By Rachel Myerson
This article originally appeared on The Nosher.
We’ve probably all tried various versions of lekach, or honey cake, over the years.
While this iconic Rosh Hashanah treat has for generations dictated dessert for many families, it’s often a disappointment: dry, crumbly and/or underwhelming. I have met a couple of lekachs I’ve liked, but never one I’ve loved.
This Rosh Hashanah, why not side-shuffle from tradition and explore other — more delicious — honey-based desserts? From Nigella Lawson’s salted honey pie to honey and cardamom baklava, these treats will set your new year off on the sweetest of notes.
This four-ingredient confection balances the nutty savoriness of tahini with the sweetness of honey. Homemade halvah is the perfect way to show off that fancy jar of honey you received as a hostess gift three years ago and, with the help of a candy thermometer, is not as intimidating as it sounds. If you think you don’t like halvah because you’ve only tried the dry, crumbly stuff in individual packaging, think again. It’s an entirely different (and infinitely more delicious) treat when you taste it fresh.
- 1 cup honey
- ¾ cup smooth tahini
- ½ cup slivered almonds, toasted
- 2 teaspoons rose water (optional — you can replace with a teaspoon vanilla extract or ¼ teaspoon almond extract)
1. Add the honey to a small pot with a candy thermometer attached and place over medium heat. Heat until the honey reaches 240 degrees.
2. While the honey is coming up to temperature, give the tahini a good stir, making sure it’s even and no oil is separating, then set it aside in a second small pot.
3. Once the honey reaches temperature, set it aside and clean the candy thermometer.
4. Place the candy thermometer into the pot with the tahini and place over medium heat. Heat the tahini until it reaches 120 degrees.
5. Pour the warmed tahini into the honey and mix well with a wooden spoon until the mixture becomes really smooth and shiny. It may take a few minutes, but eventually the mixture will come together.
6. Stir in the rose water and almonds, if using, and continue stirring until it becomes fairly stiff, around 5-7 minutes.
7. Pour the mixture into a loaf pan lined with parchment paper. Set it aside to cool to room temperature, then transfer into the fridge for 24-36 hours. This will allow the halvah to form sugar crystals and reach the desired crumbly texture.
8. Slice with a sharp knife and store any leftovers in the fridge.
2. Nigella Lawson’s Salted Honey Pie
Adapted from the “Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book,” this olive oil-based pastry houses a buttery, honey-heavy filling that’s sprinkled with flaky salt as soon as the pie comes out — bronze and burnished — from the oven. The salt helps offset the pie’s sweetness, though this is definitely a “just a sliver” situation, unless you have a seriously sweet tooth.
Yields: 14 slices
For the pastry:
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- ½ cup mild and light olive oil
- ¼ cup whole milk
For the pie filling:
- 7 tablespoons soft unsalted butter
- ¾ cup superfine sugar
- 1 x 15ml tablespoon fine polenta (not instant) or cornmeal
- 2 teaspoons sea salt flakes
- 1 teaspoon vanilla paste or extract
- ¾ cup good honey
- 3 extra-large eggs
- 2/3 cup heavy cream
- 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
- To sprinkle on top:
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt flakes
You will need 1 10-inch deep-sided (approximately 2 inches deep) loose-bottomed flan tin.
1. First, mix the flour, salt, oil and milk to form a rough, slightly damp, dough. You can do this by hand or at low speed in a freestanding mixer.
2. Tip out into your flan tin, and press patiently over the base and a little up the sides of the tin. I find a mixture of fingers, knuckles and the back of a spoon the easiest way to go. Put into the freezer for at least 1 hour. I tend to do this the day before, but in any event, you bake from frozen.
3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and pop in a baking sheet at the same time.
4. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Take it off the heat and leave to stand for 5 minutes, then beat in the sugar, polenta or cornmeal, 2 teaspoons of sea salt flakes and the vanilla paste or extract.
