Grown-Up Apples And Honey For Rosh Hashana

A few years ago, I read an article attempting to parse the seemingly random trends in baby names. Sociologists tried to figure out why there now seem to be a glut of baby Isabellas, but nary a baby Lisa in sight. They pointed to numerous factors, but one that stuck out in my mind was the strong pull of the slight variation. Sometimes a name becomes so popular that it starts to feel a wee bit stale. However, make the smallest of tweaks, and the name sounds fresh again. Exit Madeleine, enter Madison. My daily world is food (as opposed to baby names), but I know just what they mean. Sometimes I crave the familiar flavors of tradition, but want a variation that satisfies my childhood memories while appealing to my grownup tastes. Exit the honey cake, enter the rosemary honey apple galette.


Next week is Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year. As with many cultures' New Year celebrations, there are meals of symbolic foods meant to give an auspicious start to the year ahead. The customs vary across Jewish communities. Some families eat stuffed dishes such as meat-filled vegetables or kreplach, a beloved wonton-like soup dumpling, to guarantee a coming year bursting with happiness. Challah, the ritual egg-enriched bread, is turned from the usual braided loaf into a round-shaped crown, or even shaped into ladders or birds to commemorate biblical verses. Whole fish are eaten, rather than fillets, to symbolize the "head" of the year. One of the most well-known traditions, however, is eating apples and honey.

About The Author

Deena Prichep is a Portland, Ore.-based freelance print and radio journalist. Her stories on topics ranging from urban agriculture to gefilte fish have appeared on The Splendid Table, Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Marketplace, Voice of America, The Environment Report, Salon.com, The Northwest News Network and Culinate.com and in The Oregonian and Portland Monthly. She chronicles her cooking experiments at Mostly Foodstuffs.

This delicious practice is meant to invoke the sweetness of the year to come. Honey has long held symbolic meaning for the Jewish people. Some religious Jews cover the letters of the torah with honey when their children are learning to read them, to demonstrate the sweetness within. Many North Africans celebrate the end of Passover, the Jewish holiday commemorating the exodus from slavery, by eating pancakes doused in honey to represent the deliciousness of freedom. And because Rosh Hashana is the sweetest holiday in Jewish life, honey is abundant.

Honey cakes, often from long-treasured family recipes, are plentiful on Rosh Hashana. They can be simple or enhanced with warm spices, tea and the occasional shot of brandy. Apples and honey, in their most basic form, are found on most Jewish tables. Many of my sticky childhood holiday memories involve a bowl of MacIntoshes and a bear-shaped plastic squeeze bottle. But now that I (and my sweet tooth) have grown up, I'm looking to bring these traditional flavors into a more sophisticated dessert.

These recipes do the job. Apples aren't just sliced into browning wedges — they're shaved paper-thin and turned into a long-cooked terrine, used to make delicate Parisian-style cookies and fanned out across an elegant galette. And because it wouldn't be Rosh Hashana without honey, these apple desserts give honey equal billing: It sweetens the rosemary frangipane, a layer of almond cream under the galette. It also gives a delicious moistness to the apple terrine-topped honey gingerbread, lends a delicate note to the macarons' buttercream and rounds out the nutty depth of an almond semifreddo.

All of these desserts are an exercise in sophistication, bringing a touch of the pastry shop to your kitchen. And they're all lovely, using a host of surprising techniques and ingredients to play against the familiar sweet round notes of apples and honey. Whether you're looking for an updated way to ring in the New Year, or just looking for a delicious dessert, each recipe could start a whole new tradition.

Honey Almond Semifreddo With Honeyed Apples

Semifreddos are Italian desserts, a sort of frozen mousse that gives the luscious creamy lightness of ice cream without requiring an ice cream maker. In this version, the semifreddo is flavored with ground toasted almonds and sweetened with honey, then served with a puddle of apples cooked in a honey sauce.

