Chef, writer, and cooking instructor Susan Barocas lives in Washington, DC where she is well known for teaching about Sephardic foodways — and the fact that she served as guest chef for three Passover seders at the White House for the Obamas! Susan is also beloved in Atlanta where she was a presenter at Limmud, cooked with Chef Todd Ginsberg, and spent time visiting Congregation Or Ve Shalom’s legendary boureka makers. We wanted to share her recipe for Tishpishti, a Sephardic honey cake that is perfect for Sukkot, October 3-9.
Susan writes: Many non-Ashkenazic Jews from various cultures make a version of it. Tishpishti is a very old cake that uses a combination of flour and ground nuts, but no eggs. After baking, it is soaked twice in a honey-sugar-lemon syrup (mine is fragrant with cinnamon and clove), similar to baklava. It is dense, sweet, but not cloying, and leaves a good taste in your mouth as we go forward into a new year with renewed strength, hope, and determination to make the world a better place. For the perfect traditional treat, enjoy Tishpishti with a cup of mint tea or strong Turkish coffee.
Syruped Honey Cake
Recipe by Susan Barocas
Prep time: 25 minutes
Cooking time: 40-45 minutes
Yield: about 30 diamond-shaped pieces
4 cups flour
1 cup finely ground walnut or almond meal (not flour)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup oil, preferably safflower, sunflower or other good vegetable oil
2 cups water
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
About 30 almond slices
1 cup sugar
1 cup honey
1 cup water
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1-2 tablespoons orange blossom water (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9×13-inch pan. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, ground nuts, baking powder and baking soda until blended.
In a large saucepan, mix the rest of the cake ingredients except the sliced almonds and heat over medium heat, stirring often. Remove the saucepan from the heat just as it begins to boil. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the flour mixture, about 1/3 at a time, until it is totally absorbed and the batter is well blended. It will seem like the last bit of flour can’t get mixed in, but it can. If absolutely necessary, add a teaspoon or two of oil. The batter will be very thick and dough-like. Scoop the mixture into the greased pan and gently flatten the batter with your hands so it is spread evenly, and the edges are straight. Score the cake into small diamond shapes, about 30, cutting about halfway down. Press one almond slice on top of each piece, all in the same direction. Bake 40-45 minutes until the edges are just starting to brown.
While the cake is baking, stir the syrup ingredients together in a heavy saucepan over medium heat until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Stop stirring, turn the heat up to high until the mixture boils, then reduce heat to a gentle boil. Cook about 15 minutes until the mixture thickens but is still syrupy. Turn off the heat and let the syrup cool while the cake bakes.
Take the cake out of the oven. Let it stand for about 5 minutes, then pour half the cooled syrup evenly over the still warm cake, which will absorb the syrup as it cools. Wait a few minutes, then follow the scoring to cut all the way through the pieces. Pour the rest of the syrup evenly into the cuts and over the cake. This cake is best if allowed to stand for 24 hours and keeps for a couple weeks, although it won’t last that long.