5. When all the above ingredients are incorporated, stir in the runny honey — oiling the bowl or jug you’re measuring it in first — and beat in the eggs, followed by the cream and vinegar.
6. Take the pastry-lined flan tin out of the freezer and pour the runny honey mixture into the case, then place on the baking sheet in the oven to bake for 45-50 minutes, turning it around after 30, at which time it will still seem very uncooked. When it’s ready, it will be a burnished bronze on top, puffy at the edges and set in a soft jellied way in the middle (and it carries on setting as it cools).
7. Remove to a wire rack, sprinkle with the ¼ teaspoonful of sea salt flakes and leave to cool — this will take about 2 hours. I like this best when properly cold.
8. To unmold easily, sit the flan tin on top of a large jar or tin and let the ring part fall away, then transfer the liberated pie to a plate or board. I manage to get the pie off the flan base easily, but if you feel safer leaving the metal base on, then do. Slice modestly — this is rich and sweet, and you will want leftovers for yourself — and serve with clotted cream or crème fraiche.
The crust can be made up to 1 month ahead. Once frozen, wrap the crust (in its tin) in a double layer of clingfilm and a layer of foil. Bake directly from frozen.
Leftovers should be refrigerated as quickly as possible. Store in fridge, loosely covered with clingfilm, for up to 3 days.
3. Taygalach (Ashkenazi Soaked Dough Balls)
Sweeten your year with this Old World treat, which Jewish food historians say dates back to Roman times. Crunchy dough balls (often knotted) are boiled in honeyed syrup until soaked through and sticky. The dough is often mixed with walnuts, hazelnuts or almonds and/or candied cherries. Taygalach are sweet and indulgent, a true treat.
- 1 cup candied cherries
- 1 cup almonds
- 1 cup broken walnut pieces
- ½ cup light brown sugar
- 1½ cups sugar
- ¼ cup water
- 1 pound honey
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- Pinch of salt
- 1 teaspoon ginger
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 3½ cups unbleached flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 6 eggs
- 3 tablespoons oil
1. Place the honey, water, lemon juice and sugar in a very large, heavy pot, about 6 quarts. Heat to boiling and continue to simmer gently.
2. While the honey syrup is heating, mix the eggs, oil, spices and salt together. Sift the baking powder and flour and add to the liquid. Mix together until the mixture forms a sticky dough. Dust with flour and roll out into 8 or 9 ropes about ¾ inch thick; cut into pieces about 3/4 inch long. Drop the pieces of dough into the boiling syrup and simmer slowly for about an hour. Stir every 10 minutes and add more boiling water as needed, about 1/3 cup at a time.
3. While the tayglach are cooking, place aluminum foil on a cookie sheet and grease the foil.
4. Set aside.
5. Ten minutes before the hour is up, add the nuts and cherries. Stir well and add more water if needed. The tayglach are done when it is a deep mahogany color, a rich, golden brown. Spoon the tayglach on the greased cookie sheet and spread out. Let cool and form the tayglach into small groups of a few tayglach and some nuts and cherries. Let cool and put into a bowl. Cover lightly.
Makes a delicious candy treat.
4. Ina Garten’s Honey Vanilla Pound Cake
While this is a cake with honey, it sure ain’t your classic honey cake — and it’s all the better for it. This is a straightforward pound cake with a subtle touch of honey for a little extra something. It’s as good after a meal as it is for breakfast the next day, and everyone will love it. The Barefoot Contessa does it again.
- ½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at cool room temperature
- 1¼ cups sugar
- 4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
- 2 cups sifted cake flour
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease the bottom of an 8½x4½x2½-inch loaf pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper, then grease and flour the pan.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed for 3 to 4 minutes, until light. Meanwhile, put the eggs, honey, vanilla and lemon zest in a glass measuring cup but do not combine. With the mixer on medium-low speed, add the egg mixture, one egg at a time, scraping down the bowl and allowing each egg to become incorporated before adding the next egg.