Honey Almond Semifreddo With Honeyed Apples i i
Deena Prichep for NPR
Honey Almond Semifreddo With Honeyed Apples
Deena Prichep for NPR

Makes 8 servings

3/4 cup toasted almonds

2 tablespoons sugar

1 pinch salt

3 large eggs, separated

1/3 cup honey

1 cup heavy cream, minus 2 tablespoons (reserve the 2 tablespoons for use in the topping)

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon almond extract (optional)

For The Topping

2 tablespoons butter, salted or unsalted

1/4 cup honey

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 tablespoons heavy cream

Pinch salt

2 firm apples, cored and cut into slices or cubes

Line a standard (9-by-5-inch) loaf pan with plastic wrap or parchment, letting it overhang on the sides. If using plastic wrap, smooth as much as possible to avoid wrinkles in the finished semifreddo.

Grind the almonds along with the sugar and salt in a food processor until reduced to a fine meal, and set aside.

Whip the egg whites into stiff peaks, then set aside. Repeat with the heavy cream. Mix together the egg yolks and the honey, and beat until thick and pale. Add the extracts and the ground almond meal, and mix until combined. Add the reserved whipped cream and fold until just combined. Fold in the egg whites, then spread the mixture into the prepared dish. Freeze until solid, at least 4 hours.

When you're almost ready to serve, prepare the topping. Heat a skillet over medium heat and melt the butter. Add the honey, lemon juice, cream and salt and stir until mixed. Add the apples and simmer, stirring gently, until the sauce thickens and the apples are tender, 5 to7 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow to cool.

To serve, cut slices of the semifreddo and ladle some of the apple-honey sauce alongside. The semifreddo melts easily, so dig in quickly.

Apple Macarons With Honey Buttercream

Different from coconut-based American macaroons, these Parisian macarons are disks of delicate, airy, nut-enriched meringue, sandwiched around a rich buttercream filling. Freeze-dried apples provide a punch of flavor without the moisture, and honey sweetens the buttercream. This recipe is undeniably fussy and works best using both a digital scale and a thermometer to ensure that ingredients are measured and prepared precisely, but the resulting cookies look like they came out of the finest Parisian patisserie. This recipe comes from Jessie Smith, of the Portland-based Confectionery.

Apple Macarons With Honey Buttercream i i
Deena Prichep for NPR
Apple Macarons With Honey Buttercream
Deena Prichep for NPR

Makes 3 dozen macarons

For The Cookie

1 1/2 cups almond flour

1 cup powdered/confectioners sugar

3/4 cup freeze-dried apples*

2 egg whites

A few drops of green food coloring, optional

For The Meringue

Scant 1/4 cup water

2/3 cup granulated sugar

2 egg whites

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

For The Buttercream

4 large egg whites

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 pound unsalted butter, softened to room temperature and cut into 1-inch cubes

1/3 cup apple juice

1/4 cup honey (Smith favors a strong varietal, like mesquite, but any honey would work)

1 teaspoon cardamom

1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or extract

For The Cookie And Meringue

In a food processor, combine the almond flour, powdered sugar and dehydrated apple and pulse until everything is reduced to a well-mixed fine crumb. Add 2 egg whites and food coloring (if using), and pulse until it comes together in a mass.

To make the meringue, which will come together quickly, mix together the water and granulated sugar in a small saucepan and have it at the ready on the stove with a candy thermometer.

Fit a stand mixer with a whisking attachment, or have a large bowl and egg beater ready, place 2 egg whites in the bowl, and have the remaining portion of sugar measured and ready to go nearby.

Turn on the burner under the sugar-water mixture to a medium heat. When it reaches 190 degrees, turn the stand mixer on to full speed (the sugar-water mixture will continue to heat and bubble on the stove while you focus on the eggs). Whip the egg whites until they begin to turn foamy and white, then add the pre-measured granulated sugar in a slow stream. Continue whipping until the egg whites form soft peaks. Turn off the mixer when it reaches this stage.

