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The Honey in the Batter

Leah Krieger

The recipe states “3 or 4 eggs,” but “don’t worry,” Mommy told me then, “this is a forgiving recipe. It always comes out.” And it does.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

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M

y daughter is coming tonight and I want to give her honey cupcakes. It’s almost Rosh Hashanah.

As I pull out my recipes that I keep in a painted metal box, I notice how old some of them are. Fanning the index cards out on the white kitchen table, one of them, dark with age and streaked with coffee or grease from long ago when it sat unheeded on my kitchen counter, takes me back. It’s written in a neat cursive that I don’t recall possessing, but I must have, because I wrote it down when I called my mother and got the details from her, the expert. She didn’t quite remember how many eggs it needed, so the recipe states “3 or 4 eggs,” but “don’t worry,” she told me then, “this is a forgiving recipe. It always comes out.” And it does.

I’ve never failed when baking my mother’s honey cake or her wonderful cupcakes. The flavor varies from sinfully delicious to just very good, but it doesn’t ever flop, even if I omit an ingredient or two — with the exception, of course, of the honey. My mother’s honey cake doesn’t contain brown sugar, nuts, or the adulterants commonly added today. It’s sweetened with one full pound of honey. My mother used Golden Blossom, poured from the jar. When I was little, I’d stand beside my mother and watch the clear syrup swirl gently into the batter.

First Mommy “made a well,” as she explained. I’d pull a chair to the counter, stand, and watch her work. My mother seemed tall to me then, though she was only about five-foot-two; she usually wore a cotton shirtwaist dress covered by a colorful print apron that contrasted with her kerchief-covered soft brown hair and eyes.

With her wooden spoon, she pushed the flour to the sides of the big bowl and poured honey, eggs, and coffee into the center of the flour. Then, holding the small hand mixer (Mom never splurged on a fancy stand machine), she mixed the sticky batter until all the lumps were gone. She poured it into 24 paper-lined cupcake tins; there was usually enough batter to make a small cake, as well. I never understood why a well was needed if ultimately all would merge together, but when I was little, I didn’t question, merely observed from my perch on the chair beside the narrow counter.

In our kitchen in Brooklyn, my mother was a cupcake master long before they became popular inManhattan. She had a precise mathematical mind and understood that cupcakes bake more quickly than full-sized cakes, and, furthermore, don’t require slicing with the attendant crumbs, as all are neatly contained within the pastel paper holders. There were six of us then, so details like crumbs were important to my mother. 

 

She baked most Fridays for Shabbos; if my father bought cake from the kosher grocery store, she took it as a personal affront. “I baked already,” she’d say sharply. My father would usually apologize, but I suspect he liked the frosted bakery seven-layer cake and bought it intentionally. Now that I’m older, I understand her frustration at being eclipsed by the store-bought cake, but back then I sided with my father. After all, she could have told him not to buy a cake before he went shopping. Mommy didn’t work that way though. She was not a woman of lists or planning.

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