A honeyed new year

Apple-studded challah. Photo by Dan Kacvinski

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is a holiday full of hope and optimism as well as apples, honey and round challahs.

Many of the traditional dishes that are served feature honey and apples to assure “a sweet new year.” It is said the custom of eating apples, a fruit whose fragrance is associated with the Garden of Eden, forecasts a New Year that will be smooth, sweet and well-rounded. Other holiday foods with special meanings include fish (immortality) and pomegranates (fertility).

We always serve a round challah, symbolizing unending happiness, along with apple slices dipped in honey to greet our family and friends. I love the way some synagogues now have a ritual of serving apples and honey as the congregants leave Rosh Hashanah services on their way home to their family dinner.

Our traditional round challah has a new look this year. Combined with whole wheat flour — which adds wonderful flavor, texture and aroma — apples and honey, it is covered with sesame seeds, braided and baked in a ring. We leave a hole in the center, where a bowl of honey is placed for dipping.

When I was growing up, holiday dinners meant roast chicken, always baked in tomato sauce, with onions, carrots, celery and potatoes; the recipe never changed. Following the Rosh Hashanah theme, I have included a delicious roast chicken recipe baked with apples and honey. It is a perfect main course, as it can be prepared in advance and served warm or cold.

Kreplach, another traditional holiday food, is said to date back to the 12th century, and each country seems to have its own version of a filled egg-noodle dough, whether fried, boiled in soup or steamed. Some think that the dish originated in China and worked its way via the trade routes to Europe. This year, I am making apple-filled kreplach that are served with honey as an accompaniment to the main course.

My husband and his cousin remember, when they were growing up in Boyle Heights, their bubbe (grandmother) making kreplach during the holidays. She worked in the kitchen early in the morning, rolling out the dough on a wooden board that she put on the kitchen table, and cut each square by hand. They reminisced that Bubbe would serve these kreplach, filled with kasha and roast meat, in a clear chicken soup.

The dessert, Macaroon Apple Cake, tastes like an exotic Scandinavian pastry but can be made the day before and stored in the refrigerator. Apples and strawberry preserves are topped with a crunchy nut crust — made with crushed macaroons and almonds — that gives it a subtle flavor you’d think came from marzipan.

A word about apples

  • Look for apples that are firm and bright in color. Avoid any that feel soft or have bruised areas.
  • Depending on the variety, apples will keep two weeks or more in the refrigerator.
  • After slicing, green apples do not turn brown as rapidly as red apples.
  • Cook apples in a stainless steel, enamel or glass saucepan.
  • Peel apples with a stainless steel vegetable peeler or knife.
  • Granny Smith and Pippin apples are firm and tart and require more baking or cooking time; they also require more sugar.
  • Red or Golden Delicious apples need less sugar and take less time to cook.
  • Rome Beauty apples hold their shape and are good for baking.


1 package active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water (110-115 F)
Pinch sugar
3 eggs
1/3 cup honey
1/4 cup unsalted margarine, melted
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon ground saffron (optional)
2 tablespoons brandy
4 to 5 cups unbleached flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup diced apples, tossed with 1 tablespoon flour

Yellow corn meal
1 egg white, lightly beaten
Sesame seeds
Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup warm water with a pinch of sugar.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together eggs, honey and margarine. Add remaining 1 cup warm water, salt, saffron and brandy; blend well. Blend in the yeast mixture. Add 1 cup unbleached flour and mix well. Continue adding 1 cup unbleached flour together with 1/2 cup whole wheat flour, blending after each addition, until all the whole wheat flour and enough of the unbleached flour is incorporated to make a dough that is thick enough to work by hand.

Spread 2 cups of the remaining unbleached flour onto a pastry board; place the dough on the board and knead for 5 to 10 minutes, gradually incorporating the apples and enough of the remaining unbleached flour to make a smooth and elastic dough. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, and oil the top of the dough. Cover with a towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 2 hours.

Divide the dough into three equal parts. Form each one into a long rope, braid the ropes together, and seal the ends by pinching, then join both ends to form a ring.

