Just in time…
Happy New Year from Jerusalem! I scooted back from a whirlwind trip to Australia just in time to cover the Israeli elections and to post a honey cake recipe for you. Phew…
And look who you bump into at Netanyahu’s polling station in Jerusalem on election morning - the CBC dream team! So great to see old friends on the road…
It seems I’ve returned for electoral confusion, hot end-of-summer days - and Jewish New year. The focus, as ever at this time, is on honey. Apples are dipped in it, or it’s baked into cakes, symbolising a sweet, prosperous new year.
As long time readers of this blog will know, I have a soft spot for honey cake - loaf, round, kugelhupf shaped or honey muffins, it’s all good, no, great. There’s also a personal reason. I began working on what would become Just Add Love searching for the taste of memory – principally, my grandmother’s honey cake.
My grandmother Lea wore high heels, dark eyeliner, and smoked using a cigarette holder. She was a cool grandmother and also a fabulous cook. When I was growing up, her Sydney kitchen was where we sat after school, where the family met, where she cooked – which she did every day – without really consulting recipes. She was an instinctive cook, doing everything by taste and feel.
Perhaps that was why, when Grandmother Lea passed away, we hadn’t written down her recipes. Still, I felt distraught. How could I preserve her memory without those tastes?
My mourning became focussed on recreating her honey cake. I would bake and discard one after another. Each was delicious, but they weren't right. They weren't my grandmother’s honey cake. So I’d start all over again… I thought it was going to be a life long search, until when I was putting together the Just Add Love cookbook, I met Saba Feniger.
THE HOLY GRAIL
The honey cake baked by Saba Feniger is the closest I’ve found to my grandmother’s. It was so great to taste it - this book has brought me home.
That recipe, along with Saba’s extraordinary life story, is in the Just Add Love cookbook.
You can buy it here on our website. It’s a great gift for the New Year and this website is a good place to buy it since it’s currently selling out in bookshops :-)))
I’m sharing a different honeycake recipe with you below, lighter and orange-scented.
My latest visit to Australia was intense - and wonderful. A whirlwind 3 weeks sharing Just Add Love in Sydney, Brisbane, Canberra and Melbourne.
The ABC programme The Drum devoted a one hour special to Just Add Love - marking the 80th anniversary of the start of WW2 by interviewing 2 grandmothers from the book, Eva Grinston and Agi Adler, along with 99 year old Eddie Jaku, in the Sydney studio, and filming an insert with Just Add Love grandmothers Sarah Saaroni and Ruth Hampel and their families, in Melbourne.
Eddie Jaku has done a TED x talk, so I shouldn’t have been surprised that he was comfortable in the studio, but Eva and Agi were also so at ease. (Watch here.) A little nervous before, but stars on the screen, all of them! They were simply amazing.
Hats off to Ellen Fanning for a stunning panel discussion about survival, respect for the other, and resilience. It was incredibly moving - as the live Twitter and FB reax confirmed.
CANBERRA WRITERS FESTIVAL
This trip was a time for connecting with people I have long admired from afar. in Canberra, Alex Sloan and Paula Kruger both baked Saba Feniger’s honey cake for our interviews - that was so considerate and I was so touched that it made the discussions sing.
At the Canberra Festival, Alex interviewed me along with the Israeli food writer Gil Hovav, who had the audience in stitches with the stories of his crazy feuding family.
One session took place in Old Parliament House, which was great fun, and gave a huge sense of occasion to the speakers and the audience! Can’t resist sharing a photo, as it’s the closes I will come to the House of Reps. And btw, Old Parliament House is so much more warm and charming than the larger-scale current model.
Plus Helen Lewis and I were interviewed by journalist and book maven Caroline Baum, who took the discussion into unexpected areas. Simply wonderful.
I also did 2 Jewish community talks in Canberra and Brisbane. These were super warm audiences, and these things never plan themselves, so my thanks to the people who made them happen!
MELBOURNE WRITERS FESTIVAL
The theme of the Melbourne Festival this year was love, so Just Add Love slotted right in there.
Three grandmothers from the book came and told their stories at the session, which was moderated sensitively by Melbourne writer Arnold Zable - another of the authors I have admired but had never met. He says food features in all his books, not only in the one set in a cafe. (A Melbourne cafe!) We decided it was a feature of all books by children of refugees. He told me my writing was so spare it almost wasn’t there. One of the effects of being a broadcast journalist… the structure and the story are the stars, you can’t be too wordy.
