Monday, September 28, 2009

G'mar Chatimah Tovah

Yesterday I completed, formatted, printed, and sent off The Yearly T'ruah, the Winicur family newsletter. I had set a goal of getting them in the mail before Yom Kippur, and I did it. Saturday afternoon, I stuffed about 25 High Holiday greeting cards in the mailbox. Never mind that they won't be sent out till Monday. I set my High Holidays goal and hit it.

I'm sure there is a greater lesson to be found here about waiting until the last minute to seek God's forgiveness on Yom Kippur when we had the entire year to make amends. If it weren't so late in the evening, I'm sure I could come up with a fascinating parable or amusing story to illustrate this.

Maybe the simple explanation is that Yom Kippur is our deadline for atonement and amends. Yom Kippur is the stop production, go to press, put your money down, show your cards moment when there are no more excuses. We have to face the new year with whatever we have. For one day, we stop all work, stop all pleasure, and reset our spiritual clocks. And then the deadline passes, and we can get on with our lives.

For all of you fasting, may you have an easy fast. For all of you reflecting, may you find peace in the new year.

And for all of you reading The Yearly T'ruah...may you not do any spit takes in public.

Shanah Tovah.

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Most Forgiving Honey Cake

Why is it that High Holidays always sneak up on me? How is it possible that year after year, I hit mid-September and suddenly realize that not only have I failed to write The Yearly T’ruah (our family newsletter), but the well of creativity has run dry? How is it conceivable that days before Rosh Hashanah, I suddenly realize that I have not yet baked any honeycakes or round challot? Where does the time go? It’s not as if Rosh Hashanah jumps around the Gregorian calendar. “What? Rosh Hashanah is in February this year? How odd, it was in late June last year.”

I have never been good with long-term planning. In fact, Shirah and I, after many years of marriage, finally discovered that our lives would be much easier if she took on the responsibility for long-term planning and I took on the responsibility for short-term planning. She is an excellent calendar keeper. She keeps all the family appointments, maintains our social calendar, and reminds me of upcoming events. I, on the other hand, make sure that we get to said events on time. It took us many years to hone this partnership, and we are considering trademarking our methodology, writing a self-help book, and selling it on late night TV.

If only I could finish writing this stupid family newsletter first.

Speaking of forgiveness (which we weren’t really, but segues take too much time), I have noticed that honey cake, a staple of Ashkenazic Jewish High Holiday tradition, is one of the most unforgiving cakes in the world. I have tried a variety of recipes, and they all follow the same theme…if you overbake this cake by 5 seconds, you might as well use it as a door stop or perhaps as some piece of minimalistic public art. How ironic that we celebrate a holiday about forgiveness with one of the more unforgiving delicacies. I have spent years hunting for a recipe that doesn’t prompt people to say, “Wow…that tastes…um...exotic. Especially the roasted flavor.”

After years of searching and experimenting, I present Zev’s Honey Cake recipe. I stole most of the recipe from Epicurious, but I have made enough changes that I now choose to claim it as my own. The biggest change is that I removed the mind altering drugs (coffee and brandy) and added carob powder and clove. Although clove has analgesic properties, I do not consider it a psychoactive drug like caffeine or alcohol. This is the perfect cake to serve to friends and family with alcohol or caffeine intolerances.

Of course, I eat my honey cake with a big cup of Irish coffee…but that’s just me.

Zev’s Honey Cake

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. ground ginger
¼ tsp. clove
¾ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. baking powder
¾ tsp. salt
1 cup honey
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1 Tbs. carob powder mixed in ½ cup hot water
2 large eggs
¼ cup packed brown sugar

Prepare a 9” x 5” x 3” loaf pan by oiling the pan well, dusting it with flour, and knocking out the excess. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Whisk together flour, cinnamon, ginger, clove, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl. Whisk together honey, oil, and carob water in another bowl until well combined.

Beat together eggs and brown sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at high speed 3 minutes. Add honey mixture and mix just until blended at a medium speed, about 1 minute. Add the flour mixture and mix with a spoon until just combined. Finish mixing the batter with a rubber spatula, scraping the bottom of the bowl.

Pour batter into the loaf pan and bake for 30 minutes. Cover the top loosely with foil and continue to bake until the cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick or skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, about 15 minutes. Cool on a rack 1 hour.

Run a knife around side of the cake, then invert plate over cake and invert cake onto plate. Turn cake right side up on cooling rack and cool completely.

Zev’s notes:

  • Cake keeps at room temperature 1 week if wrapped tightly in plastic wrap or in an airtight container.

  • Resist the urge to cut into the cake to taste it while it is still warm. This will release the steam, and the cake will dry out sooner.

  • Let the cake sit at least one day before serving. The cake gets moister after a few days…or at least that’s what I’ve read. I usually can’t wait that long.

  • Remember to err on the side of underbaking rather than overbaking. Once the cake has baked 45 minutes, check it ever 3 minutes or so. YOU CAN NOT UNDO AN OVERBAKED HONEYCAKE.
  • Friday, September 18, 2009

    L'Shanah Tovah from the President

    L'Shanah Tovah Tikateivu. May you all be inscribed for a good year in the Book of Life, and may you have a sweet new year.

    President Obama's Rosh Hashanah message to the country (and the world) is a wonderful message. I think our Rabbis should play it before their sermons tomorrow morning (on a timer so as not to violate Shabbat...obviously).