What it is: A loaf-style cake sweetened with honey, one of the many richly symbolic foods traditionally served at Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, which begins at sunset, Friday, Sept. 18.
Where it comes from: Jewish custom calls for serving sweet foods at Rosh Hashana to signify hopes for a sweet year to come. The word lekach is Yiddish, from the German lecke (“lick”). Though recipes vary widely, many Ashkenazi versions are likely based on lebkuchen, dense German gingerbreads dating to 13th century.
The tradition is actually far older, though, with roots in ancient Egypt. Honey cakes, perhaps baked by Jewish slaves, were among the sacrifices sealed into the tombs of the pharaohs. Basboosa, a honey-drenched Middle Eastern cake made from semolina, is likely closer to the original.
What to do with it: Slice about 1-inch thick and serve with sliced apples drizzled with more honey. L’shanah tovah! (Happy new year!)
Gale Gand’s lekach
Honey-almond crunch cake
This lekach recipe from Chef Gale Gand of Tru in Streeterville, adapted from her cookbook “Butter Sugar Flour Eggs: Whimsical Irresistible Desserts,” is lighter and fluffier than the traditional honey cake. The crunchy almond topping recalls teiglach, another favorite Rosh Hashana confection. (Some Jews avoid nuts on Rosh Hashana, though, because their symbolism in Jewish numerology equates to “sin”!)
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons dark honey
1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
1 cup buttermilk
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoons salt
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8-1/2-by-4-1/2-inch loaf pan with foil and butter it heavily.
Pour 3 tablespoons of the melted butter into the pan, tilting to coat the bottom. Evenly layer in 1/4 cup of the brown sugar, 2 tablespoons of the honey and the almonds.
In a large bowl, lightly beat the eggs and whisk in the remaining 3/4 cup of brown sugar until well combined. Mix in the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter and 1/2 cup of honey, then whisk in the buttermilk a little at a time.
In another bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add this mixture to the batter a little at a time, whisking until smooth. Pour over the almonds in the pan.
Bake about 1 hour, until a pick inserted into the cake’s center comes out dry and nearly clean. Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Remove from the pan, using the foil to help, if needed, and invert onto a wire rack. Peel off the foil and let cool. 8 servings.