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

Line a heavy baking sheet with foil or a silicone baking mat; brush with oil and sprinkle with corn meal. Place the challah onto the prepared baking sheet. Cover with a towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 30 minutes. Brush the loaf with beaten egg white and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Bake in preheated oven for 30 to 40 minutes until golden brown. Cool on a rack. Serve with a bowl of honey.

Makes 1 extra-large round challah or 2 small challahs.


1 fresh whole chicken (3 1/2 to 4 1/2 pounds)
1 apple, cut in quarters
1 onion, cut in quarters
4 garlic cloves, cut in half
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup olive oil
4 tablespoons fresh rosemary
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 450 F.

Wash chicken under cold water. Place apple, onion and garlic into cavity of the chicken.

In a bowl, mix together honey, olive oil, rosemary, salt and pepper; mixture should be a paste-like consistency. Rub this mixture all over the outside of the chicken, turning the chicken to rub the underside, too.

Line a large roasting pan with foil and place chicken in the center. Bake for 45 minutes, uncovered. After 45 minutes, chicken should have a dark brown crust. Cover with foil and roast for another 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest for 10 minutes before carving.

Makes 6 servings.


Baked apple kreplach. Photo by Dan Kacvinski

Apple Filling (recipe follows)
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted margarine
3 tablespoons water
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 cup honey

Prepare the Apple Filling, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate.

Preheat oven to 400 F.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt and powdered sugar. Cut in 1/2 cup margarine until the mixture is crumbly. Blend in the water until the dough begins to come together. Do not over-mix. Knead the dough into a ball, wrap it in waxed paper, and chill in refrigerator for 5 to 10 minutes.

Divide the dough into two parts. Cover one part with a towel; roll the other part out on a large sheet of floured wax paper to a thickness of 1/8 to 1/4 inch. Cut the dough into 3-inch squares. Place a teaspoon of Apple Mixture in the center of each square; brush the edges with water, and carefully fold the dough into a triangle, pressing the edges with the tines of a fork to seal. Place on a foil-lined or silicone baking mat that has been brushed with margarine. Repeat with remaining dough. (Can be covered with foil and stored in the refrigerator or freezer at this point.)

Just before baking, brush the kreplach lightly with beaten egg and sprinkle with granulated sugar.

Bake in preheated oven 15 to 20 minutes until golden brown. Using a metal spatula, transfer to a platter. Drizzle honey over the top.

Makes 24 to 36 kreplach.


4 Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored and diced
1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons flour
2 teaspoons each nutmeg and cinnamon

In a large bowl, toss together all ingredients. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to fill kreplach.


Macaroon apple cake. Photo by Dan Kacvinski

1 pound almond macaroons, toasted and finely ground (about 2 1/2 cups crumbs)
1 1/4 cups toastedground almonds
3/4 cup melted margarine
8 tart apples, such as Granny Smith or Pippin
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup raisins, plumped in sweet wine or apple juice
1 (16-ounce) jar raspberry or strawberry preserves
Toasted sliced almonds for garnish
Fresh berries for garnish (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a large bowl, combine the ground macaroons and 1 cup ground almonds. Brush an 8-inch springform pan generously with 1/4 cup melted margarine; sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup ground almonds.

In a large bowl, combine the macaroon mixture and remaining 1/2 cup melted margarine; mix well. Press 1 1/2 to 2 cups of the macaroon mixture into bottom of springform pan.

Peel, core and slice apples and place in a saucepan with sugar and lemon juice; mix well. Cook over low heat until juices appear and apples soften, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain thoroughly.

In a food processor, chop apples fine, but do not puree. Drain raisins, squeeze dry and add to apple mixture.

Place half of apple-raisin mixture on top of macaroon mixture in springform pan. Spread half of preserves over apple mixture, then remaining apple-raisin mixture and remaining preserves. Finish with the remaining macaroon mixture.

Bake in preheated oven 45 to 55 minutes. Cool on rack, cover, and refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight. Just before serving, use a knife to loosen cake from pan; remove sides of springform. Place cake on a platter and garnish with toasted sliced almonds and fresh berries.

Makes 8 servings.

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