Dipping apples in honey is an age-old Rosh Hashana tradition meant to symbolize wishes for a sweet New Year (the holiday starts at sundown Sunday). Why not dip strawberries in maple syrup, inquisitive grandchildren might ask? Rabbis offer a long list of reasons.
For starters, apples, not strawberries, evoke the Garden of Eden, with its scent of an apple orchard. While there’s no textual evidence that maple syrup was familiar to the ancient Israelites, honey has been written about since biblical times.
There are culinary reasons to serve apples at this time of year. Rosh Hashana happens to fall in the midst of Long Island’s bounteous apple season. While we can be grateful that apples, stored properly, will last through winter, there’s nothing like the flavor and aroma of freshly harvested fruit.
Whether you pick them yourself or buy a bag at a local orchard, you can be assured that your apples will maintain their taste and texture for several weeks. Older apples held for long periods of time in cold storage, in contrast, will become mushy and spoiled in a matter of days. Fresh apples are healthier, too. Just-picked apples contain a multitude of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. While refrigeration allows apples to hold onto most of their vitamins and minerals, there is evidence that antioxidants dissipate over time no matter how apples are stored.
Unlike apples, honey has a long shelf life. Archaeologists excavating ancient Egyptian tombs have come across unspoiled jars that are thousands of years old. Keep your honey tightly sealed and in a cool, dry place and it will last literally forever. When honey is heated, some of its subtle flavor is lost. If you are using it in these recipes for bread pudding or an apple crisp, save money with a supermarket brand. Expensive artisanal honey really shines when drizzled on puff pastry tartlets after baking, or in a glaze for an apple cake. (See recipes for both.)
If you haven’t used your honey since last Rosh Hashana, it may have crystallized. This just means that some of the sugar molecules in the honey have separated from water molecules and linked themselves together in an orderly pattern. The sugar crystals trap the other components in the honey in a suspension, so the mixture becomes semisolid. To dissolve the crystals and make the honey smooth and pourable again, bring a small pot of water to boil, remove the pot from the heat, and place the jar in the hot water. Stir the honey as it slowly warms. Gentle heat will break down the crystals and cause the honey to become translucent and liquid again.
TART APPLES FOR BAKING
When using honey, which is 1 to 1 1⁄2 times sweeter than sugar, choose apples on the tart end of the spectrum. Braeburn, Cortland, Empire, Granny Smith, Gala, Ida Red, Mutsu and Pink Lady, all with plenty of acid, are good choices. Another plus to using tart apples: They tend to hold their shape better in the oven than sweet varieties.
HONEY-APPLE BREAD PUDDING
3⁄4 cup honey
2 cups whole milk or nondairy creamer
4 large eggs
3 tablespoons unsalted butter or margarine, melted
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1⁄4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1⁄8 teaspoon salt
8 slices stale challah, cut into 3⁄4-inch cubes (about 7 cups)
1 large apple, peeled, cored and cut into 1⁄4-inch pieces
1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
2. Grease an 8-inch-square baking dish.
3. In a large bowl, combine the honey, milk, eggs, butter, vanilla, cinnamon and salt. Fold in the bread cubes and apple.
4. Pour batter into prepared baking dish and let stand 5 minutes to allow the bread to absorb the egg mixture.
5. Bake until pudding is set around the edges but still just a little jiggly in the center, 45 to 50 minutes.
6. Remove from oven and cool completely. Just before serving, sift confectioners’ sugar over pudding, cut into squares, and serve. Makes 9 servings.
APPLE CRISP WITH HONEY AND SAGE
3 pounds (6 to 8) apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1⁄2-inch pieces
1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage leaves
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1⁄2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1⁄2 cup packed light brown sugar
1⁄2 cup rolled oats
1⁄2 cup chopped walnuts
6 tablespoons butter or margarine, chilled and cut into bits
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In an 8-inch-square baking pan, combine the apples, cornstarch, honey, sage and lemon juice. Toss to coat. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake until the fruit begins to soften, about 20 minutes.
2. While the fruit is baking, combine the flour, sugar, oats, walnuts and salt in a medium bowl. Add the butter bits and mix with your fingers, pinching the ingredients to form 1⁄4-inch pieces.
3. Remove the foil from the pan and sprinkle the topping over the fruit. Return to the oven and continue to bake until the topping is golden brown and the fruit is bubbling, 25 minutes longer. Let stand 15 minutes and serve warm. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
14 ounces pie dough, chilled
1 1⁄4 pounds (about 3 medium) apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
4 teaspoons cornstarch
1⁄2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1⁄4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoons honey
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 1⁄2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons sliced almonds
Whipped cream or nondairy whipped topping (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. On a lightly floured piece of parchment paper, roll the dough into an 11-inch circle. Slide the dough, still on the parchment, onto a baking sheet.
2. In a medium bowl, combine the apples, cornstarch, cinnamon, nutmeg and honey. Stir to coat. Arrange the apples on top of the crust, leaving a 1 1⁄2-inch border. Fold crust edge over filling to form a 1 1⁄2-inch border, pleating crust as necessary. Brush crust edge with the egg and sprinkle with the sugar.
3. Bake the crostata for 15 minutes, sprinkle the apples with the almonds, and continue to bake until the crust is golden brown, another 15 minutes. Slide the crostata, still on the parchment, onto a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes and serve warm, or let cool to room temperature and serve with whipped cream if desired. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
PUFF PASTRY APPLE BLOSSOMS
3 apples, cored, halved and cut into 1⁄4-inch-thick slices
5 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 pinch nutmeg
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 (14-ounce) sheet frozen puff pastry, defrosted
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
1 to 2 tablespoons honey, warmed
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Arrange the apple slices on the prepared baking sheet and bake until golden brown and tender, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool completely.
2. Turn the oven temperature up to 425 degrees. Line another baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine the sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and lemon zest in a small bowl. On a lightly floured countertop, unfold the defrosted puff pastry sheet. Sprinkle with the cinnamon mixture. Use a sharp paring knife to cut the pastry into 1-inch-wide strips.
3. Separate 1 strip from the bunch. Lay the apple slices along the strip so the straight sides of the slices line up with one edge of the pastry strip, overlapping them slightly. Tightly roll up the pastry with the apples inside, sealing it by brushing the inside of the end with a little egg yolk and pressing lightly. Place the pastry flower, flat side down, on the prepared baking sheet, Repeat with the remaining apples and pastry. Place the baking sheet in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
4. Bake until the pastry is golden brown, about 25 minutes. Brush with warm honey, let cool, and serve. Makes 12 pastries.
APPLESAUCE SPICE CAKE WITH HONEY ICING
For the cake:
2 1⁄2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1⁄2 cups sugar
2 1⁄2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1⁄2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1⁄2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups unsweetened applesauce
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For the icing:
1 1⁄2 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons honey
2 to 3 tablespoons milk or water
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 12-cup Bundt pan and dust with flour.
2. Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and salt in a large mixing bowl. Whisk in the applesauce, eggs and vegetable oil.
3. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Let the cake cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, invert it onto a wire rack, then turn it right side up on a rack to cool completely.
4. Make the glaze: In a medium bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar, honey and 2 tablespoons milk or water until smooth and the consistency of molasses, adding more milk or water as necessary. Drizzle over the cake so it drips down the sides. Let stand until the icing is set, about 1 hour, before slicing and serving. Makes 10 to 12 servings.