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Cooking: Why Apples and Honey?
by Tina D. Wasserman

Apples and honey—for Ash­kenazic Jews, these words are an inseparable pairing. We dip a slice of apple in honey to express our hopes for a sweet and fruitful year.

Why were apples and honey chosen for this custom?

It’s not because of what Adam and Eve did in eating from the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden; the Bible never identifies the forbidden fruit. More likely, apples were selected because in ancient times they became a symbol of the Jewish people in relationship to God. In Song of Songs we read: “As the apple is rare and unique among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved [Israel] amongst the maidens [nations] of the world.” In medieval times, writes Patti Shosteck in A Lexicon of Jewish Cooking, apples were considered so special that individuals would use a sharp utensil or their nails to hand-carve their personal hopes and prayers into the apple skins before they were eaten. And the Zohar, a 13th-century Jewish mystical text, states that beauty—represented by God—“diffuses itself in the world as an apple.”

Neither the Bible nor the Talmud dictates the minhag, or custom, of dipping apples in honey. Traditionally, as early as the 7th century, it was customary to wish someone, “Shana Tova Umetukah” (A Good and Sweet Year), and honey—whether from dates, figs, or apiaries—being the most prevalent sweetener in the Jewish world, was the most available “sweet” for dipping purposes. And as for the biblical description of Israel as a land flowing with “milk and honey,” the Torah is alluding to a paste made from overripe dates, not honey from beehives. Still, enjoying honey at Rosh Hashanah reminds us of our historic connection with the Holy Land.

May your year be sweet, fruitful, and filled with contentment and promise.

Rosh Hashanah Noodle Kugel
This delicious noodle kugel—moist and not too sweet—incorporates all the symbols of a joyful and fruitful new year.

12 ounces extra-wide dried egg noodles
1⁄3 cup vegetable oil (corn or canola)
4 large eggs
2 3.9-ounce snack-size containers of unsweetened applesauce |
1⁄3 cup wildflower or clover honey
1⁄4 cup frozen apple juice concentrate
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1⁄4 teaspoon ground ginger
1⁄4 teaspoon nutmeg
3 Jonagold or Gala apples, pared, cored, and sliced into thin semicircles (reserve 8 slices for garnish)
1⁄2 cup golden raisins, optional
1⁄4 cup sugar mixed with 1⁄2 teaspoon cinnamon for topping
Nonstick cooking spray

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 13"x 9" Pyrex dish with nonstick spray.
  2. Cook the noodles according to package directions. Drain but do not rinse. Place in a large mixing bowl. Add the oil and stir gently with a rubber spatula to coat and separate the noodles.
  3. In a 2-quart mixing bowl lightly beat the eggs with a fork. Stir in the applesauce, honey, apple juice concentrate, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg.
  4. Using the spatula, add the apple semicircles (and the optional raisins).
  5. Pour the apple mixture into the noodles. Mix gently but thoroughly, then pour into the prepared pan. Place the reserved apple slices down the center.
  6. Lightly grease the shiny side of a sheet of foil, then cover the casserole, greased side down.
  7. Bake for 45 minutes, then uncover. Sprinkle with the cinnamon/sugar mixture, then lightly mist with cooking spray. Bake the casserole at 350°F for an additional 15 minutes or until lightly golden. Serves 12 or more.

Tina’s Tidbits:

  • Covering a casserole with foil, dull side out, helps food absorb heat from the oven without becoming too dry.
  • If you’re substituting honey for sugar in a recipe, use less—honey is 1 to 11⁄2 times sweeter than sugar.

Apples and Honey Cake Bread Pudding
with Butterscotch Sauce
I created this recipe from leftover honey cake. Moist and rich, this “bread” pudding is not overly sweet and can be served warm with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, or—my favorite—spiked butterscotch sauce.

