Category Archives: Holiday

Game Time Nosh (Vegan!): Lentil-Walnut Dip

Okay, big time confession: in high school, I was (gulp) a cheerleader. Yes. I was. I was one of those high pony-tailed stiff-arm clapping cheer girls that dreamed up cheers in her sleep and wore the cheerleading outfit to school on game days. So yeah, even though I dropped out my senior year (and traded my letter jacket for a black leather motorcycle one–a la Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2), I was that girl, the cheerleader.

I worked hard at cheering. I went to cheer camp (yes, seriously). I tried really hard not to drop girls when tossing them into the air for the all-important basket toss (we dropped a few every now and then–our football team was never very good, so we considered it extra bang for our fans’ viewing pleasure. I mean picture us, two girls, arms clamped together to form a square, tossing some blonde featherweight 15 feet in the air–never straight up, mind you–and then following her shadow so we wouldn’t miss her, at least not very often, on her decent.). What I never really paid attention to was the game going on behind me. First and ten? I knew the cheer, but what did it all really mean? To this day, I don’t have a clue. Though I cheered for three years, I couldn’t tell you a foul from a goal (wait, is that even football?).

But I was good at cheering (and now, all of you who have seen me scream and cheer and hoot and whistle for people I don’t know running the NYC Marathon, you know where it all comes from). I was also good at cooking. There was many a time when, post Friday night lights, we’d find some deserted fast food parking lot to convene at, do something(s) illegal, and then retire to a home with no parentals present. While others were making out in closets and sucking down Milwaukee’s Best from funnels and plastic tubing, I’d often be in the kitchen making cookies. How I never burnt down a kitchen I’ll never know. And don’t ask me what anything tasted like. Who knows (I never even used a recipe–just threw stuff together in a bowl). I think we enjoyed whatever it was at the time. I mean, it wasn’t exactly like anyone had the brain power to complain.

All this to say that whatever the game of the day is, be it baseball, football, or Harry Potter Hogwarts Legos, I really could care because my mind is where the most important plays are being hatched anyway: the kitchen. And whether you’re into ball games or board games (such as 221 Baker Street, a super fun detective game like Clue but better), food is always a focal point. Buffalo wings, chili, a devilishly runny Robiola. They enhance the game play and keep you sated for the long stretch.

My absolute favorite dip is onion dip with potato chips. Oh man, if you serve that to me you better establish a ten-foot boundary around that bowl because like white on rice, I am on it and will eat the whole bowl. But do you know what makes onion dip so slammin’ good? Lots. Of. Fat. Not that I mind, but paired with potato chips and beer, it makes for a not-so-great post-game feeling. So I got to thinking. What’s a dip that feels as great to eat as it tastes?

And I recalled lentil-walnut pâté. Now quit your eye rolling, okay? It is honestly and truly delicious. In fact, the day after Thanksgiving, we visited some friends in Philly and they had a deli container of lentil-walnut pâté from the local coop. No sooner had the top been peeled back than the dip had disappeared. Just like that, it vanished. It was creamy and earthy and sweet and hearty and  tasted right, especially after a ridiculously delicious yet insanely rich meal the day before.

Lentil-walnut dip is like hummus but softer, more mellow and earthy and honestly, more party-friendly since it doesn’t have the sharp garlicky-lemony hit that hummus can have. To keep the texture airy instead of heavy, I use very little oil and quite a bit of the lentil cooking liquid (note that it does solidify a bit in the fridge, so if you want to make it ahead of time and want it to retain its fluff, let it sit at room temp for a stretch before serving). I barely toast the walnuts, just letting them warm up in the oven to give them a surface gloss without heavy toasty notes that threaten the lentils’ softness. A little fresh garlic, some salt, and neutral oil (I use grapeseed), buzz away in the food processor and it’s done. As a dip or a sandwich spread it’s fantastically healthy, protein-packed, and nutritious.

If I only knew about lentil-walnut pâté when I was 17. But then again, with the blade of a food processor and boiling water to contend with, maybe it’s better that I didn’t.

Lentil-Walnut Dip

Serves 6

For a touch of spice, I sometimes sprinkle it with a little za’atar, a Middle Eastern spice made from sumac, marjoram, thyme,  toasted sesame seeds, and salt (see my version below). It gives it more of a hummus taste and looks pretty too. Double or triple the batch of dip and you won’t be sorry. Serve some at your game day event and save the rest for a wrap/sandwich or to snack on with pita chips or celery sticks.

