Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, begins on Sunday evening, and the people in my house would get pretty ornery if I skipped the holiday’s traditional brisket or kugel. But I also like to change up some dishes, like sides and desserts.
In many homes, honey cake is traditional on Rosh Hashanah, but it’s this apple cake recipe that shows up in my house, and not only during the holidays. It makes other appearances Just Because. Just because it’s fall, just because I went apple picking, just because people are coming over for brunch.
Let’s home in for a moment on the apples. In many homes, apples are dipped into honey at the beginning of the Rosh Hashanah meal for a sweet year to come. Joan Nathan, an authority on Jewish food and author of 11 cookbooks, says apples have been associated with the holiday since the Middle Ages.
“Every Jewish holiday is a seasonal holiday, and used what was available,” Nathan says. “Honey was everywhere and it represented sweetness for the new year, but so were apples. I would personally have apples rather than honey cake for dessert because they are so abundant and I like them better.”
Nathan says apples at Rosh Hashana symbolize plenty, abundance and hope for the new year. She makes a “Jewish apple cake” for the holiday, using oil instead of butter, often serving it after a meal of Alsatian chicken dish with apples. (Kosher rules say you can’t mix dairy — like butter — with chicken or meat at the same meal.)
My version of apple cake is super easy and good and tender and moist, and takes very little time to throw together. It is made with butter, so if you are keeping kosher, make sure it is served as part of a parve or dairy meal.
Note that the batter will feel a little thin compared to more traditional cake batters. That’s intentional — it’s a delicately textured cake.
A simple mix of cinnamon and sugar gives the cake a crunchy, sweet topping laced with the spice that is the most perfect partner to apples in the history of spice partners to apples.
For baked goods, you want a firm apple that won’t turn into mush when it’s cooked. How tart or sweet it is up to you.
Sometimes apples are grated before they are added to cake batters, but here they are roughly chopped so you get real bites of apples in every bite of cake. Make sure the pieces are no more than about ¹/3 inch big though or the cake won’t hold together so well.
This cake keeps, wrapped at room temperature, for a couple of days.
Cinnamon Sugar Topping:
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
11/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sugar
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla
2/3 cup whole milk
1 large apple, peeled and roughly chopped
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9-inch square (or round) baking pan, or spray with nonstick cooking spray.
In a small bowl, stir together the ¼ cup sugar and cinnamon.
In another small bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and salt
In a medium-size bowl, beat the ¹/3 cup sugar with the butter until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then the vanilla. Add the flour mixture and the milk alternately, in about two batches each, beating after each addition until almost incorporated — at the end, you still want to see streaks of flour and milk in the thinnish batter.
Fold in the chopped apple just until everything is combined. Turn the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar mixture over it.
Bake until golden brown and until a toothpick or wooden skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Cool in the pan on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature, in squares (or wedges).