There’s also a lovely article about Just Add Love in the Melbourne Holcoaust Centre magazine this month – thanks to Julia Mayer for writing it up.
With all of that, I spent a lot of time on planes, and barely saw friends or family.
It was lucky my nephew Rafi turned 10, hard to believe he is so big now, and plenty of people I would otherwise have missed turned up at his birthday on my final weekend. Rafi postponed his party so I could be there – I know, gorgeous, right? – and when I returned from Melbourne we baked up a storm.
We made Eva Grinston’s Chocolate, Walnut and Sour Cherry cake, a chocolate football birthday cake and a first time Caramel slice (a local specialty Eva Grinston has made her own.) Also simply the best cheesecake ever, a late entry, baked on the morning of the birthday while kids had started arriving. I will share that recipe next blog post.
I’ve learnt 10 year olds still love jumping castles. Rafi’s best friend Billy came over early, “so we can do extra jumping.”
The two boys are very alike. Funny, clever, with a lively, lovely, goofy sense of humour.
As we were preparing to put out all the things we’d baked, Billy came up and gave me a spontaneous hug. Rafi, seeing how touched I was, said, ”See, he’s sweet like me.”
Yes, he is. LOVE these boys. HBD Darling Rafi!
This recipe comes from my Canadian friend Lisa Goldman. In fact, it's from Lisa's mother, Judy, and it's a North American take on the New Year classic with surprise ingredients such as marmalade (!) and ginger ale (!!)
Judy Goldman was a superb cook who never shared her recipes, even with her daughters. Lisa only has this one because she tricked Judy by not appearing to write down the ingredients whiles she watched her baking one day. We are so lucky that she did!
I've altered the quantities slightly, mostly reducing the sugar, since the marmalade, ginger ale and other extras are sweet to start with. Otherwise these are the original quantities, and they produce a very large amount of cake mix.
The first time I made it, I made two cakes from this quantity, and the next time I made a cake and muffins as well. You can halve the quantities if you want only one cake.
Judy’s Honey Cake
4 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
5 teaspoons cinnamon
½ teaspoon cloves
½ teaspoon nutmeg plus cardamon
½ cup white sugar
¾ cup dark brown sugar
1 cup vegetable oil (not corn oil)
1 cup honey
¼ cup orange marmalade
1 ¼ cups ginger ale, bubbles stirred out
1 teaspoon orange-flower water
1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (store bought also fine)
¼ cup strong tea
1. Preheat oven to 200 C / 375 F. Grease and flour a cake tin. Judy used an angel tin, a tube pan in the US, but any shaped tin will do. The main thing is to make sure it's well-greased, as this cake can be hard to remove!
2. Pour ginger ale, stir out bubbles and have it sitting while you prepare the rest of the cake. Prepare tea. Blend all the dry ingredients in a bowl and set aside.
3. Beat eggs with sugar till light and fluffy. Add oil and honey and beat again. Tip: Use the same cup for t he oil and the honey. Do the oil first and then the honey will slip right out! Add marmalade, then dry ingredients and beat. Then add remaining liquids and blend until smooth.
4. Baking times vary. If you are making one cake only, it will take about 70 minutes plus. After 70 minutes reduce temperature to 160 C / 325 F and bake for another 10-20 minutes or until cake tests done. Gently press cake with fingertips; it should spring back when touched or seem solid, and not as if there is hot, liquidy batter underneath. When you make 2 cakes, it's done after 45 - 60 minutes.
TIP: Lisa often puts it on a baking tray when she is putting in the oven, in case the runny batter leaks.
This is a fantastic cake. You don’t taste the separate ingredients – What marmalade? Ginger ale who? – but the whole is fudgy, sweet, honey-filled and orange-scented. It’s a wonderful recipe and is also very forgiving; Lisa adds the ingredients in a different order and we both swear by our results.
Contact me if you’d like a gluten free honey cake recipe. In fact, it’s an Amanda Hampel special, which means it’s gluten and honey free - for health reasons she prefers baking with maple syrup. But you’d never know - and it’s a winner too!
NEW YEAR WISHES
Jewish New Year falls late this year. And it’s a beautiful autumn here in Jerusalem, with hot days and evenings just beginning to turn cool.
Wishing a sweet new year, to everyone – and especially to the Just Add Love grandmothers and grandfathers. It’s been a huge year for us here, and I have to thank them for their contribution and generosity.
I hope the year ahead is peaceful, happy and productive, and full of good health and good fortune.