  • 1 cup dried lentils, rinsed under cold water
  • 1 cup raw walnut halves
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons grapeseed or canola oil
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • Pita chips, seeded flatbread,  crackers, or veg sticks for serving
  1. Bring 3 1/2 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the lentils, return to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, and gently simmer until the lentils are tender and creamy (scoop a few out with a fork to test them), 12 to 15 minutes.
  2. Place a sieve over a large bowl and drain the lentils through the sieve. Reserve 1/2 cup of the lentil water and set aside (freeze the remaining lentil liquid and use it like you would water or chicken broth for making rice, flavoring chili, or bean soup). Set the lentils aside to cool completely, about 1 hour (shake the sieve every so often to redistribute the lentils and let off some steam).
  3. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet pan and toast just until they become glossy and slightly fragrant, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the oven, transfer to a large plate, and set aside to cool.
  4. Place the walnuts and garlic in the bowl of a food processor and process for 30 seconds to combine. Add the cooled lentils, canola oil, salt, and reserved lentil cooking liquid. Process until the pâté lightens in color and becomes very airy, about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Transfer the dip to a bowl and serve with pita chips.

Homemade Za’atar

Makes about 1/4 cup

This ancient herb blend is obviously excellent sprinkled over Lentil-Walnut Pâté, hummus, babaghanouj, and grilled meats. But it’s also tasty in untraditional ways too: like sprinkled over deviled eggs, added to ground meat before making burgers, combined with oil and lemon juice to use as a simple salad dressing, or patted on to a creamy log of chèvre and drizzled with fruity olive oil for a cheese course.

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried marjoram
  • 3/4 teaspoon sumac
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 3 tablespoons sesame seeds
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt or sea salt
  1. Mix the marjoram, sumac, and thyme together in a small bowl.
  2. Heat a small skillet over medium heat and add the sesame seeds. Toast, shaking the skillet often, until the seeds are golden and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the salt and the marjoram mixture and toss to combine.
  3. Transfer to a rimmed plate to cool. Store in a glass jar and use within 1 month.


Filed under Appetizer, Holiday, Recipe, Vegan, Vegetarian

Easiest Holiday Cookies EVER: Mandelbrot (Jewish Biscotti)

To commemorate the holidays, all of the families in Rhys’ nursery class were asked to bring in a dish that is meaningful to their holiday celebrations. My first thought went to lefse, a thin Norwegian flat bread made from potatoes. When I was growing up, the best part of the holiday buffet table was always Nana’s lefse. She spread them with a thin swipe of lingonberry jam, and rolled them into tight cylinders. Nana’s lefse were more tortilla looking than other lefse I have seen, which look almost like lavash in size and thinness.

When I was 16 my Nana passed away and over the course of a decade, my grandma passed down Nana’s recipes and cooking equipment. I put dibs on the recipes, her Jell-o molds and tins of various design (fish, tubes, Bundts, grape clusters), and Nana’s coffee pot. I also inherited her lefse pin (a large rolling pin with striations in it so the potato dough doesn’t stick) and like a total moron, gave it away. Ugh, that stupid decision still gnaws away at my soul and makes me want to cry. So when I spotted a lefse pin on sale at Sur la Table a few weeks back, I snagged it and thought myself the luckiest person alive.

Of course I’d make lefse for Rhys’s holiday party. Of course! I picked up lingonberry jam at a small Swedish sweet shop in the West Village. I had the potatoes ready to boil. I looked in the recipe box at Nana’s recipe at to my shock, it was a recipe FROM THE BACK OF A LEFSE MIX!!! No way Nana! Devastated (I mean, it’s like learning your mom’s mashed potatoes come from potato flakes!), I turned to the internet and discovered this lefse website and quickly became intimidated–would I need a lefse boogie board to roll out the dough? What about that lefse stick? A lefse grill? Did Nana have all those lefse toys (somehow, in her itty bitty Chicago kitchen without even a proper counter–she did all of her cooking prep work on a formica kitchen table)?

Okay, by now it’s nearly 10am and the party is at 2:30. In between which I have to drive and deliver my dad to Delta at the airport. Lefse was quickly escaping my grasp…should I try anyway? I quickly envisioned myself happily ricing potatoes, making the dough, rolling the super thin pancakes, the dough sticking, the frustration growing, the dough tearing, flour getting everywhere, nothing working, and me throwing dough across the kitchen, stomping my feet, and having a full-on potty-mouthed tantrum. Okay, skip that. I made mandelbrot instead.

