but their secret lies in "whipped soy cream." Bummer.
As I continued to clickity-clack at my keyboard, I found a Honey Chocolate Cake recipe by Nigella Lawson. (Alternative #1) It predicted Nigella-like deliciousness. Besides the added bonus of chocolate, that cake fit all my requirements with the exception of calling for two eggs (hard) and butter (easy to substitute.) While it was by no means complicated, the recipe was slightly more involved than I like to involve myself. I emailed Nigella's recipe to my foodie pal Alison to see what she thought of dropping an egg. Can I get away with it? I pleaded via email. Oh and do I really need a springform pan?
See here's the other problem: I'm lazy with food. Much of the time, I'd prefer that someone else cook or bake it to my liking. Lazy me -- facing two Rosh Hashanah meals where I must ensure that Eden has safe substitutes for traditional Jewish foods. Now here is the problem with foodie types: They think that challenges are the point. My friend cyber-scolded me back: Just play with it! And even after her upbraiding I have doubts about that second egg.
At our extended family Rosh Hashanah dinners we dip challah and apples into honey at the start of our meal and pray for a sweet year to come. So I won't detail how and why three out of four of my immediate family members have an oral allergy to apples and unless I feel like watching their lips puff up as if injected with edible Botox, apple and honey based desserts (like apple honey cake) are out. But there will be many children at my dinners and when you are twelve and under, it's nice to have dessert after sitting through a long adult dinner. To most kids, challah is good but it's not dessert.
Of course there are many other honey-centric desserts. Though most involve my son's allergens (to review: milk, nuts, peanuts, soy, eggs sort of, and seeds.) In fact we have a family recipe for Hanukah fritters, called Bimuelos, which is yeasted dough drizzled in warm honey syrup. (Alternative #2) And I'm toying with a hybrid of nut-free Baklava. (Alternative #3) Plus I'll probably fiddle with Nigella Lawson's cake well in advance, knowing that if it flops (literally) I can always revert to my usual go-to dairy, egg and nut free chocolate cake and maybe create an accompanying honey sauce. As with most special occasions (with the exception of fasting religious holidays) I've heard many espouse the notion "It's not about the food!" Yet reality often brings me to a less hallowed place when planning a meal around food allergies. So don't get me started on that holiday...