Honey cakes are traditionally eaten on Rosh Hashana. Onik is Yiddish for honey, and Leikach is most probably derived from German leck – lick, as in “licking the honey.” That’s easy. We use honey all over the place on Rosh Hashana in order to have a sweet year; we even wish each other “a zis yor” – a sweet year. But where did all these honey customs come from? Surely, they had sugar in ancient Israel, didn’t they? Actually, they didn’t, and honey was the only known sweetener.
The taste of manna, the miraculous food that sustained Jews in the dessert for 40 years, is described in the Torah as “wafers that had been made with honey.” Therefore, all this honey on Rosh Hashana is supposed to remind us that all our sustenance is in His hand. And the bees themselves, if you think about them, are both the source of sweetness and the source of pain, when they sting. That should remind us that He is kind and compassionate, but also demanding and strict.
Bearing all this in mind, we can start making honey cakes. Oh no, we can’t! There is yet another question: nuts or no nuts? One tradition holds that, since the numerical value of the word nuts is equal to the word sin, all nuts should be banned on all holidays. The other one, on the contrary, claims that the Yiddish word for nuts, nisim, sounds like the Hebrew neis, which means miracle. My family is firmly entrenched in the “yes to nuts” school of thought; however, I am baking an additional cake to give away, and I don’t know their custom, so I am making one each, with and without nuts. I haven’t figured out a spelt honey cake yet, but at least I am using whole wheat flour. In addition to honey, I am also using xylitol.
I’ve seen people using coffee, tea, beet juice, even food coloring, to darken Onik Leikach, as opposed to a White Leikach which I will discuss in a different post. Being myself, I used unsweetened cocoa powder. As with any other cake batter, you whisk eggs with olive oil and honey first, with a pinch of salt, then gradually add flour, xylitol, baking powder, and cocoa. Finally,you add (or you don’t add) chopped walnuts. Pour it into a greased baking pan and bake for about 40 minutes at 350 F.
Check doneness by inserting a toothpick. If it comes out dry, remove from the oven and immediately remove from the baking pan. cool on the rack. Slice and serve, for a good, healthy, and sweet year! Shana Tova! A Zis Yor!
- 2 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
- 3/4 cup honey
- 3 eggs
- 1/4 cup xylitol
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
- A pinch of salt
- A pinch of cinnamon
- Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease loaf baking pan.
- Whisk eggs with oil and honey.
- Gradually introduce flour, xylitol, baking powder, salt, cinnamon. Add walnuts, if needed.
- Bake for 40 – 45 minutes. Insert toothpick in the center to check for doneness. When ready, remove from oven, remove from pan, cool on rack.