Summer is coming to an end… which means goodbye sunshine, hello holidays! I’m starting to feel that giddy tickle in my tummy that always happens as the Jewish holidays approach. It’s my favorite time of year! From September through December, we celebrate some amazing food-filled Jewish holidays. The first of these holidays is Rosh Hashanah.
Rosh Hashanah is the celebration of the Jewish New Year, signifying the end of the Hebrew calendar cycle. It is the first of what we call the High Holidays (or High Holy Days), a ten-day period that ends with Yom Kippur—the holiest day of the Jewish year. Rosh Hashanah occurs on the first and second days of Tishri, which is the seventh month on the Hebrew calendar. On the Roman calendar, Rosh Hashanah usually occurs during the month of September.
During Rosh Hashanah we do not work; many Jews choose to attend special holiday services at their local synagogue. The Rosh Hashanah period is a time for reflection. We recognize and admit the things we’ve done wrong over the past year, and we repent for those mistakes. Let’s face it, nobody’s perfect. Rosh Hashanah allows us to recognize our shortcomings, providing an opportunity to improve ourselves through prayer. We are also actively encouraged to repent by seeking forgiveness from the people we have wronged during the previous year. It is not uncommon for Jews to apologize to people they have mistreated so they can start the new year fresh, with a “clean slate.” We are reminded not to repeat these mistakes in the coming year; in this way, Rosh Hashanah is an opportunity to improve the way we approach the world. It’s a holiday that helps us to become better people. And that’s a beautiful thing.
Jews from different parts of the world celebrate Rosh Hashanah in a variety of ways. Holiday traditions vary according to family background and local customs. A special prayer service is held at synagogue emphasizing both repentance and remembrance. During this service, gratitude is expressed to God for the creation of the world and humanity. The shofar, a special instrument made from the horn of a kosher animal (usually a ram), is blown during the Rosh Hashanah service. Tzedakah, or charitable giving, is also part of the holiday. Good deeds are done and charity is given in the hopes that God will seal our names in the “Book of Life,” which brings the promise of a happy year to come.
And then, of course, there’s the food. You didn’t think I’d leave that part out, did you?? What would a Jewish holiday be without a celebratory meal of epic proportions? (Unless, of course, it’s Yom Kippur, the “fasting” holiday.) The Rosh Hashanah meal—or meals, depending on the way you celebrate—are particularly fun, because they feature sweet symbolic foods that signify our hope for a “sweet new year.” Our family serves one celebratory meal on Erev Rosh Hashanah, or “The Eve of Rosh Hashanah.” That’s because the holiday technically starts when the sun goes down on the evening before the first of Tishrei. Many Jewish families prepare two special meals for the first and second of Tishrei; some even prepare three (on the erev, first and second of Tishrei). It all depends on your level of observance and family tradition.
Several foods are incorporated into a traditional Rosh Hashanah menu as blessings. We enjoy “new fruit,” a fruit that has recently come into season but we have not yet had the opportunity to enjoy this year (often a pomegranate). The head of a fish is also served, though on our table it is strictly for the blessing—we don’t actually eat it! The fish head symbolizes the literal translation of Rosh Hashanah, which means “Head of the Year” in Hebrew. Challah is baked fresh, sweetened with raisins and braided into a round shape instead of the traditional long straight braid. Apples and challah are dipped in honey, again symbolizing sweetness. In fact, honey is a major ingredient in many traditional Rosh Hashanah dishes—including the oh-so-famous (or should I say infamous!) Rosh Hashanah Honey Cake.
I had trouble getting excited about this whole honey cake tradition. At my first few Rosh Hashanah celebrations, the honey cake was my least favorite part of the meal. It’s usually a dry, overly-spiced, overly-sweet cake that sits virtually untouched on the Rosh Hashanah buffet—more like an afterthought than a truly inspiring dessert. I tried many traditional honey cake recipes over the years, but each one seemed more disappointing than the last. I experimented with my own recipe ideas, but it always turned out kind of…well, honestly, kind of blah tasting.
