We continue to delve into my grandmother’s holiday menu, as well as my story, with Part 2. If you missed Part 1, please go here. Part 3 is here. Part 4 is here. Part 5 is here. Part 6 is here. Part 7 is here.
2. Tzaddik – a righteous person, outstanding for his faith and piety.
This part comes with two recipes, Onik Leikach and White Leikach. Even though technically they are both desserts, we would have them on the table from the very beginning, together with appetizers, to ensure the sweet year. Honey and jams would also be there from the very beginning, for the same reason.
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.
As a contrast to a dark Onik Leikach, it is traditional to serve a very light White Leikach. Also in contrast to the honey cakes made specifically for Rosh Hashana, white cakes are made at any time during the year, for most holidays, and, interestingly enough, for a consolation meal after a funeral. I think there is a life and death symbolism in that simple little cake made of three ingredients in three steps.
I have to tell you, though, that as many times as my grandmother shared this recipe, nobody could ever duplicate her light as feather, puffy and fluffy cake. I still don’t understand the reason for it because I really do not know of an easier cake to bake.
You need only three ingredients: eggs, sugar, and flour. A drop of vanilla extract is nice but not mandatory.
Carefully separate white from yolks and put the yolks aside. Sprinkle a pinch of salt into egg whites and whip them on high speed until stiff peaks form, then gradually add sugar. Continue whipping until all sugar dissolves. Add egg yolks and whip some more until they blend. Add some vanilla extract and start adding sifted flour. Add gradually and continue whipping, but reduce speed.
Once everything is blended well, pour batter into a greased loaf cake form. It should take about half the height of a standard form, but don’t worry! To quote the immortal Eliza Doolittle , “Just you wayt!” Treat it gently, tiptoe and whisper around it, otherwise, my grandmother claimed, the leikach will not rise. She also used to say a blessing on each food when she started cooking or baking it. I only do that on holiday foods and on challah.
You have to bake it for 30 minutes, then stick a few walnuts on top, and bake for 20 more minutes. We belong to a school of thought which holds that nisim (nuts) symbolize miracles (nes), and we can always use those, so I stick nuts into everything. Bake for about 20 more minutes, until golden and dry to the touch. And if you did everything right, it comes out twice the size of what had gone in!
Have a year light and happy like this Leikach! May your blessings rise and never fall! Shana Tova! A Zis Yor!
The dissemination of all my holiday recipes to a wider audience has been made possible through a valiant effort of Esme, The Recipe Hunter, of https://cookandenjoyrecipes.wordpress.com, and her fantastic Recipe Exchange program. Thank you again, dear Esme, for performing this vitally important service for the community.
- 4 eggs
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup all purpose flour
- 1/4 spoon vanilla extract
- A pinch of salt
- Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease loaf baking pan.
- Separate egg whites from yolks. Put yolks on the side. Add a pinch of salt to egg whites.
- Whip egg whites on high speed until stiff peaks form. Add yolks, whip together until well blended.
- Gradually add sugar, keep whipping until sugar dissolves.
- Gradually add flour, whip on low until well blended.
- Transfer to greased baking pan, bake for 30 minutes.
- Place a few walnuts on top and bake for 20 – 25 more minutes until done.