1 loaf of honey cake (approximately 9" x 5")
2 ounces (1⁄2 stick) unsalted butter
3 Jonagold, Fuji, or Gala apples
1⁄4 cup sugar
1⁄2 teaspoon cinnamon
4 eggs
1⁄3 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup half and half
3 cups of milk

  1. Butter a 13" x 9" glass pan. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Cut the honey cake into 3⁄4-inch cubes. Place in a 4-quart bowl. Set aside.
  3. Peel, core, and slice the apples into 1⁄8 pieces, cutting each piece crosswise into 3 or 4 chunks.
  4. Heat a 10-inch skillet for 15 seconds. Add the butter and melt. Sauté the apples in the butter over medium-high heat for about 3 minutes, until the apples give up some of their juice.
  5. Mix in the sugar and cinnamon. Sauté for about 2 more minutes, until the sugar dissolves and the apples begin to brown and soften. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  6. In a 2-quart bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Thoroughly whisk in the brown sugar and vanilla. Pour in the cream and milk, whisking to combine.
  7. Place half of the honey cubes in the prepared pan. Cover with the reserved apples and the remaining cake cubes.
  8. Pour the egg/milk mixture through a sieve directly over the surface of the honey cake. Lightly press down on the cake, making sure it’s covered with the custard.
  9. Place the filled pan in a larger glass pan to act like a double boiler. The larger pan should have at least 1 inch of space on all sides. Pour hot (but not boiling) water into the larger pan to a depth of 1 inch.
  10. Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes or until a sharp thin knife can be inserted into the center of the pudding and come out wet but clear. Serve warm, with the butterscotch sauce on the side. Serves 10 or more.

Butterscotch Sauce

1 cup light (preferable) or dark brown sugar
2⁄3 cup light corn syrup
2 ounces unsalted butter
1 5-ounce can of evaporated milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon Scotch or dark rum (optional)

  1. In a medium saucepan set at high heat, combine the sugar, syrup, and butter. Stir only until the butter has melted and the mixture comes to a full boil.
  2. Adjust the heat to medium high and rapidly boil, without stirring, for 1 minute. Remove the mixture from the heat.
  3. Combine the milk and vanilla and add to the pan. Stir only to combine. Add Scotch or rum (if using), then pour into a glass jar. Use immediately or refrigerate. If some of the sauce has separated, shake the jar to recombine. This sauce is wonderful warm or cold.

Tina’s Tidbit:

  • Consider using evaporated milk in your sauces; it gives you the smooth consistency of cream and doesn’t curdle easily.

Fresh Apple Cake

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups sugar
11⁄4 cup oil
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups of grated apple (the peel does not need to be removed if finely grated)
11⁄4 cups coarsely chopped pecans
Confectioner’s sugar for dusting


6 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2 Tablespoons milk
3⁄4 cup brown sugar
1⁄2 cup coconut
1⁄2 cup chopped toasted pecans

  1. Combine the flour, soda, salt, and cinnamon in a small bowl. Set aside.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, beat the oil and sugar until they’re well blended. Add the eggs, whisking until they’re totally incorporated, the mixture is light lemon in color, and an emulsion is formed. The oil needs to be in suspension (like mayonnaise).
  3. Stir in the vanilla and then the flour mixture, apple, and pecans. Mix well.
  4. Pour into a 10-inch springform tube pan or a Bundt pan (or, alternatively, a 13" x 9" pan) coated with nonstick cooking spray. Bake at 350°F for 50–55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
  5. Cool the cake for 15 minutes at room temperature, then remove it from the pan and place on a serving tray. Top with some confectioner’s sugar or the following recipe. Serves 10 or more.


  1. Combine the butter, milk, brown sugar, coconut, and pecans in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Boil for 1 minute.
  2. Pour the sauce over the cake.
  3. Cool at room temperature. When the icing is set, it’s ready to serve.

Tina’s Tidbits:

  • When a recipe calls for oil it refers to vegetable oils such as corn, canola, or soybean. Never use olive or peanut oil unless they’re specified, as their distinctive flavors may change the taste of the finished product.
  • Never stir a sugar mixture after it’s come to a boil—you’ll end up with a grainy, coarse texture.
  • To reduce the oil content when baking, try adding some grated apple—it will not only replenish moisture, you’ll have more fiber and nutrients to boot.

Tina D. Wasserman, a member of Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, teaches at her own cooking school, writes a kosher cooking news­letter on the Internet, and serves as a culinary scholar-in-residence throughout the U.S.


Tina will be delighted to assist you in preparing these recipes and others.



Union for Reform Judaism.