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Honey Cake: The Fruitcake of the Jews


Jews aren't just the people of the book; we're the people of the fork. Eat, pray, love -- and eat. That's us! We're the mavens of matzah balls, the champions of chopped liver. But even champions lose sometimes, and even mavens make mistakes. And for Jews, our downfall comes every fall, during Rosh Hashanah. That's right, folks: I'm talking about honey cake, the fruitcake of the Jews.

Seriously, have you ever tried to take down a piece of honey cake? Have you ever made it through a big old bite? You can't. It's impossible. It's the original Man vs. Food. This cake has no frosting, no filling, and no chocolate chips. It doesn't even deserve to be called a cake. It's more like a depressing little loaf, or date bread's dreary cousin. Boring, bland, dry, and dull -- it's like the rabbi's sermon of desserts.

Don't get me wrong: we usually get it right. Usually Jew food is genius! Hamentaschen on Purim -- perfect! Latkes on Chanukah -- licking the plate! Fasting on Yom Kipuur -- ok, fine, maybe that one could use some work, too. But honey cake? Honey cake? We've been celebrating for 5771 years and that's the best we could do?

I know, I know. It's a symbol for a sweet new year. It's a metaphor for the good things to come. Well, let me tell you, if honey cake is a sign of what lies ahead, that's not saying much for my new year. I don't feel happy when I see honey cake; I feel sad. I feel sorry for that abandoned, lonely pastry sitting untouched on the table while we nosh down on other desserts. It's the last cake picked for gym class. Even at Yom Kippur Break Fast, everyone rushes from the synagogue sanctuary to scarf down the cookies and challah and parve shul brownies that the sisterhood set out. But no one touches the honey cake. People would rather continue their fast than feast on that. If my year is anything like that honey cake's fate, I'm going to spend it sitting home alone without a single suitor in sight. I don't need a pastry to remind me I could end up old and alone; I've got my Jewish mother to do that.

Now, let's say you're not single. Let's say you're lucky enough to have a boyfriend who asked you to ring in The Rosh with his family. If you show up at his family's house with a honking loaf of honey cake, you won't be his honey for long. His parents will politely accept your gift, whisk it away to the kitchen, and mumble something about how his last girlfriend was mensch enough to bring mondelbrot. It's true -- honey cake makes a horrible hostess gift. It's a no-go for any guest.

And don't get me started on the calorie count. If I take down that honey cake, the only thing I'll start the New Year with is a new five pounds. I mean, I'm willing to sacrifice my poulkes for some kugel and kishke. But why in the world would I hand over my hips to a honey cake? Please. If I'm going to rack up the Weight Watchers points on Rosh Hashanah, I'm doing it with a dozen rugelach.

In the least, honey cake needs some kind of extreme edible makeover. Someone call Sprinkles or Magnolia Bakery -- we want some honey cake cupcakes, stat! I mean, everything tastes better when it's smothered under three inches of icing, right? Of course, I'd still skip the cake part and go straight to licking off the frosting with my fingers. I'm sorry to say, I think Rosh Hashanah honey cake is hopeless.

Here's the thing, Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year. It's all about starting anew. So this year, I propose a new dessert. I suggest we start a new tradition. And I know just how to do it. On Rosh Hashanah, Jews perform Taschlich, a ceremony during which we symbolically cast off our sins by casting crumbs into a moving body of water. Well, let's forget tossing day-old challah crumbs and start chucking whole honey cakes. Yes, down the river. We'll cast away the lying, the cheating, and the bad culinary choices. I'm sure some traditionalists out there will start a "save the honey cake" campaign. They'll stand outside the kosher grocer with petitions; they'll boycott the kosher corner bakery. But they can't intimidate me. There's a reason Israel is called the Land of Milk and Honey, not Milk and Honey Cake. I say haul away the honey cake, and it actually will be a happy new year.

 
 
 

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