Sep 17

A Regency Rosh Hashanah meal

Next Wednesday evening marks the onset of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, 5775. Known as the Day of Judgment, when each of us is judged for our actions and omissions during the previous year, the holiday requires both immense spiritual and culinary preparations.

With the exception of Passover, Rosh Hashanah probably provides the widest scope to Jewish cooks to demonstrate their virtuosity and creativity in the kitchen. Aside from the required four festive meals for the two-day holiday—two evening meals and two day meals, many Jews also eat symbolic foods on the first, and often the second, night of Rosh Hashanah and recite a short prayer alluding to the symbolism of each food. Known as “significant omens,” these foods either taste sweet and symbolize a sweet year, or indicate an abundance of merits.

Regency table setting

Regency table setting (Drawing courtesy Heather King: http://regencywriter-hking.blogspot.co.uk)


As I researched foods from the Regency period for a post about the Rosh Hashanah culinary experience, I was reminded somewhat of the lavish Regency dinner table, with its wide variety of dishes. I envisioned the significant omens placed on the table à la Regency. And while I was not entirely successful in finding Regency recipes that coincided with what we customarily eat on Rosh Hashanah today, I imagined just what ingredients the Jews of England might have used in their significant omens when they sat down to their Rosh Hashanah tables in the Regency year of 1815.

Because it is sweet and alludes to a good, sweet year, honey cake (lekach) is also customarily eaten on Rosh Hashanah. The Hebrew word for honey, davash, has the same numerical value—306—as the Hebrew phrase for Father of Mercy and evokes Divine compassion and mercy. Honey cake is mentioned as a breakfast food during the Regency period, but the cake Jane Austen may have eaten would have been pricked and soaked with honey, with very little used in the batter.

rosh hashanah challahMany people also have to custom to add raisins to their challah, the special bread served on Jewish holidays and the Sabbath. They shape the challahs into round loaves to express the hope that the new year will be rounded out and perfect and bring the best of everything to everyone.

I’ve included my honey cake recipe below so that you can get started on your Rosh Hashanah preparations. This recipe differs from other honey cake recipes in that it is much lighter and does not include coffee or tea in the ingredients. I call it the honey cake recipe for people who hate honey cake. Because I have a family member who is allergic to wheat, I make this recipe with 70 percent spelt pastry flour, and it is delicious. While the original recipe calls for raisins and dates, I leave them out because not everyone likes them. However, if you love chocolate, you can spread ganache on top. You haven’t tasted heaven until you have tasted honey cake with chocolate.

During the coming days, I will be adding posts with recipes for Rosh Hashanah challah, the significant omens and a few main courses for the holiday meals, so be sure to check back frequently until Rosh Hashanah. In the meantime, put on an apron and start sifting your flour for the honey cake.

Honey Cake

The resulting cake is rather small. I usually double the recipe and bake it in a Bundt pan or in three foil loaf pans. I also prefer to use oil instead of margarine, as it is healthier.

1/2 cup oil or margarine
2 eggs
2/3 cup honey
1/2 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup orange juice
1 tbsp. grated orange rind (optional)
2 cup sifted flour (all-purpose, whole grain or spelt)
1-1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 cup raisins (optional)
1 c. chopped dates, floured (optional)

In a large bowl, cream oil or margarine and sugar together until light and fluffy.  Add orange rind and eggs, one at a time, beating well.  Add honey and mix well.

Sift dry ingredients together; add chopped dates and raisins.  Add to margarine-egg mixture, alternating with orange juice.

Bake in greased and floured square baking pan or fluted cake pan at 350º F (180 º C) for 30-45 minutes.


1 small carton (250 ml.) non-dairy whipping cream
200 grams bittersweet, pareve (non-dairy) chocolate

Heat creamer in a double boiler. Break chocolate into small pieces and add to the creamer. Bring to a boil and stir until all the chocolate is melted. Remove from flame and let cool for 10 minutes, then spread over cake.

Note: This recipe makes enough ganache for a large cake, so you will want to halve the recipe if you are making a single recipe or baking your honey cakes in loaf pans.