By Tina Wasserman
It’s that time, everybody! When I wrote this article, it was a balmy 78 degrees with a breeze, and we are all hoping it won’t be triple digits during the High Holy Days. Although you might be worried about being too warm in your new suit (did you know that the Talmud prescribes that you get a new outfit for the New Year?), I am more concerned about the heat in your kitchen!
Lately I’ve been thinking about the fact that honey, whether from bees or the original source of sweetness from dates, connects us to thousands of years of culinary heritage around the world. The use of honey seems obvious; it is sweet and therefore symbolically represents our hopes for a sweet year. Jewish tradition always has a deeper meaning, and the use of honey is no exception. Consuming honey during the High Holy Days was an old custom followed by Jews throughout the world. This custom was referenced in writings in the seventh century by Babylonian Talmudic scholars, although its practice is presumed to predate the writings.
Israel was described in the Bible as the land that “flows with milk and honey” (a reference to a paste made from over ripe dates, not honey from bees). Sugar wasn’t introduced until the first century in Northern India, where the first sugarcane was actively cultivated. Ultimately sugar was a primary source of sweetness. The tradition of using honey, however, for many generations of Jewish families still exists.
The following recipes use honey in ways that are subtle or substantial. A salad and Greek dessert are included along with a twist on a delicious honey cake. You can supply your own family’s brisket! Don’t forget to look in the TJP archives for some other sweet additions to your holiday celebrations.
May your year be filled with good health, sweetness and contentment.
Arugula Salad with Dates and Chèvre
This salad incorporates three sweeteners readily used throughout the Jewish Diaspora: dates, honey and sweet/sour pomegranate molasses. A perfect start to a Rosh Hashanah meal! The cheese may be eliminated if served as part of a kosher meal with meat.
- 4 ounces arugula, about 4 cups
- 8 large, pitted soft Medjool dates
- ¼ cup diced red onion
- 4 ounces crumbled goat cheese
- ¼ cup dry-roasted shelled sunflower seeds
- ¼ cup Pomegranate Vanilla Vinaigrette (see recipe)
1. Rinse the arugula and pat dry with paper towels. Place in a salad bowl.
2. Lightly oil a cutting knife and then cut the dates in half lengthwise. Cut each half crosswise about 2 or 3 times. Set aside.
3. Toss the arugula with ¼ cup of the dressing. Place on 4 or 5 individual plates. (Alternatively, see step 6.)
4. Evenly distribute the dates, onions, goat cheese crumbles and sunflower seeds on each plate.
5. Grind a little black pepper on and drizzle with the remaining dressing.
6. You can also toss everything together in one large bowl and serve.
Pomegranate Vanilla Vinaigrette
1. Combine all of the ingredients in a screw-top jar and shake thoroughly until well blended.
Here’s a great alternative to cheesecake and a wonderful way to incorporate the history of the Jewish community of Greece that has existed since the fifth century BCE. This vibrant, influential Jewish community was decimated during World War II when two-thirds of its Jewish population was killed.
- 1¼ cups all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 stick very cold, unsalted butter
- 1 egg, separated
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 tablespoon brandy or lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon ice water
- 15-ounce container whole milk ricotta
- 3 eggs
- ½ cup wildflower or orange blossom honey
- Finely grated zest of 1 medium lemon
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- Confectioners’ sugar for rolling dough
- Cinnamon (optional for garnish)
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Add the flour, sugar and salt to a processor work bowl and pulse the machine 3 times to combine the ingredients.
3. Cut the butter into 8 pieces, scatter them around the mixture and pulse the machine on and off about 10 times or until the mixture looks like lumpy sand.
4. In a small custard cup combine the egg yolk with the vanilla, brandy (or lemon juice) and the ice water. Stir together with the tip of a knife or a bar whisk. Immediately add to the dough and pulse the machine on and off until the mixture begins to come together. If mixture appears too dry, add 1 more tablespoon of ice water. Do not let a ball of dough form or crust will be tough.
