I have just cleaned my kitchen after enjoying a family barbeque for the Labor Day weekend, and I realize that Rosh Hashana is just one week away. I realize that I must begin to think about a menu that includes the traditional foods, beginning with appetizer and all the way through dessert.
Next Sunday evening begins the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana, the first of Tishrei. The Holiday that begins on Sunday evening concludes on Tuesday evening. It is a special time when we coronate God as King of the Universe, and pray that we are blessed with a good year – a year of health, peace, all good things, both personally as well as nationally.
It is with this in mind that we focus on eating “sweet” foods, foods that are reminiscent of a Sweet New Year. So it is customary to begin the meal with apples dipped in honey. And there are children’s songs which emphasize this for the children. Actually the custom in my parents’ homes, which we continue even today, is to dip the challah in the honey at the beginning of them meal, saying a special prayer asking God to renew for us a sweet new year. My father loved honey and so I am particular to buy really good honey, and sometimes we buy a few different types of honey just for the added interest and flavor.
The challah also is baked special for Rosh Hashana. During the year, we bake challah for Shabbat, a twisted, braided bread. My mother learned as a child to braid challah even up to 15 braids. But for Rosh Hashana we bake challah in a circular shape, indicating the circle of life. Some people add extra honey to the challah or raisins, for added “sweetness.”
Besides the challah dipped in honey, I always like to serve an assortment of a few types of apples for dipping in the honey. My favorite apple is Granny Smith, (I just love the crisp tart taste!) so of course, I will have one of those on the plate, and then a type of red apple as well, varying it with each meal.
My mom has always cooked apple compote, sometimes with pears, sometimes with quince, sometimes with both. This is such a delightfully refreshing dessert. I love to make pies, so naturally, I usually make an apple pie. But this past year, I learned to make a different type of “pie,” a cross between an apple pie and an apple cake. A wonderful woman, who has come to be with my mom sometimes on Sundays, shared her recipe for Szarlotka (pronounced Charlottka) with me and, with her permission, I share it here with you. She made it with butter, which is of course, delicious, but is also dairy. If you want to serve it with your meat meal on the holiday, please substitute margarine for the butter. It is delicious with whipped cream on the side!
Enjoy and wishing you a Shana Tova U’Metuka, a “Good Sweet Year”
Makes about 24 squares
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup (2 8-ounce sticks) of butter or margarine
4 egg yolks
½ cup sugar
¼ cup brown sugar
4 to 6 apples (I prefer Granny Smith)
Lemon juice, as needed
2 tablespoons sugar, optional
1 teaspoon cinnamon, or to taste
Whipped cream, as needed, optional for garnish
Preheat oven to 350°.
Mix all the dough ingredients together in a medium bowl. Divide in half and roll into 2 balls. Wrap securely in plastic wrap. Refrigerate one and freeze the second for at least an hour.
Meanwhile, peel, core and dice apples. Toss with cinnamon (and if desired, 2 tablespoons of sugar) (You may want to sprinkle with a few drops of lemon juice so apples do not turn brown, or keep apples in water and toss just before filling.)
In 9 by13-inch pan, spread the refrigerated dough ball to fit the pan.
Cover with apple filling.
Using a coarse grater, grate the frozen dough over the apple filling.
Bake in center of oven for 1 hour, testing for doneness.
Cut into squares and serve. You can serve this cake warm or room temperature, or even cold. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream, if desired.