This orange blossom honey cake recipe starts Rosh Hashanah on a sweet note

Orange Blossom Honey Cake

Active time:45 mins

Total time:1 hour

Servings:8 to 10 (makes one 9-inch cake)

Active time:45 mins

Total time:1 hour

Servings:8 to 10 (makes one 9-inch cake)

For me, September has always felt like the start of a new year, more than January ever did. With the return to school and Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, following one another in quick succession, there are new and renewed routines, goals and resolutions.

Besides celebration, Rosh Hashanah invites personal reflection, as you take stock of the closing year and contemplate your intention for the new one. Symbolic and traditional dishes — apples dipped in honey, pomegranates and round challah (to symbolize the completion of the year) — are just some of the foods that grace the holiday table. And a typical greeting may include, “L’shanah tovah tikatevu v’tichatemu,” which means “May you be inscribed and sealed [in the Book of Life] for a good year.”

This year, I wanted to do something new but still feature a traditional ingredient. I found inspiration in the delightfully charming new cookbook “Gâteau” by Aleksandra Crapanzano. The book, featuring beguiling illustrations in lieu of photographs, is an exploration of French home cooks’ baking repertoire. In her introduction, Crapanzano notes that while the French bake a great deal, the recipes are unfussy and far simpler than we might think. “The French master the classics,” she writes, which allows them to “improvise with confidence and panache,” making seasonal riffs based on what’s on hand. You won’t find recipes for laminated pastry in the book but instead cakes ranging from everyday to special occasion, including a simple yogurt cake that’s taught to all French children in nursery school.

While looking for Rosh Hashanah inspiration, I came upon an unassuming recipe with a charming name, Orange Blossom Honey Cake. Crapanzano describes the cake — made with honey, orange blossom water and orange zest, and dressed in a lovely honey-orange-blossom-water syrup — as a “gentle cake, subtly sweet and floral.” Given my preference for cakes with reserved, rather than aggressive, sweetness, and my instant affection for desserts featuring orange blossom water, I was sold.

While testing the recipe, I tinkered with it slightly to make it even more home-cook-friendly and even more fragrant. I swapped out the suggested cake flour for all-purpose, not only because more home cooks have it in their pantry but also because I preferred a slightly sturdier crumb. And I added the zest to the step where butter and sugar are creamed together to release more citrus oils into the cake batter. My last tweak from the original recipe was to use half the honey syrup, though if you prefer a sweeter and moister cake, by all means use it all.

The cake was unfussy and easy to throw together, and was as delicious and subtle as promised. A tasty dessert that can be accurately classified as an “easy lift” is something a harried cook who is busy preparing a holiday feast will always be grateful for.

In the process, I discovered that having this cake in your recipe arsenal is a bit like having a fantastic little black dress in your closet: great for impromptu gatherings, afternoon luncheons, morning accompaniment to coffee or tea (tea drinkers, an Earl Grey is ideal here), and last, but not least, holiday dessert offerings.

While the cake is delightful on its own, it’s even better with a dollop of tangy crème fraîche, which Crapanzano recommends. After a rich and filling Rosh Hashanah meal, bites of this fragrant cake are a delightful and symbolic way to end the meal as we wish for a sweet new year for ourselves and our loved ones.

Orange Blossom Honey Cake

This fragrant, floral cake with a tender crumb and a subtle sweetness is like a little black dress of desserts, as appropriate for intimate gatherings as it is for celebratory meals. It would also make a lovely accompaniment to a morning cup of coffee or tea. A honey-based glaze, in addition to the yogurt and almond flour, helps to keep the cake moist. Food writer Aleksandra Crapanzano writes in her cookbook “Gâteau” that such simple cakes are the norm in France, which might explain why the French bake so often. She recommends serving this cake with a dollop of crème fraîche.

If you don’t have any oranges, you can use another citrus, such as Meyer lemons or clementines.

Storage: Store, covered with a clean tea towel, at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Where to Buy: Orange blossom water can be found at well-stocked supermarkets, Middle Eastern markets or online.

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  • 1 stick (4 ounces/113 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pan
  • 1 1/2 cups (188 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup (85 grams) almond flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest (from 2 large oranges, preferably organic; see Headnote)
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (160 grams) mild honey, preferably orange blossom or wildflower
  • 1 cup (227 grams) whole-milk plain yogurt, at room temperature (may substitute with crème fraîche)
  • 2 teaspoons orange blossom water
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup (100 grams) mild honey, preferably orange blossom or wildflower
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Finely grated zest and juice of 1 large lemon (about 1 1/2 teaspoons zest and 2 tablespoons juice)
  • 2 teaspoons orange blossom water
  • Crème fraîche, for serving (optional)

Make the cake: Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Butter the sides and bottom of a 9-inch cake pan with 2-inch sides and line the bottom with a round of parchment.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour, almond flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt until thoroughly combined. If the almond flour is clumpy, break up the clumps with the whisk.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or using a large bowl and a hand mixer, beat the butter, sugar and orange zest on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stop and scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, and briefly beat again to incorporate. Reduce the mixer speed to medium, drizzle in the honey, and mix to combine. Add the yogurt and orange blossom water and mix to combine.

Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in the dry ingredients in two to three batches, just until no streaks of flour remain.

Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and use a small offset spatula to smooth the top. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the cake is deep golden brown on the edges and starts to pull away from the sides of the pan. Transfer the cake to a wire rack and let cool in the pan for about 10 minutes before unmolding onto a large plate.

Make the syrup: While the cake is baking, in a small saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Drizzle in the honey and stir in the vanilla and zest. Remove from the heat and stir in the citrus juice. Right before glazing, stir in the orange blossom water; you should have about 3/4 cup (180 milliliters).

Glaze the cake: While the cake is still warm, drizzle with half the glaze all over the cake (you can add the remaining glaze, if you like, but start with half of it first). Let the cake cool completely, then slice and serve with a dollop of crème fraîche, if using.

Per serving (1 slice, using half of the syrup for the whole cake), based on 10

Calories: 305; Total Fat: 13 g; Saturated Fat: 7 g; Cholesterol: 74 mg; Sodium: 213 mg; Carbohydrates: 45 g; Dietary Fiber: 1 g; Sugar: 30 g; Protein: 5 g

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.

Adapted from “Gâteau” by Aleksandra Crapanzano (Scribner, 2022).

Tested by Olga Massov; email questions to voraciously@washpost.com.

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