Rosh Hashana’s honey-laden treats symbolize happiness and hope

At sundown Monday, Jews all over the world will celebrate the start of the year 5769 on the Hebrew c
Sunken Apples and Honey Tart
Sunken Apples and Honey Tart

At sundown Monday, Jews all over the world will celebrate the start of the year 5769 on the Hebrew calendar. And, as part of the traditional meal, many of them will be dipping apples or bread into honey, looking forward to a “Sweet New Year.”

Rabbi Dan Ornstein, spiritual leader of Congregation Ohav Shalom in Albany, sees the tradition as a way to portray the future in a positive light.

“Every culture tries to deal with the challenges of life and the dark problems of evil and suffering,” Ornstein said. “My suggestion is that eating honey on Rosh Hashana is one small but evocative symbolic way in which Jews create a ritual of hope for greeting the new year — which is essentially saying that we look forward to a year that’s full of sweetness instead of a year full of possible sadness and bitterness,” he said.

Ornstein, who has three children, said that in his home the custom often takes the form of eating a new fruit, one that hasn’t been tasted in a year, with honey. “But apples and honey are my favorite,” he said.

Fun occasion

Susie Fishbein, author of the Jewish cooking classics “Kosher by Design” and “Passover by Design,” says her family has taken the custom of eating honey to a whole new level. Instead of putting out just one kind of honey for dipping, she arranges a table with different varieties of the sweet sticky stuff in ornamental dishes. Then, her family tastes each kind and votes for the favorite of the year.

Other years, Fishbein said, she combines the event with outdoor activity. “I’ll take my family apple picking or I’ll just purchase a variety of apples and do an apple and honey tasting with different varieties of apples to make it more of an event,” she said.

“It’s fun. And it’s a great opportunity to put out some of the beautiful candy dishes that we all got for our weddings.”

This year, Fishbein said, she’ll be feeding her family lower-fat versions of some traditional honey-laden treats. Her new book, “Kosher by Design Lightens Up: Fabulous Food for a Healthier Lifestyle,” is due out next month. One of her favorite recipes from that book is Baklava Bites, which is especially appropriate for the holiday.

“Normally, baklava gets drenched in a sugar syrup, which is like two cups of sugar, boiled down with water,” she said. “In this recipe, you’ll just find a very simple honey; it’s microwaved with a little bit of vanilla, and that gets drizzled. You spray Pam in between the layers, instead of butter or margarine. It’s a nice dessert. Perfect for Rosh Hashana time.”

For those seeking a more traditional dessert, Fishbein’s Sunken Apple and Honey Tart, from her original cookbook, “Kosher by Design” is also a winner. “It’s very simple, easy, a pretty presentation,” she said.

Central to the holiday

But for many people, Rosh Hashana dinner would not be complete without the queen of holiday desserts, honey cake — a dense, spicy old-fashioned confection. Although the seasonal treat has a number of enthusiastic fans, some people remember the traditional cake with less enthusiasm. Marcy Goldman, author of “A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking” and “A Passion for Baking,” says that’s because some of the older recipes for the dish had too much spice for modern palates, and tended to be dry.

“Honey cake was probably once a sweet, yeasted spicy bread, very rich but probably yeast-raised,” she said. “When yeast was supplanted by baking powder, that spicy bread became a spice cake. But also, old-time honey cakes had very little fat. Times changed — people like more fat — and also less dry cake. They also might like cinnamon but balk at too much cloves or nutmeg, whereas a few generations back, it was probably fine.”

To update the recipe for modern tables, Goldman said she stayed true to tradition, but created a cake that is high and dense with a fine grain. Her Definitive Moist and Majestic Honey Cake “is solid but doesn’t stick in your throat,” she said, and “makes honey cake rejectors into zealots.”


This recipe is reprinted with permission from “Kosher by Design: Picture Perfect Food for Holidays and Every Day,” by Susie Fishbein.

1⁄3 cup honey

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

3 medium Granny Smith or Rome apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 8-10 wedges

3⁄4 cup sugar

6 tablespoons margarine, softened

1⁄4 cup packed dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon grated lemon rind, (only yellow not white pith)

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1⁄4 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon sugar

1⁄2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9-inch springform pan with nonstick cooking spray. Combine the honey and lemon juice in a large nonstick skillet. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Add the apples; cook 12 to 14 minutes or until almost tender, stirring occasionally to coat the apple wedges. Remove skillet from heat and set aside.