Meanwhile, keep checking the temperature on the bubbling sugar-water mixture. When it reaches 230 degrees, turn off the heat. Turn the mixer with the whipped egg whites back on. Slowly, carefully, pour the hot sugar syrup into the running mixer (it's easiest to aim to have the sugar hit the side of the mixing bowl and run down into the egg whites, so it doesn't get flung around when it hits the beaters). Continue beating until the mixture is somewhat cool to the touch, and the whites are stiff.

When the egg white-syrup mixture reaches this stage, turn off the mixer. Add a scoop of the meringue to the almond-apple mixture, stirring to lighten it. Gently fold the remainder of the meringue into the lightened almond-apple mixture, taking care to use a light touch and a minimum of strokes to avoid deflating the mixture. You're done when the mixture is well combined, and just begins to sheet off your spatula in a ribbon (versus plopping down).

Transfer the batter into a pastry bag (or, if you don't have one, a plastic bag with the corner snipped off). Line cookie sheets with parchment, and pipe the batter out in 1-inch dots (the cookies will spread, but not by a large amount, so you can make the sheets fairly full). Tap the pan on a counter to release any trapped air bubbles. Let sit for 15 to 20 minutes while oven preheats to 325 degrees, allowing the surface of the piped cookies to dry out slightly and appear less glossy. Bake for 14 to 16 minutes, until dried and set but not colored. Allow to cool on the sheets for a half-hour before removing.

For The Buttercream

To make the buttercream, combine the egg whites, sugar and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer placed over a pot of boiling water. Do not let water into the bowl. Stir as the mixture heats, moving the bowl to the mixer when it reaches 160 degrees. Whisk, gradually increasing to the highest speed, until the mixture becomes thick and opaque with stiff peaks. Reduce the speed to medium, and gradually add the butter (don't worry if the mixture appears curdled). Continue beating until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Add the apple juice, honey, cardamom and vanilla. Pipe onto the flat side of one cookie and sandwich with the flat side of another cookie.

* Different from the dark and sticky standard dried apples, freeze-dried apples are feather-light and moisture-free. They're available in health food or grocery stores, generally with the snacks or dried fruit.

Rosemary Honey Apple Galette

Frangipane, a marzipan-like layer of ground almonds mixed with butter and eggs, lends a rich, nutty base to fruit tarts. Here the frangipane is scented with piney rosemary, which nicely offsets the sweet apples and honey. The open top of the galette, instead of a covered pie, shows off the apples. For a dairy-free dessert, substitute margarine or coconut oil for the small amount of butter and use a dairy-free crust.

Rosemary Honey Apple Galette i i
Deena Prichep for NPR
Rosemary Honey Apple Galette
Deena Prichep for NPR

Makes 8 to10 servings

For The Frangipane

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to room temperature, plus 1 tablespoon melted butter

1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons honey

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary

1/3 cup ground almonds

Pinch salt

1/4 teaspoon vanilla

1 large egg

To Finish

1 unbaked pie crust

4 to 5 (about 2 pounds) Granny Smith or other tart apples, peeled, halved, cored and thinly sliced (I like to keep the slices together in the apple-half shape and just fan them slightly onto the crust)

1 tablespoon melted butter

1 tablespoon sugar

1/4 cup honey

1 sprig rosemary

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Mix together the frangipane ingredients (this is a snap in a food processor, but you can easily mix it by hand if you take care to finely mince the rosemary). Set aside.

Roll out the crust to a circle with a diameter a few inches larger than your tart pan (because of its rustic, free-form nature, this recipe works for either an 8-inch or 9-inch pan). Ease it gently into the pan, and spread the frangipane evenly over the base (just the base, not the overhang). Lay the apples on top, fanning the slices slightly and arranging them in whatever design you like. Take the overhanging crust and fold it gently inward to cover the edges of the apple slices, arranging it into folds as needed. Brush the exposed apples and crust with the melted butter and sprinkle both lightly with the sugar. Bake until the apples brown at the edges and the crust is becoming lightly burnished, about 45 minutes.