Mandelbrot is known as Jewish biscotti. It is usually made with oil instead of butter and with almonds. Mandelbrot was probably the first baked good I ever made and the recipe has been the same since I was old enough to lick the dough from a spoon: butter, sugar, vanilla, eggs, flour, salt. Done. no leavener, no nuts, no oil. My husband is not a huge fan. He thinks they’re boring and kind of plain. I think they’re quite simple, semi-sweet, tender, buttery, and lovely. “Can’t you dip them in chocolate,” he asked? I glared at him. “You dip them,” I threatened. That ended that conversation.

This is a simple cookie. You make the dough, shape it into two long flat rectangles on a baking sheet (like biscotti) then bake it off. When it’s blonde and just starting to brown around the edges, you slice the bricks into 3/4-inch wide pieces, and then turn each on its side. It bakes for another 20 minutes (flipping the cookies over midway through). These are delicious with coffee, tea, or just out of hand. It’s a straightforward cookie without sprinkles and frosting and chocolate drizzles or dragés. And this time of year, a little simplicity is kind of a nice thing.

Mandelbrot Cookies

Makes about 2 dozen

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt (or 1/2 teaspoon table salt)

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Using a stand mixer, a hand mixer, or a wooden spoon and elbow grease, beat the butter with the sugar on medium-high speed until the mixture is airy and light, about 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium-low and add the vanilla. Beat in the eggs one at a time, increasing the mixer speed to medium-high between additions to ensure the batter comes together before adding the next egg, and scraping down the sides of the bowl between additions.

2. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour and salt. Mix on medium-low speed until just combined.

3. Set a parchment paper or silpat-lined half-sheet pan (18- by 13-inches) on your worksurface so the long sides are at the top and bottom and short sides are to the left and right. Place half of the cookie dough on the lower third of the baking sheet and place the remaining half on the upper third. Fill a bowl with cold water and set it next to the pan. Dip your hands in water and pat the dough out into two long rectangles. The rectangles should be about 1/2-inch thick and about 15 inches long. Re-wet your hands as needed so the dough doesn’t stick. Smooth out the top and square off the corners as best you can.

4. Bake the two long rectangles until they are golden and spring back to light pressure,  about 20 minutes, rotating the baking sheet midway through. Remove the pan from the oven and slice each rectangle into 1/2-inch thick pieces. Remove the rounded ends of each slab (these are a treat for all of us impatient bakers–they’re super yummy hot, yum!) and turn the sliced pieces on their sides.

5. Return the pan to the oven and bake until the cookies are golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes longer, turning the cookies midway through if you like. Remove from the oven and cool. They keep very well  in an airtight container for up to ten days.

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Filed under Baking, Cookie, Dessert, Holiday, Recipe, Uncategorized

Easy Appetizer: Creamy Chèvre, Caraway, and Caramelized Onion Toasts

Around this time of year, my refrigerator becomes slightly schizophrenic. Whereas I usually have an orderly selection of fresh vegetables in the crisper, one or two cheeses in the cheese box, meat or seafood on the shelves, and other staples (eggs, butter, Sriracha) stockpiled, during the holidays when it’s all about entertaining–whether at home or away–it’s an anything-goes scenario. Which is absolutely exciting and fun and I totally embrace the chaos. Right now in my fridge there is bear fat (yes, the rendered fat of a bear), enough heavy cream to send a calorie counter into shock, grape must jam, homemade crème fraîche, and other random odds and ends: chicken stock, halved lemons, Parm bones (leftover rinds–great for soup!), a pork tenderloin, a pound of sea bass, and gingerbread people piled high with candies and sparkles (courtesy of Julian and his classmates). Also in the mix: a container of leftover creamy chèvre

Creamy chèvre is one of my favorite go-to party toppings. It’s goat cheese whipped with heavy cream and a few pinches of salt. Once that extra fat is whipped in, the tang of the goat cheese is curbed and its mouthfeel enriched by a million degrees. It becomes silky and airy and positively luscious.

I like pairing the spread with slowly caramelized onions, earthy caraway seeds, and olive oil-doused  baguette slices that get gently toasted so they’re crunchy on the outside and tender within. A drop of balsamic tweaks the taste of the onion jam ever so slightly, perking up sum total of the toast with its zippy twang. Serve the toasts spread and ready to go or encumber a platter with a pile of plain toasts and place the creamy chèvre and caramelized onions off to the side so people can schmear, dip, and doctor as they like.