3. Sift together the flour, salt and baking powder. With the mixer on low speed, add it slowly to the batter until just combined. Finish mixing the batter with a rubber spatula and pour it into the prepared pan. Smooth the top. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for 15 minutes, turn out onto a baking rack and cool completely.
5. Honey and Cardamom Baklava
A spiced nut mixture encased in crisp phyllo dough soaked in a fragrant honey syrup, this showstopper dessert is surprisingly easy to put together. You’d have to be a masochist to make your own phyllo dough, and luckily there are great versions available in most supermarket freezers. This store-bought step saves tons of time.
- 16 ounces raw pistachios, walnuts, blanched almonds or hazelnuts (or a mix, like 8 ounces raw pistachios and 8 ounces raw walnuts)
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon, ground
- 2 teaspoons cardamom, ground
- ¼ cup honey or brown sugar
- 1 pack frozen phyllo dough sheets, thawed
- 1 cup oil (coconut or olive oil work well) or melted butter
- 1½ cup honey
- ¾ cup water
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- Rind of 1 lemon, peeled
- Cinnamon stick
- 5 cardamom pods
- 2 tablespoons rosewater
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. First, add the nuts to a food processor. Pulse until the nuts are chopped finely but not ground into powder. Transfer to a bowl, and add cinnamon, cardamom and honey. Stir to combine.
3. Next, prepare the dough. Gently take the roll of phyllo dough out from its package, taking care not to rip or tear the sheets. Unroll the dough and place a damp tea towel or paper towel over the top sheet to keep the dough from becoming dry and flaky.
4. Place your bowl of melted butter or oil and the bowl of chopped nuts next to the stack of phyllo dough. Place your baking pan (9x12x2 inches) nearby.
5. Using a pastry brush, oil the bottom and sides of the pan. Then carefully remove the top sheet of phyllo dough and place it in the pan. Lightly brush oil over the entire top of this sheet. Place another sheet of phyllo dough on top of the first sheet, brush oil on top, and add another sheet. Continue layering phyllo dough and oil until you have a stack of 10 sheets.
6. On the next sheet, spread ½ of the nut mixture on top with your hands. Try and make sure that the nuts are covering the entire sheet.
7. Cover the nuts with another layer of phyllo, and brush oil on top. Continue layering phyllo and oil until you have 5 more sheets. On top of the sixth sheet, add the rest of the nuts.
8. Add 10 more layers of oiled phyllo dough. Brush oil across the top sheet, too.
9. With a chef’s knife, make 6 long rows across the long side of the pan. Then cut diagonally across the pan from one corner to the other, and make cuts parallel to that diagonal line across the rest of the pan. Set in the oven and bake for 35-45 minutes, until the top is crisp and golden.
10. Meanwhile, make the syrup. Combine all syrup ingredients except for rosewater in a saucepan and boil for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Take off the heat, and stir in the rosewater. Let cool for at least 10 minutes, then strain.
11. When the baklava is done baking, let it cool for at least 30 minutes. The baklava will hold its crisp layers better if you let it cool down a bit before adding the syrup. When both the syrup and baklava have cooled, drizzle the syrup over the baklava. Don’t be afraid to use it all! Refrigerate for an hour before serving. Baklava can be enjoyed the day of, but its flavors really sink in after a day. You can store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
6. Melomakarona (Greek Spiced Cookies)
These honey-soaked cookies are spiced with warm cinnamon and cloves, and brightened by lemon and orange zest. They’re the perfect accompaniment to a cup of coffee as you linger with your loved ones around the holiday table. This recipe makes a big batch — freeze some cookies for a later date or drop them on doorsteps to wish people a Shanah Tovah.
For the dough:
- 2 cups vegetable oil
- 1 cup sugar
- ½ cup cognac
- ¼ cup orange juice
- 1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest
- ½ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
- 6 to 7 cups flour, or as needed
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Pinch ground cloves
For the syrup:
- 2 cups honey
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 cups water
- 1½ cups finely crushed walnuts
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1. Position oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven; preheat to 350 degrees. Line 2 or 3 large baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. For the dough: Combine the oil, sugar, cognac, orange juice and citrus zests in the bowl of a stand mixer or handheld electric mixer; beat on medium speed to dissolve the sugar.
3. Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and cloves on a large piece of wax paper. Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly add the flour mixture to the bowl until a very soft dough forms.
4. Remove the bowl from the mixer. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to mix in flour as needed until the dough is quite stiff; you should be able to take pinches of it and roll them into walnut-size balls. The balls can be smooth or coarsely shaped. Place them 1 inch apart on the baking sheets.
5. Bake 2 sheets at a time for a total of 25 minutes; about halfway through the baking, rotate the sheets top to bottom and front to back. The cookies will be barely browned and firm to the touch. Keep them on their baking sheets. Repeat to use all the dough.
6. For the syrup: Combine the honey, sugar and water in a large saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved, then cook for 5 minutes, using a slotted spoon to skim off and discard the foam that forms on the top. Cook for a few minutes; the syrup will thicken slightly and deepen in color. Reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting to keep the syrup warm.
7. For assembly: Place a wire rack on a baking sheet. Lay a large piece of wax paper on the counter for the finished cookies. Spread the crushed walnuts on a large shallow plate and sprinkle with the cinnamon, stirring to combine.
8. Place 6 or 7 of the cookies at a time in the saucepan; allow them to sit long enough (2 to 3 minutes) to absorb some of the syrup, turning them as needed to coat evenly. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cookies to the rack for a minute or two, then transfer them to the walnut mixture; roll to coat evenly, then transfer to the wax paper to cool completely. Repeat to coat all the cookies; place the cookies in small paper baking cups. If desired, sprinkle any remaining nut mixture on top of the cookies.
Servings: 80 cookies
7. Ottolenghi’s Honey and Yogurt Cheesecake
This simple cheesecake can be made two days ahead — a handy recipe to have in your back pocket when Rosh Hashanah preparations amp up. Greek yogurt’s tang tempers the sweetness of white chocolate in the filling, and thyme leaves emphasize honey’s herbal notes as they’re paired together in a runny topping for the final touch. A real crowd pleaser.
- 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons Greek-style yogurt
- About 12 Hobnobs (or other oat-flour cookie)
- ¼ cup unsalted butter, melted
- 1½ tablespoons thyme leaves
- 14 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
- ¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar, sifted
- 1 lemon, finely zested to get 1 teaspoon
- 5¼ ounces white chocolate, broken into ½- to ¾-inch pieces
- 3 tablespoons honey
1. Line a 9-inch springform cake pan with parchment paper and set aside.
2. Line a sieve with a clean kitchen towel and set above a bowl. Spoon in the yogurt, then draw up the sides of the kitchen towel. Squeeze the yogurt into a ball, pressing out as much liquid as you can. You want to end up with about 1⅔ cups of thickened yogurt. Set aside until required. Discard the liquid.
3. Place the Hobnobs in a clean plastic bag and crush them finely with a rolling pin. Mix with the butter and 1 tablespoon of the thyme and spoon into the cake pan, pressing it down to form an even layer. Set aside in the fridge.
4. Whisk together the cream cheese, strained yogurt, confectioners’ sugar and lemon zest until smooth and combined; this can be done in a stand mixer or using a handheld mixer.
5. Next, melt the chocolate. This needs to be done in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water (taking care that the base of the bowl is not touching the water). Stir the chocolate frequently for 2 to 3 minutes, taking care not to get any moisture into the chocolate as this will cause it to seize. Spoon the melted chocolate into the cream cheese mixture and whisk until combined.
6. Spread the cream cheese mixture over the cookie base evenly, then refrigerate for at least 2 hours, until set.
7. When ready to serve, warm the honey in a small saucepan with the remaining 1½ teaspoon of thyme leaves until thin and runny. Remove from the heat and drizzle over the cheesecake.
8. Release the cheesecake from the pan, divide into 8 slices and serve.