Rosh Hashanah, literally translated as head of the year, begins this year at sundown on Sept. 8, ushering in a 10-day period for reflection on the past year and making resolutions for the new one. It is a time when families come together for festive meals and where sweet foods are traditionally eaten, symbolizing hope for happiness and a sweet life in the coming year. In some homes, families follow the ancient custom of substituting sugar in salt shakers to be used during the holiday.
Honey, because of its sweetness, is an important ingredient in Rosh Hashanah cooking and baking. It is customary to dip slices of challah and apples in honey at the beginning of the meal. A tradition in our family is to hollow out a large apple, fill it with honey, and place it on a platter surrounded with sliced apples that can be dipped and eaten when guests arrive. The recipes I am sharing feature honey and apples, and any can be included in your holiday menus.
Using honey as a sweetener is not difficult, and you can substitute it for sugar in your favorite recipes. The general rule is to use one-quarter less honey than you would sugar, then reduce the amount of liquid by one-quarter as well. I have found that cakes made with honey seem to stay fresh longer.
There are many varieties of honey available. A few examples are orange blossom, chestnut, lavender and wildflower, and each has its own distinctive flavor. It is fun to experiment and use the taste you prefer.
Honey cake is a delicious dessert to make for this holiday. Over the years, I have experimented with many recipes, and this delicious, high-rise Spice and Coffee Honey Cake has a light, appealing texture, the result of folding in beaten egg whites. Try it once, and you’ll never buy another store-bought honey cake. If you are invited as a guest to a Rosh Hashanah dinner, it will make a wonderful holiday gift.
A round challah, signifying a long and full life, is the traditional shape to bake on Rosh Hashanah. Sweetened with honey and baked with apples and raisins, Fruit-Filled Holiday Challah is perfect for serving at dinner or toasted for dessert. An added plus: Because it has no egg yolks and very little oil, it is low in cholesterol.
The Apple-Spinach Salad With Sauteed Salmon follows the theme of combining apples and honey. Made with diced apples, tahini and honey, it is an ideal dish to serve during the holiday. The dressing can be prepared the day before and refrigerated. The spinach leaves are tossed with the mixture and topped with the sautéed salmon just before serving.
In many homes, a “first fruit of the fall season,” such as figs, grapes or pomegranates, is eaten. I have included an Apple-Pomegranate Sorbet recipe garnished with pomegranate seeds. The uncooked apples give it a delightful crisp texture; serve a scoop with the honey cake.
Have a healthy and happy New Year. L’Shanah Tovah.
APPLE-SPINACH SALAD WITH SAUTEED SALMON
Prepare salmon; set aside.
In a large bowl, toss the apples, green onions and celery with juice of 1 lemon to keep the apples from darkening; set aside.
In a blender, food processor or small bowl, blend together the mayonnaise, tahini, honey and juice of the remaining lemon; the mixture will be very thick. Toss with the apple mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and chill.
Just before serving, place spinach in a large bowl, add the apple mixture, and toss to coat the spinach thoroughly. Arrange sauteed salmon chunks on top and garnish with sesame seeds.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
Variation: Substitute poached chicken for the salmon. Dice and mix with the apple mixture for a chicken salad and arrange on spinach leaves.
In a skillet, heat olive oil and sauté salmon chunks, tossing until lightly browned on all sides. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set aside.
FRUIT-FILLED HOLIDAY CHALLAH
Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup of the warm water with a pinch of sugar; set aside until foamy.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the remaining 1 cup warm water, salt, honey, oil and 4 egg whites. Blend in yeast mixture. Add 4 cups flour, 1 cup at a time, blending with a beater after each addition. Spoon remaining flour on a wooden board. Pour dough onto flour and knead 5 minutes, incorporating enough flour to make a smooth elastic dough. Place dough in a greased bowl and grease the top. Cover with a towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.
Punch down the dough and divide in half. Working with one half at a time, divide into three parts. Roll each part into a rectangle. Brush with oil and top with an even layer of Apple Filling. Roll each rectangle into a long rope. Seal the ends of the 3 ropes together and braid. Gently work the braids into a circle and pinch the ends together to form a round challah.
Repeat with remaining half of dough.
Sprinkle corn meal on a large oiled baking sheet or two 8- to 9-inch round cake pans and place braided challah on the baking sheet or in the cake plans. Cover with a towel and let rise in a warm place for 45 minutes or until doubled in size.
Brush with remaining egg white, then sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar. Bake in preheated 350 F oven for 30 to 40 minutes. Cool on rack.
Makes 2 round challahs.
In a large bowl, combine the apples, lemon juice, raisins, honey and cinnamon. Cover with plastic wrap and chill. Drain well and use for the challah filling.
SPICE AND HONEY CAKE
In a large mixing bowl, blend honey, sugar, coffee and oil. Add the egg yolks and beat until light and smooth.
In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon salt, cloves and ginger. Gradually add the flour mixture to the honey mixture, beating until well blended.
In a large mixing bowl, beat the egg whites with remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Gently fold the beaten egg whites and almonds into the batter.
Pour batter into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan. Bake in preheated 350 F oven for 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.
Immediately remove pan from oven and invert it onto a wire rack to cool. With a sharp knife, loosen cake from pan’s sides and tube. Remove cake from pan and transfer to a large cake platter.
Makes 8 to 10 servings.
Place the pomegranate juice and sugar in a heavy pot over medium heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a slow, rolling boil, reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and chill.
Combine the pomegranate juice mixture, pureed apples and lemon juice; blend well. Freeze in refrigerator-freezer, electric or hand-crank freezer.
For refrigerator-freezer, pour the mixture into flat-bottomed ice cube trays without their dividers or a freezer-proof glass bowl. Place in freezer and stir with a fork every hour, scraping from the sides into the center. Continue stirring and freezing until the ice is set, 3 to 4 hours. Or follow the directions on your electric or hand-crank freezer.
Scoop into individual bowls and garnish with pomegranate seeds or serve with slices of honey cake.
Makes 1 quart.
Judy Zeidler is the author of “The Gourmet Jewish Cook” (Morrow, 1988) and “The International Deli Cookbook“ (Chronicle, 1994). She teaches cooking classes through American Jewish University’s Whizin Center for Continuing Education. Her soon-to-be-published cookbook, “Italy Cooks,” is based on 35 years of travel in Italy. Her Web site is judyzeidler.com.