Creamy Chèvre, Caraway, and Caramelized Onion Toasts

Makes about 2 dozen toasts

The flavor of earthy caraway seed and the sweetness of caramelized onions works beautifully with a whole wheat baguette. That said, a traditional baguette works just fine.

  • 1 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seeds (or 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh rosemary or thyme)
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt plus a few good pinches
  • 1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 baguette (preferably whole wheat), thinly sliced on a bias
  • Flaky salt
  • 4-ounce log of fresh goat’s milk cheese (chèvre)
  • 4 to 8 tablespoons heavy cream
  1. Melt the butter with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Once the butter is melted add the onions and cook, stirring often, until they soften, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the caraway seeds and reduce the heat to low. Cover and cook until the onions are very sticky and dark brown, 15 to 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. If the onions start to stick or burn at the bottom of the pan, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of water and stir and scrape up any browned bits into the onion mixture. Once the onions are caramelized, stir in 1/4 teaspoon of the salt. Turn off the heat, stir in the balsamic vinegar, and transfer the onions to a small bowl. Pour 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over the onions and set aside.
  2. Heat the oven to 375°F. Place the baguette slices on a rimmed baking sheet and brush the them with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Sprinkle with the flaky salt and toast in the oven just until the edges are browned and crisp and the top of the bread slices is dry but still gives to light pressure, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool, then transfer to a platter.
  3. Place the chèvre in the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on low speed to break it up. Add 4 tablespoons of the heavy cream and a few pinches of salt and beat. If the mixture is still pasty and thick, add more cream, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating between each addition, until the mixture is airy and light. Spread some of the caramelized onions on top of each cooled toast. Top with the chèvre cream and serve.

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Filed under Appetizer, Cheese, Holiday, Recipe, Vegetarian

A Turkey Day Pre-Feast Nosh: Feta Dip and Crunchy Veg

It’s easy to get caught up in the hullabaloo of cooking Thanksgiving dinner and forget to eat anything for the, oh, eight hours prior (let alone feed children, visitors, and housebroken beasts). That’s why I put as much thought into  easy snacks and have-around noshes as I do the big feast. The key is to have these small bites be simple, yet special. I mean, hummus and pita chips might be fine for friends and play dates, but kids, this is Thanksgiving. Upping your game is expected.

I first made this feta dip over the summer. The boys were hungry and I was late to get the grill on—we all needed something in our bellies pronto. I started pulling together everything I’d need to make a quick blue cheese dip until I realized I had no blue cheese. I did have feta…and the resulting dip was as creamy and tangy and even more of a crowd pleaser than its blue cousin.

A poke around the crisper offered a none-too-exciting selection of carrots, cucumbers, and wilting Romaine. I stripped away the spent outer leaves to find still lovely and crisp hearts inside—perfect for dunking and super kid friendly to boot. So I made a platter. And we all had veggies and this fantastic homemade dip—we gobbled it up (note that if I made this as a salad, the kids wouldn’t have touched it.). This dip will definitely be in a Tupperware headed to Philly for our Thanksgiving spread this year. (And if I think of it, I’ll squirrel some away for day-after Thanksgiving gyros: pan-fried dark meat with Mediterranean herbs—oregano/thyme/and the life.—and stuff into pita, douse with feta dip, and end with lettuce and red onions, preferably quick pickled with white vinegar, a few pinches of sugar and a few pinches of salt.)

Feta Dip and Crunchy Veg

Makes about 1/2 cup (easily doubles, triples, and so forth.)

Serving ideas: Romaine hearts separated into individual boats, endive leaves, carrots sticks, cucumber sticks, pitted or stuffed giant olives (have toothpicks nearby for easy dipping), cauliflower florets, steamed and cooled broccoli, red pepper strips, and cherry or grape tomatoes (ditto on toothpick tip above).

  • 1/3 cup feta cheese
  • 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons milk (or more if necessary)
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Few twists fresh black pepper
  • 2 scallions, tough green ends removed, whites halved lengthwise and finely chopped

1. Place the feta in a small bowl. Add the mayonnaise and sour cream and use a fork to mash and stir it all together. It doesn’t have to be totally smooth—a few lumps are nice.

2. Stir in 1 tablespoon of the milk, the salt, and pepper. I like the dip on the drippy side so I add the extra tablespoon. You may choose to leave it out—it’s your call. Stir in the scallions and serve with fresh veg.