In the bowl of a mixer, combine the three-quarter cup sugar, margarine, brown sugar and vanilla. Beat on medium until well blended, about 45 seconds to 1 minute. Add the eggs and beat. Beat in the grated lemon rind.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Stir with a whisk to combine. Gradually add the flour mixture to the batter. Beat on low until blended.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Remove the apples from the skillet with a fork or slotted spoon, discarding liquid.

Arrange the apple slices in a concentric spokelike design on top of the batter.

Combine 1 tablespoon of sugar with the cinnamon. Sprinkle evenly over the tart.

Bake for 1 hour. Cool completely and release the sides of the springform pan.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.


This recipe is reprinted with permission from “Kosher by Design Lightens Up: Fabulous Food for a Healthier Lifestyle” by Susie Fishbein.

10 sheets (13- by 8-inch) phyllo dough from one-half (16-ounce) box

3⁄4 cup walnuts

1⁄3 cup sugar

1⁄2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1⁄4 teaspoon fine sea salt

Olive-oil flavored nonstick cooking spray

1⁄4 cup honey

3 tablespoons water

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Defrost phyllo according to package directions. Keep the stack covered with a damp cloth when not using, to prevent the sheets from drying out. Spray a 12-serving muffin tin with baking spray. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In the bowl of a small food processor, combine walnuts, sugar, cinnamon and salt. Pulse until the mixture is finely ground and uniform.

Place one phyllo sheet horizontally on the cutting board, with the long edge closest to you. Evenly coat the dough with the spray — enough to cover, but not soak the phyllo. Sprinkle about 5 teaspoons of the walnut mixture all over the sheet, and top with a second sheet. Repeat, so that there are five layers of phyllo dough, and 5 layers of walnut mixture.

Fold the dough into thirds, like you would a letter. You should now have a long piece about 13 by 4 inches. Spray the top.

Starting right to left, cut six 2-by-4-inch pieces. Gently fold in half so you now have a thick piece that is about 2 by 2 inches. Gently place each into a sprayed muffin cup. Repeat the whole process to make 6 more.

Bake about 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown and baked through. White spots in the dough may indicate that it is undercooked.

Meanwhile, in a small microwave-safe container, combine the honey and water. Heat for 40 seconds or until the honey and water are hot and thoroughly combined. Add the vanilla.

Remove the baklava bites from the oven. Let cool 5 minutes, then remove from the tin and place onto a wire rack. Drizzle the bites with the honey-vanilla syrup and cool completely.

Serve 1 baklava bite per person, with any extra syrup drizzled over the top or in a ramekin on the side.

Makes 12 servings.


This recipe by Marcy Goldman is reprinted with permission from

33⁄4 cups all-purpose flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

3⁄4 teaspoon baking powder

1⁄2 teaspoon salt

4 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1⁄2 teaspoon ground cloves

1⁄2 teaspoon ground allspice

1 cup vegetable oil

1 cup honey

11⁄2 cups granulated sugar

1⁄2 cup brown sugar

4 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup warm coffee or strong tea or cola

1⁄2 cup fresh orange juice

1⁄4 cup rye or whiskey (may substitute orange juice or coffee)

1⁄2 cup slivered or sliced almonds (optional)

This cake is best baked in a 9-inch angel food cake pan, but you can also use a 9- or 10-inch tube or bundt pan, a 9-by-13-inch sheet cake or 2 9-by-5-inch loaf pans.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease pan(s). For tube or angel food pans, line the bottom with lightly greased parchment paper, cut to fit. Have ready doubled up baking sheets with a sheet of parchment on top.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves and allspice. Make a well in the center, and add oil, honey, white sugar, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla, coffee (or tea or cola), orange juice and rye or whisky.

Using a wire whisk or an electric mixer on slow speed, stir together well to make a thick, well-blended batter, making sure that no ingredients are stuck to the bottom.

Spoon batter into prepared pan(s). Sprinkle top of cake(s) evenly with almonds, if using. Place cake pan(s) on two baking sheets stacked together, to ensure even baking. Bake until cake tests done, that is, it springs back when you gently touch the cake center.

Baking time for angel and tube pans, 60 to 80 minutes; for loaf pans, about 45 to 55 minutes; for sheet cakes, 40 to 45 minutes.

Let cake stand 20 minutes before removing from pan.

Makes 12 to 16 servings.

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