5. Remove dough and gently knead a few strokes to form a smooth ball. Pat dough into a disk, cover and refrigerate while you make the filling.
6. Wipe out processor bowl (no need to wash) and add the remaining ingredients (except the cinnamon). Process until mixture is combined and free of all lumps. Scrape down bowl once during this process. Set aside.
7. Generously sprinkle confectioners’ sugar on a board or your countertop. Place dough on prepared board, cover with plastic wrap and roll out into a circle that is at least 10 inches in diameter (this will fill a 9- to 10-inch quiche pan or 9-inch pie plate, whichever you choose to use).
8. Transfer the dough to the quiche pan (I like to fold the dough in half and then quarters and place the point of the fold in the center of the pan, then unfold the dough). Starting from the center, gently pat dough so that it is an even thickness on the bottom and pressed into the fluted sides of the pan. Use a rolling pin on the sides to cut off any excess dough.
9. Brush some of the egg white on the dough and bake for 10-15 minutes until dough just begins to look a little dry.
10. Remove pan from oven, lower temperature to 350 degrees, pour cheese mixture into crust and return to the oven for another 25 minutes or until custard doesn’t jiggle and is lightly golden.
- Evenly distributing the butter throughout dough without totally mixing it in creates a leavening effect when the dough bakes. Overworking the butter makes the dough tough and heavy.
- •I always roll sweet pastry dough on confectioners’ sugar because the sugar tends to glaze the dough to prevent sogginess and the sugar is 3% cornstarch so it prevents sticking as flour would.
Russian Honey Cake
Traditional honey cake, as we know it in the States, is a dark, dense loaf made with honey, coffee and brandy. The following version, introduced by a Russian grandmother to her Argentinian-born and Roman-raised granddaughter Esther Livdi, gains much of its sweetness from caramelized sugar and orange juice. Perhaps the ingredients tell a tale of frugality, using the sugar to create the dark, rich color while minimizing the use of expensive honey? Using too small a loaf pan results in overcooking the sides and top of the cake while waiting for the interior to cook. My recommendation is to use a 9-inch round cake pan or a 10-inch loaf pan for best results.
- ½ cup sugar
- ¼ cup water
- ¾ cup orange juice
- Finely grated zest of ½ orange
- 2/3 cup honey
- 1/3 cup vegetable oil, preferably wildflower or clover
- 1½ cups sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 2 large eggs
- 2½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Additional sugar for topping batter
1. Place ½ cup sugar and water in a 3-quart saucepan and stir over medium-high heat until mixture is clear. Let solution boil undisturbed until the bubbles get thicker and slower, and then remove from heat when it turns golden brown.
2. Immediately add the juice, zest, honey, oil, 1½ cups sugar and cinnamon to the pan. The caramelized sugar might harden, so return the saucepan to the stove and stir over medium heat until completely dissolved and clear.
3. Remove from the heat and place in a 3-quart mixing bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside on the counter overnight or up to 24 hours before making the cake.
4. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a long loaf pan or 9-inch round cake pan. Set aside while you make the batter.
5. Using a handheld mixer or wire whisk, beat the eggs into the honey/sugar mixture until light in color and aerated.
6. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a 1-quart bowl. Add this mixture to the large egg mixture bowl and stir just until completely incorporated.
7. Pour batter into prepared pan. Sprinkle top of cake with some additional sugar. Place cake in the lower middle third of your oven and bake for 30-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
- The depth of the batter will make a big difference in baking time and all ovens are different.
- Cakes with high sugar content will brown and cook faster on the outside.
- Your cake might seem a little crisp on the outside but the honey content will make it moister, albeit denser, after a day or so.
- Foods with spices and/or fruits or fruit juice taste richer and more flavor-forward when eaten a day after baking.
- Keeps well in a plastic freezer bag or airtight container for a week.