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Filed under Appetizer, Holiday, Recipe, Vegetable, Vegetarian

Midnight Brunch Spoiler! Orange Blossom and Almond Shortbread!

Sometimes life seems like no more that a series of weird coincidences. Like when I met my fabulous literary agent Angela Miller: when I left Cook’s Illustrated nearly ten years ago, I asked the formidable Jack Bishop (Cook’s editorial director and renown cookbook author) for advice on getting an agent. He gave me Angela’s name and I took that back pocket ticket with me to Brooklyn when I moved here in 2002. Not a month after the big move, I threw my back out and fell behind in my work–getting in touch with Angela got pushed to the back burner. Eight months later in the summer of 2003, the NYC blackout happened, I met Suvir Saran (who happened to be a neighbor) and like kismet, I found out Angela was his agent too. Like I said, in New York, and especially in Brooklyn, weird coincidences seem to happen.

Which is how I met Emily Cavalier, the brains behind the blog Mouth of the Border and the fantastic dinner party series, Midnight Brunch, which I am cooking for this Friday. My sister-in-law Caryn-Ann, went to the University of New Hampshire and was (still is, actually) good friends with Emily. When Emily moved to Brooklyn from New England, Caryn-Ann connected us–see, Emily was trying to figure out how to get a footing in the world of food. We met at a coffee shop in Fort Greene–I think it was 2006. God knows what I said to her–I was like a year postpartum, severely sleep deprived, and probably epically behind on work…to say I was upbeat and congenial  probably would have been a stretch to say the least! Caryn-Ann got married last summer and guess who I run into–Emily! Not only is Emily a lovely person who happens to live a whole two blocks from me in Clinton Hill, but in the five years since she moved to the city she carved out quite a niche for herself planning food events and spearheading press campaigns.

I am amazed at Emily’s indie spirit and confidence and so honored to be collaborating with her on this third installment of Midnight Brunch! We cooked up a fantastic menu that calls on ancient spice trade for inspiration–you know, the routes of Vasco de Gamma, long-ago sea pirates, and intrepid mariners who sailed around the world in search of black pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves. What better time than now to cook up a feast showcasing spices used throughout the holiday season. I mean, imagine apple pie without cinnamon, bread stuffing without a kick of black pepper, a holiday ham without its requisite clove studs, and egg nog without a dash of nutmeg! This Friday, 11/11/11 (can you get any more auspicious?) we’re cooking up a bevy of deliciousness–lamb “vin”daloo, Sicilian meatballs, Persian rice with pistachios and saffron, and smoky honey-glazed sweet potatoes with cilantro and peanuts to name but a few dishes (all paired with stellar craft cocktails thanks to mixologist Brian Quinn featuring SNAP ginger liqueur, Elijah Craig 12-year bourbon, and Banks 5-island rum).

When I was thinking about a cookie to accompany Emily’s cardamom panna cotta, I envisioned Portuguese and Spanish sailors returning home from a many months-long sea adventure and how, once they set foot on land, they must have been  bowled over by the fragrances of their homeland. The romantic in me went straight to the sweet perfume of orange and almond blossoms, which are so intoxicating, especially by moonlight. What better way to honor the end of the 11/11/11 Midnight Brunch journey than with these flavors. Orange Blossom and Almond Shortbread is somewhere between an English Hobnob and Scottish shortbread, buttery and crisp yet nutty and toasty thanks to almonds and just a smidge of whole wheat flour. A cinch to make, it also keeps beautifully for up to a week in an airtight container, making it a worthy treat to bring along on your epic journeys this holiday season.

Orange Blossom and Almond Shortbread

Makes 16 rectangles or 32 triangle-shaped cookies

  • 1 cup sliced almonds
  • 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
  • Zest of 1/4 orange
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar plus more for dusting
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 teaspoons orange flower water
  • 1 stick plus 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Lightly coat a 9- by 13-inch baking dish with nonstick pan spray and set aside.

2. Place the almonds in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until they finely chopped, about four 1-second pulses. Add 3/4 cup of sugar and the orange zest and pulse to combine. Add the flours, confectioners’ sugar, and salt and process for 3 seconds to thoroughly combine. Sprinkle the orange flour water over the dry ingredients and then drizzle in the honey. Add the butter pieces and pulse until the mixture is like coarse cornmeal and rides up the sides of the food processor, about 12 to 15 1-second pulses.

