Jews around the world are currently observing the Yamim Noraim, the 10 Days of Repentance, that occur from the start of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah (which began last Wednesday night, and falls on a different day every year, according to the Jewish lunar calendar) and end with the closing of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement (which is the holiest day of the Jewish year). These 10 days are traditionally a time for introspection, to consider and evaluate all of your wrong doings from the previous year, and a time to ask for forgiveness from anyone you have wronged. This all seems quite serious, which it is, but it is also a time for celebration, as the start of another new year has just been celebrated.
As with most Jewish holidays, food is a central theme for Rosh Hashanah beyond the hours spent in synagogue. Traditionally, families enjoy meals together on the eve of the first day of the holiday, as well as on each of the two days. Included in these meals are a number of symbolic foods, such as:
Honey – Slices of apple, as well as challah, are served alongside honey. We eat honey as a way of ushering in a “sweet” new year.
Apples – The slices of apple that are dipped in the honey are symbolic of the Garden of Eden, which according to biblical commentators, had the scent of an apple orchard.
The Head of a Fish – this is MUCH less common on the tables of more modern Jewish families (who wants to eat while looking at a fish head?!), but it is representative of being at the “head”, as opposed to the “tail”, of everything you set out to accomplish in the new year. The name of the holiday, Rosh Hashanah, literally translates to the “head of the year”.
Pomegranate – On the second night of Rosh Hashanah, we are supposed to eat a “new fruit”- that is, a fruit that has recently come into season that we may not yet have had the chance to eat. A pomegranate is often used as this new fruit for a number of reasons. I personally favour the explanation that our hope is that our good deeds in the new year will be as plentiful as the seeds of the pomegranate.
Challah – traditionally braided, on Rosh Hashanah we eat a round challah, symbolizing again the head of the year, as well as the continuity of the world and creation. Often honey or raisins are added to the challah to make it extra sweet. I will be making two round raisin challahs for the eve of Yom Kippur, so stay tuned for the recipe!
Honey cake – Honey cake or other sweet pastries are served as another reminder of a sweet new year. Often people will try to use a recipe that has been passed down through the generations.
I decided that this year, I would attempt the famed apple cake recipe that my Bubbie Rae (Bubbie is Yiddish for grandmother) was known for. The recipe itself was hilarious, with gems such as “…mix and combine using the on/off switch on the cuisinart” as part of the instructions, and the name of the woman she gave the recipe to (whose daughter subsequently sent the recipe to my mother after both women had passed away) listed in the title.
The recipe just calls for apples, but doesn’t specify which kind is best. Luckily, our friends Noah and Beckie happened to be at a local apple orchard the weekend before I planned to bake, and put me on the phone with the apple expert (Applist? Applian? Orchard Specialist?). He suggested using Wealthy apples, so I did, but my mother remembers my Bubbie using Spy apples instead. Thanks to Noah and Beckie for supplying the apples!
I was also in a bit of a rush with the baking this time, since I wanted to make it as close to the holiday as possible to ensure freshness, but had an incredibly hectic work schedule because of the shortened week. I decided to measure out the dry ingredients ahead of time, which was fantastic! I also used my handy Starfrit Apple Peeler, which worked wonders but takes up WAY too much space in my kitchen for it’s once per year use.
Bubbie Rae’s recipe said to use a tube pan – but after baking this in a bundt pan, I would say that a spring form pan would work much better. As I was pouring the batter in, I felt like the batter-to-apple ratio was off, and I was right. In a smaller pan, though, it would have been totally fine.
I had a lot to live up to with this cake – it was being served to 30 something people at my mother-in-law’s house, and it had to live up to my Bubbie’s apple cake reputation – and it didn’t disappoint!
Shana tova, Happy New Year!
Bubbie Rae’s Apple Cake
For the batter:
2 3/4 cups of sifted flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup orange juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
icing sugar to sprinkle on top (optional)
For the apple filling:
6 apples, peeled and sliced
5 tbsp sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
- Preheat oven to 350.
- Peel the apples, then use an apple slicer to cut the apple into wedges and to remove the core. Cut each of the wedges into 2-3 slices. To keep the apples from browning, add the slices to a bowl of cold water while you’re peeling and slicing the remaining apples.
- Mix together the cinnamon and 5 tbsp of sugar. Drain the apples from the water, and toss with the cinnamon/sugar mixture. Place coated apples in a colander in the sink and let the liquid drain off while you prepare the batter.
- In a 2 cup measuring cup, combine the oil, orange juice, vanilla and eggs. Set aside.
- In a mixmaster, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Once combined, add in the oil mixture and mix under smooth.
- Pour 1/3 of the batter into a well greased pan, and then add half of the apple mixture on top of that. Add in another third of the batter, cover with the remaining apples, and then with the remaining third of batter.
- According to Bubbie’s recipe, bake for 1 hour 15 minutes. I found that it needed longer than this (closer to 1.5 hours), which you may as well. Towards the end of the baking time, check to see if the top is browning too quickly – if it is, cover loosely with tin foil.
- Let cake cool completely, and before serving, dust top with icing sugar, if desired.