This is an adaptation of a recipe by pastry chef Gale Gand in her book BUTTER SUGAR FLOUR EGGS. Like me, she did not like the traditional dark, heavy honey cake served for Jewish celebrations so she created this lighter version with a topping reminiscent of taiglach, another old-fashioned dessert. An excellent dessert for the High Holiday season (the beginning of the Jewish year 5774), this is best prepared at least a day ahead to allow the flavors to mellow. I recommend using a good supermarket honey with somewhat strong flavor; a delicate one will not add the traditional honey taste when baked into the cake. Be sure to verify that your pan holds at least 6 cups; the batter will overflow in a smaller pan.
Softened unsalted butter for greasing pan
3 TBSP + 4 TBSP unsalted butter, melted
¼ C + ¾ C light brown sugar, packed
2 TBSP +½ C honey (clover honey is a good choice)
½ C sliced almonds, toasted (Trader Joe’s sells them already toasted!)
1 C buttermilk
2 C all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
Preheat the oven to 350°. Coat a 6-cup loaf pan very generously with softened butter.
Pour 3 TBSP of the melted butter into the bottom of the pan; tilt pan to coat the bottom evenly. Evenly sprinkle in the ¼ C of brown sugar. Drizzle in the 2 TBSP of honey and sprinkle the almonds evenly over the bottom.
In another large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk to combine them well, then add them to the liquid mixture in three batches, mixing gently until smooth.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until a tester inserted into the middle of the cake comes out dry and almost clean (a few crumbs are okay) 50 to 60 minutes. Keep a close eye on the cake to avoid over-baking it.
Let cool in the pan for only 5 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and let cool until the topping is firm. If some topping sticks to the pan, gently scrape it out and “paste” it back on the bare spots of the cake. If the topping left in the pan hardens too much, place it in the turned-off oven for a couple of minutes; it will soften and become much more manageable.
Cool the cake completely before storing in a box or wrapping loosely in foil. When ready to serve, use a serrated knife and cut with a sawing motion to avoid shattering the pretty crust. Offer with apple compote for a real Rosh Hashanah (New Year) treat.
APPLE COMPOTE FOR HONEY-ALMOND CRUNCH CAKE
I decided that the cake needed something to moisten it a little and also to cut the sweetness of the almond crunch. On a whim I invented this cooked chunky “sauce”, choosing two Golden Delicious, one Fuji and one Granny Smith apple from the supermarket display. They did not all cook up to the same degree of tenderness, but that turned out to be OK!
4 medium apples (about 1 ½ lb, one variety or mixed),
peeled, quartered, cored and cut into ½” chunks
2 TBSP lemon juice
¼ C light brown sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ground coriander (optional)
1 ½ tsp or more honey
Toss the apples with the lemon juice and place in 10” skillet or wide saucepan with a heavy bottom. Mix the brown sugar with the cinnamon and coriander and add to the apples, mixing gently.
Toss and stir over medium high heat until you hear juices sizzling. Reduce heat to low and cover. Stir occasionally until apple pieces are cooked through but still hold their shape, about 5 or 6 minutes (Ideally the ultimate texture of the compote should be a nice complement to the very crunchy almond topping and the soft cake.) Uncover the pan and raise the heat to high. Toss and stir constantly while juices thicken and almost disappear. Remove from heat and stir in honey to taste. Adjust the seasoning with more spice and/or lemon juice to taste.
Allow compote to cool, then store in covered container in the fridge. More juices will accumulate as compote cools and chills. Bring to room temperature and stir in the juices for serving with the cake.