Sweeter Than Honey


"L'shana tovah u'metukah," or as we now say simply, "l'shana tovah," the Hebrew wish for a sweet new year. Food shared during Rosh Hashanah is symbolic--- such as honey--- for a happy and prosperous new year. Typically honey is eaten with apples during this holiday. Honey has been a symbol of sweetness in the Jewish heritage of poetry, as in this passage of Song of Songs: "Your lips, my bride, drip honey. Honey and milk are under your tongue, and the fragrance of your garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon." In these ancient rhapsodic poems, the beloved bride's lips 'drip honey' symbolizing the sweetness of love.

According to the Jewish calendar, it's the year 5775, which makes me ponder time and how we perceive and experience it. My grandma calls to wish us "l'shana tovah," school is closed. My youngest daughter and I bake pumpkin spice madeleines. I'm not religious at all, yet I'm honoring my Jewish roots and celebrating the autumn solstice by baking pumpkin madeleines using freshly ground homemade pumpkin pie spices and sticky honey, which is, to me, the perfect way to relax and enjoy Rosh Hashanah morning. Out in the backyard, we share warm madeleines with tea, and I'm reminded of the writer Marcel Proust, how he fondly remembered the sensual combination of a crumbly madeleine dipped in a flowery tisane.

...I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate than a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place.
— Marcel Proust

I love the fall not only for the cooler weather it brings, but for the baking and cooking that it inspires. Cinnamon, nutmeg, and other spices like star anise and mace make me want to wrap myself in an apron, turn on the oven and whip up a batch of pumpkin spice muffins. I have madeleine pans, so I fill them with the extra batter. My youngest daughter helps, and we watch the batter spill over from one muffin cup to another.

"Uh-oh," my daughter giggles.

"Quick!" I say, holding the bowl over the madeleine pan.


I've read and re-read the passage written by Marcel Proust about tea and the madeleine while eating my own crumbly pumpkin madeleine cake, drizzled with honey and dipped in tea:

She sent out for one of those short, plump little cakes called ‘petites madeleines,’ which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim’s shell. And soon, mechanically, weary after a dull day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate than a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, but individual, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory—this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me, it was myself. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, accidental, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I was conscious that it was connected with the taste of tea and cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could not, indeed, be of the same nature as theirs. Whence did it come? What did it signify? How could I seize upon and define it?

I drink a second mouthful, in which I find nothing more than in the first, a third, which gives me rather less than the second. It is time to stop; the potion is losing its magic. It is plain that the object of my quest, the truth, lies not in the cup but in myself. The tea has called up in me, but does not itself understand, and can only repeat indefinitely with a gradual loss of strength, the same testimony; which I, too, cannot interpret, though I hope at least to be able to call upon the tea for it again and to find it there presently, intact and at my disposal, for my final enlightenment. I put down my cup and examine my own mind. It is for it to discover the truth. But how? What an abyss of uncertainty whenever the mind feels that some part of it has strayed beyond its own borders; when it, the seeker, is at once the dark region through which it must go seeking, where all its equipment will avail it nothing. Seek? More than that: create. It is face to face with something which does not so far exist, to which it alone can give reality and substance, which it alone can bring into the light of day.
— Marcel Proust

I cannot take credit for making these from scratch. I used a boxed mix, adding a few spoonfuls of canned pumpkin into the batter, along with extra vanilla extract, pumpkin seed oil, and freshly grated cinnamon and nutmeg. Sometimes, as a working mother, short cuts are allowed. If I could, I would've spent all morning creating the homemade recipe.

Trader Joe's is my friend during the busy work week, and goodness there was a bounty of pumpkin items when I went in for a quick shop. Trader Joe's Pumpkin Bread & Muffin Mix is great to add your own touch to when you just want pumpkin bread or muffins without much ado. I added two heaping spoonfuls of their organic canned pumpkin, along with their brand of coconut and pumpkin seed oil rather than the suggested vegetable oil given by instruction on the side of the box. I have Cinnamon Hill cinnamon sticks to grate fresh amounts of cinnamon, and whole nutmeg.

For the mix version: Add two eggs, water, and vanilla into a bowl, all measured as directed on box. Pour the coconut and pumpkin seed oil in (again, measure as directed) then add the two tablespoons of canned pumpkin, and blend by hand. Add the dry mix. Grate cinnamon and nutmeg over batter. Stir. Pour into molds. Bake. It's that easy.

For a recipe from scratch, here's a pumpkin spice cake recipe I found (via Martha Stewart). You can substitute the butter with 1/2 cup coconut oil and a touch of pumpkin seed oil -- or --  I suggest a 1/2 cup Earth Balance as a butter substitute. If you use Earth Balance, I recommend original (not whipped) or the vegan buttery sticks.

Pumpkin Spice Madeleines


  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus more for pan (substitute Earth Balance or coconut oil)

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, (spooned and leveled)

  • 2 teaspoons baking soda

  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

  • 1 tablespoon pumpkin-pie spice (or 1 1/2 teaspoons grated cinnamon, 3/4 teaspoon ginger, 1/2 teaspoon whole grated nutmeg)

  • 2 large eggs

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar (raw coconut sugar is great instead of white sugar)

  • 1 can (15 ounces) solid-pack pumpkin puree (organic if you can)


Preheat oven to 350 F degrees. Butter -- or use coconut oil spray-- two madeleine baking pans. Mine make 12 madeleines per pan, so you'll make 24 madeleines.

In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, salt, and pumpkin-pie spice. In a large bowl, whisk eggs, sugar, butter (or oil), vanilla and pumpkin puree until combined. Add dry ingredients to pumpkin mixture, and mix gently until smooth.

Pour batter into prepared madeleine molds. If you have extra batter, pour into muffin tins.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out with just a few moist crumbs, 25 to 30 minutes.

Cool cakes 10 minutes in pans, then turn out of pans, and cool completely.

Drizzle with honey and eat them slowly with tea while reading a book.