Shortly before the galette has finished baking, take the 1/4 cup honey and place it in a saucepan with the rosemary. Heat it gently, so that the honey becomes runny and infused with the rosemary flavor (don't let it come to a rolling boil or it'll reduce to an unpourable thickness). Fish the rosemary out with a fork and drizzle the infused honey over the apples. Serve.

Honeyed Gingerbread With A 20-Hour Apple Terrine

Using a classic French technique, fresh apples are shaved thin, then layered on top of caramelized sugar and allowed to sit at room temperature for nearly a day. The apples begin to soften and break down, and then a long, slow bake further intensifies their flavor and melds them into a dense-yet-delicate whole, infused with a caramel and cinnamon flavor — Jessica Sullivan, the pastry chef at San Francisco's Boulevard who came up with this recipe, jokes that it's an old-school version of the Cryovac. Sullivan pairs this classic terrine with a moist honeyed gingerbread for an elegant-yet-simple dessert. Preparing the apples does take a bit of time, but luckily both the terrine and the cake are best made in advance.

Honeyed Gingerbread With A 20-Hour Apple Terrine i i
Deena Prichep for NPR
Honeyed Gingerbread With A 20-Hour Apple Terrine
Deena Prichep for NPR

Makes 10 to 12 serings

For The Cake

3/4 cup sugar

1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon honey

1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon molasses

3/4 cup neutral oil, such as grapeseed or vegetable

2 large eggs

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda

3/4 teaspoon ground ginger

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

3/4 teaspoon ground white pepper

3/4 cup boiling water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch springform pan and line it with a circle of greased parchment.

Combine the sugar, honey, molasses, oil and eggs in a bowl or mixer. Whisk until smooth. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour with the salt and spices. Add the dry ingredients to the sugar-honey-egg mixture and mix until completely incorporated.

Slowly add the boiling water, and mix to combine (the batter will be very loose). Pour immediately into prepared pan and bake until the cake is set and a tester comes out clean, 30 to 40 minutes. Let cool before removing the cake from the pan (the cake is very delicate when hot). Cover the cake and let sit overnight.

For The Apple Terrine

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup water

7 apples (Sullivan favors Pink Pearl, Gravenstein, Honeycrisp and Jonathan)

1/2 cup sugar, mixed with 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Have a 9-inch round cake pan available nearby.

In a heavy-bottomed pot, combine the plain sugar and the water. Heat over a medium flame, swirling occasionally, until the sugar melts and turns a light amber (not too darkly caramelized). Pour it into the cake pan, tipping the pan so that the caramel coats the entire bottom of the pan. Set aside (it will be hot).

While the caramel is cooling, peel and core the apples. Using a mandoline or a vegetable peeler, shave the apples into thin slices (keeping the slices together will make it easier to arrange them in the pan). When the caramel is cool enough, arrange the apples on top of it in the cake pan. You can spiral out from the inside, or prepare straight rows, whichever you prefer. Repeat, building layer upon layer, until the pan is evenly filled 3/4 full. Sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar mixture over the top. Cover tightly with plastic, and set aside at room temperature for 12 to 20 hours.

After the terrine has finished resting, preheat oven to 300 degrees. Remove the plastic and cover the pan tightly with foil. Bake 4 hours. Remove and cool fully, draining off any extra liquid that has accumulated.

To assemble the cake, run a knife around the edge of the apple pan, and nudge a thin spatula around the edges to loosen the terrine (it will sometimes suction itself to the pan). If the cake developed a rounded top during baking, trim it with a serrated knife so that it is relatively flat. Place the cake atop the terrine (while the terrine is still in its pan), and then invert the two onto a plate/platter/cake stand. Give the apple pan a few taps to make sure it dislodges, then gently remove it, leaving the terrine atop the cake. Serve.

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