My family has favorite recipes for the Rosh Hashanah meals but for some reason we have never settled on a dessert that has become a family tradition, enabling me to explore different options based on Ashkenazi, Sephardic, and other Jewish cultures.
Eating honey, and its biblical counterpart date syrup (silan), play a role in many holiday customs as a wish for a sweet New Year. Probably the best known of those is dipping apples in honey and the Eastern European Jewish standard—a moist, dense honey cake.
Here I morph these standards into non-dairy or dairy desserts with the Frozen Honey Mousse with Blackberries served with “Buttered” Challah Crumbs, a Spiced Honey Cake with Silan, and Apple Honey Baklava.
I like how tart blackberries complement the creamy, sweet frozen mousse. Substitute other berries if desired. Using the refrigerated, pasteurized egg whites avoids any issues with uncooked eggs. This is a non-dairy recipe. For a dairy dessert, replace whipped topping in mousse with cream whipped to stiff peaks. Replace margarine with salted butter in the challah crumbs. Skip the challah crumbs (or use gluten-free bread) for a gluten-free dessert.
1 cup orange blossom or other mild honey
1/4 cup pasteurized egg whites (from refrigerated carton), cold
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 cups frozen parve, non-dairy whipped topping, defrosted according to package directions
1 cup fresh blackberries
“Buttered” Challah Crumbs, optional (see below)
Put honey in small pot over low heat and bring to a simmer. Keep warm.
Place egg whites and lemon juice in large bowl and using an electric hand or stand mixer beat on high until opaque, white, frothy and somewhat thickened. Continue to beat on high and slowly pour in warm honey until fully incorporated. Keep beating on high for another 3-5 minutes until mixture is very thick and glossy.
Working in batches, gently fold in whipped topping until completely combined. Place in a 4-6 cup serving dish. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze for 4 hours or overnight. Remove from freezer, decorate top with blackberries and sprinkle top with challah crumbs (if using) and serve immediately. For a creamier dessert, let sit 20-30 minutes before serving. For another serving option, spoon into individual serving dishes and garnish each with berries and crumbs.
“Buttered” Challah Crumbs: Toast 2 cups crumbled or cut challah (1/4″ pieces) in a hot and dry fry pan, stirring often until just starting to turn golden. Remove from pan. Wipe out pan. Melt 3 tablespoons parve margarine in pan over low heat. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest, and the toasted crumbs. Sauté until crumbs have absorbed the margarine and have browned a bit. Remove from heat. Stir in 1 tablespoon sugar.
Make ahead: The mousse can be made 3-4 days ahead and left covered in the freezer. The challah crumbs can be made a few hours ahead and kept airtight until serving. Leftover mousse refreezes well.
The baklava combines Sephardic, Mizrahi, and Ashkenazi customs to wish for a sweet New Year. Look for phyllo (filo) dough in refrigerated or frozen sections of some supermarkets and in Middle Eastern, kosher, and specialty markets. Defrost according to package directions. Leftover phyllo dough sheets can be rewrapped and refrozen.
This parve recipe contains no eggs or dairy. Substitute agave syrup for the honey to make the recipe vegan.
Coconut or vegetable oil spray OR about 1/3 cup vegetable oil or melted coconut oil
3 tablespoons of lemon juice
2 cups plus 1/2 cup water
2 medium large (12 oz.) Pink Lady, Fuji or Gala apples, peeling optional
2 cups plus 1/2 cup shelled walnut halves and or large pieces (see notes)
1/4 — 1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
9 sheets phyllo, each about 7-inches x 12-inches, thawed if frozen, covered with dish towel (see notes)
3/4 cup mild, light-colored honey
Spray or oil bottom and sides of a 7 x 11 x 2 inch (28 x 18 x 5 centimeter) baking pan.
Stir 2 tablespoons lemon juice into 2 cups water in medium bowl. Cut apples in half and remove core. Cut halves into 1/8-inch thick slices. Stir into lemon water.