3. Turn the mixture out into the pan and spread evenly. Use the bottom of a measuring cup to press the crumble dough into a dense, even layer. Drag the back of a knife through the dough (but don’t go to the bottom of the pan) to mark the dough into 3 rows crosswise and 6 columns lengthwise.

4. Place the baking dish in the oven and immediately reduce the oven temperature to 300°F. Bake until golden brown and fragrant, 20 to 25 minutes, rotating the pan midway through baking. Remove the pan from the oven, cool for 10 minutes, and then sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar. Cool for another 10 minutes and then use a sharp paring knife to slice completely through the cookies where marked (for smaller triangle shaped cookies, you can also divide each cookie in half on a diagonal at this time). Cool completely and then use a knife to pop the cookies out of the pan. The shortbread keeps in an airtight container for up to one week.


Filed under Baking, Cookie, Dessert, Holiday, Press/Appearances, Uncategorized

A Helluva Honey Cake

Rosh Hashana without honey cake is like Thanksgiving without pie. However, unlike Thanksgiving where the pie served is probably some aunt’s famous recipe or a labor of love perfected over many generations of blue-ribbon winning grandmas, honey cake is religiously taunted for its dryness, its heaviness, and general unbecomingness. Honey cake is the Jewish fruitcake, destined for comparisons to doorstops and bricks, the mere mention of it evoking heavy sighs and rolling of the eyes.

So the question is, why bother? Because it’s tradition (cue “Fiddler on the Roof”) and if there is something that anyone with even a drop of Jewish blood flowing through his or her veins understands it is that tradition is sacred. You can lose your home, your money, your family, but no on can take away a tradition as long as you are dedicated to preserving it.

This has been a whack-a-doodle week rampant with deadlines and tantrums, missed naps, weird viruses, and all kinds of random high-tension drama. But last night after everyone else was in bed and dreaming of fluffy matzo balls and dipping apples in honey, I baked honey cake.

It is moist! It is TASTY! It doesn’t even need cream cheese! Rich with brandy-soaked raisins, strong coffee, honey, cardamom, fresh ginger, allspice, brown sugar, and butter, finally, a honey cake not destined to be the butt of a joke, but rather the satisfying celebration of a sweet, new beginning. Shana tova!

Cardamom-Spiced Honey Cake with Brandy-Soaked Raisins and Ginger

Makes 1 8 1/2- by 4 1/2-inch loaf

You can add 3/4 cup of toasted nuts to the cake if you like—chopped slivered almonds, chopped pistachios, or chopped walnuts would all be nice. Add them with the raisins and brandy.

1/4 cup brandy

3/4 cup golden raisins

1 1/2 sticks plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter at room temperature

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons ground cardamom

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon allspice

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup strong-brewed warm coffee

1/2 cup honey

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

2 inches fresh gingerroot, peeled and grated

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup light brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Pour the brandy into a heat-safe bowl and microwave until hot, 15 to 30 seconds. Stir in the raisins, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and set aside.

Grease an 8 1/2- by 4 1/2-inch loaf pan with 1 tablespoon of the butter and set aside. Whisk the flour with the baking powder, cardamom, ginger, allspice, baking soda, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Whisk the coffee with the honey in a large measuring cup. Whisk in the eggs, fresh ginger, and vanilla and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or in a large bowl if using a hand mixer, cream the remaining 1 1/2 sticks of butter with the brown sugar on medium speed to combine. Raise the speed to medium-high and cream until the butter is light and airy, about 1 1/2 minutes.

Slowly drizzle in the honey-egg mixture, beating between each addition to ensure that the mixture remains homogenous and doesn’t curdle (it may look curdled after adding some of the liquid, but will come back together while you beat it). Reduce the speed to low and add half of the flour mixture. Repeat with the remaining flour mixture and then add the raisins and any brandy leftover in the bowl. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and beat for 15 seconds.

Use a rubber spatula to scrape the batter in to the prepared loaf pan. Bake until the center of the cake springs back to light pressure and a wooden cake tester or toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean or with a crumb or two attached (not batter), 40 to 50 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely before running a paring knife around the edges of the cake to loosen it from the pan and turning it out onto a cutting board or platter. Slice and serve. Wrap the cake in two layers of plastic wrap—it will stay moist and tasty for up to five days.

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Filed under Baking, Breakfast, Brunch, Dessert, Holiday, Quick Bread, Recipe