Last year, as we were dipping our apples into honey, it occurred to me that maybe I’d been approaching this whole honey cake thing from the wrong perspective. Yes, a honey cake is traditional—but apples are also a traditional Rosh Hashanah food. Why not combine the two flavors into one dessert cake? Around that same time I bought my first Bundt cake pan, so I decided to play around with it and see what I could come up with. After a few failed attempts, I discovered the right combination of ingredients and baked an irresistible Honey Apple Cake. Shredding apples into the batter lends moisture, mellowing out the spices and lightening the texture of the cake. This recipe is our new Rosh Hashanah tradition, and I’m so excited to share it with you.
I like to bake this cake in a Bundt pan, which makes a pretty presentation. You could probably bake it in a rectangular cake pan too. Truthfully I’ve never tried it that way, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work, though the baking time might need some adjusting. I really recommend making it in the Bundt though, it’s soooo pretty that way!
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- 3 eggs
- 3/4 cup honey
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 1/4 cup light brown sugar
- 1 1/4 cup canola oil
- 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
- 3 cups all purpose baking flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp allspice
- Dash of ground cloves
- 4 Granny Smith apples - peeled, cored, and shredded
- 1 cup + 3 tbsp powdered sugar
- 1/4 tsp vanilla
- 1-2 tbsp non-dairy creamer (or milk for dairy dish)
You will also need
- 9 inch Bundt cake pan, sifter, wire cooling rack, parchment paper, Ziploc bag
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs until they are frothy. Whisk in the honey, white sugar, brown sugar, oil and vanilla.
- In a separate medium mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, and spices.
- Incorporate the flour mixture into the liquid, stir to blend. Fold in the shredded apples.
- Spray your Bundt pan with cooking spray, making sure to evenly coat the entire inner surface. Pour your batter into the pan. Bundt pan depths vary, so make sure the batter fills the pan ¾ full or less. Do not fill beyond ¾ or your cake might overflow during baking. Use a spatula to gently push the batter to the outside of the pan, pushing slightly up the walls. This will help to get rid of any air pockets that might interfere with the pretty details of the pan. Smooth the batter on the top so it is flat and even all the way around the pan.
- Bake cake in preheated oven for 75-90 minutes. When the edges darken and pull fully away from the sides of the pan, and the cake browns all the way across the surface, it should be done. You should be able to insert a toothpick into the thickest part of the cake and have it come out clean. It’s a very moist cake, so it’s easy to undercook it– err on the side of caution and let it bake a little longer if you’re unsure.
- Let the cake cool for exactly 10 minutes, then invert it onto a flat plate. Tap the Bundt pan gently to release the cake. If your cake sticks, use a plastic knife to carefully loosen the cake around the center tube and sides. Allow cake to cool completely.
- Now it’s time to decorate your cake. Decorate this cake about 2 hours or less before serving; the cake is so moist that it tends to “soak up” the powdered sugar, and the icing looks prettier fresh. To keep things neat, I like to do this part on a wire cooling rack with a piece of parchment paper underneath to catch extra sugar/ drips. You can simply do it on a plate if you prefer. First, put 3 tbsp of powdered sugar into a handheld mesh strainer or sifter. Sprinkle sugar onto the top of the cake by tapping the strainer or sifting to release an even shower of sugar around the surface of the cake.
- Next, make your drizzle icing. Sift 1 cup of powdered sugar into a mixing bowl. Add ¼ tsp of vanilla extract and 1 tbsp non-dairy creamer to the bowl. Stir with a whisk or fork to blend. Add additional non-dairy creamer by teaspoonfuls, mixing constantly, until the mixture has the texture of thick honey. Pour the icing into a Ziploc bag, guiding the icing towards one of the lower corners of the bag. Cut the very tip of that corner off the bag. Drizzle the icing onto the cake in a zig-zag pattern by squeezing the Ziploc bag gently to release the glaze.
- Allow icing to dry completely before serving—this usually takes about 30 minutes. Enjoy!