Place 2 cups of walnuts in work bowl of food processor with sugar (use 1/4 cup sugar for a more intense walnut taste, 1/3 cup for a slightly sweeter baklava), 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon cardamom. Process in pulses until finely ground (pieces should be about 1/8th of an inch). Do not process into a paste. (Or chop walnuts by hand and stir in spices.)
Chop remaining 1/2 cup walnuts into 1/4-inch pieces. (Keep separate.)
Drain apples and dry thoroughly with a cloth kitchen towel.
Heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Fold one phyllo sheet to fit in greased pan (trim sheets to fit if needed). Place in pan then spray or brush lightly with oil. Place second folded sheet on top. Spray or brush lightly with oil. Repeat with the third folded sheet. Tuck edges down so layer is flat. Spray or brush lightly with oil.
Evenly scatter half of the ground walnuts with spices on top of phyllo. Arrange half of apple slices in single layer on top of walnuts. Top with fourth folded phyllo sheet, spraying or brushing lightly with oil. Repeat with fifth and sixth folded phyllo sheets. Repeat walnuts and apples and top with seventh folded phyllo sheet. Spray or brush oil lightly on top. Repeat with eighth folded sheet.
After placing ninth folded sheet on top, press down, then give the top a heavy spray or brushing of oil. Sprinkle ½ cup chopped walnuts on top. With a sharp knife score deeply or cut into 16 portions. Place on middle rack in oven. Bake for 30-40 minutes until the top is golden or just very light brown and crisp. Let cool about 10 minutes before pouring syrup on top.
While the baklava is baking, make the syrup. In a small sauce pan combine the honey and 1/2 cup water with 1/8 teaspoon each of cinnamon and cardamom. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Lower heat to keep at a simmer and then uncover, stirring occasionally for 25 minutes until it is somewhat thickened and syrupy. Take off heat. Let cool 5 minutes. Spoon evenly over top of baklava being sure to spoon over the scored edges.
Let baklava cool completely before serving. Use a knife and cut around slices to make serving easier. The dessert is best made in the morning for serving that evening but it can be made a day ahead and stored at room temperature well wrapped in baking pan. Because of the apples, leftovers are best stored in the refrigerator.
This honey cake is based on one I found in an aunt’s recipe box. I added additional spices and substituted silan (date syrup) for half of the honey to give the dessert a Middle and Near Eastern twist—to deepen its flavour—which is more complex and less sweet than a traditional honey cake. It is nice served with a dollop of dairy or non-dairy whipped cream and a drizzle of additional honey or silan. (Silan is available online, in specialty stores and in Middle Eastern and kosher markets.)
1/3 cup vegetable oil plus extra for pan
2 cups flour plus extra for pan
3 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
6 tablespoon honey
6 tablespoon silan (date syrup)
2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoon water
1/2 cup slivered almonds
2 tablespoon grated lemon zest
Whipped cream or topping (dairy or non-dairy), optional
Additional silan or honey for serving, optional
Heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease and flour an 8-inch by 8-inch (20 x 20 centimeters) pan. Separate eggs. Reserve yolks for another use. Beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together 2 cups flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, salt, cayenne, and cloves. Mix in 1/3 cup oil, honey, silan, lemon juice, and water. Gently mix in one third of the egg whites at a time until combined. Pour into prepared pan. Scatter almonds on top.
Bake about 27-37 minutes until the top is well set but not firm. The cake should pull away from the pan and to test it see if toothpick comes out with moist crumbs attached. (Do not overbake.) Place pan on wire rack. Cool 10 minutes. Turn cake onto a plate. Flip onto rack nut side up.
Make the dish up to two days in advance. Store airtight at room temperature. Before serving, garnish with lemon zest and cut into 12 slices. If desired, serve each piece with a dollop of topping and a drizzle of silan.
Header image photo by Faith Kramer.
Faith Kramer is the author of 52 Shabbats: Friday Night Dinners Inspired by a Global Jewish Kitchen (The Collective Book Studio) and a columnist for the J, the Jewish News of Northern California. Contact her at email@example.com.