With fall officially here, Jews throughout the world have begun to prepare for the 10-day period of prayer, joy, self-examination, fasting and repentance. This time is known as Yomim Noraim - "the Days of Awe" -or the High Holy Days known to us as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
On Rosh Hashanah nearly 2,500 years ago, the prophet Nehemiah proclaimed, "Eat the rich and drink the sweet, and send portions unto him, for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy." Jews far and wide have heeded these words.
Using ingredients from coconut milk to sweet potatoes to plums, Jewish cooks have created Rosh Hashanah recipes that reflect both the lands where they live and the traditions they live by. Embracing Nehemiah''s spirit of generosity, they have customarily invited guests to share in their holiday meal.
Many families begin by dipping apples, challah or cake into honey. Giggling children invariably lick their fingers - and then dip again and again. Rosh Hashanah, with its emphasis on sweet foods, is naturally popular with the younger generation.
Families and friends wait with anticipation for the first taste of Rosh Hashanah baked goods. Honey cakes, apple cakes, streudels and taiglach (small rounds of dough, drenched in honey and coated in almonds) represent just the beginning of a month of feasting (and fasting).
Be adventurous, and bake with a new flavor of honey this season. You''ll find many kinds other than clover at your nearby farmers market or specialty store. Slice a variety of apples (or other fresh fruit) for dipping into honey as you begin your High Holiday meals.
My grandmother''s honey cakes were always heavy, and on the dry side. Today''s modern cakes add coffee, yogurt, applesauce or apples for moisture and a lighter consistency.
Two years ago, when I was just about to bake my cakes, I found that the only fruit available in my fridge were pears. So, I used them, and lo and behold, this honey cake has become my family''s favorite. In fact, you can even add pears to the usual apples for plain old dipping into honey. The color, texture and flavor are wonderful, and as pears extend into the fall season more and more, they''re also readily available.
You can bake the cakes several days ahead. Because they are moist, they don''t need refrigeration. They also freeze well.Zell''s Pear Honey Cake
3 cups pears (about 2 large pears), peeled, cored and cubed into small pieces (about 2 large pears)
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
> 11/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 Tbsp. five-spice blend (recipe below)
2/3 cup margarine or butter
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
4 large eggs
2/3 cup orange-blossom honey
> 11/4 cups pitted, chopped dates (8 oz. bag)
11/2 tsps. orange zest
Preheat oven to 350F.
Grease and flour two 8x4x3-inch loaf pans.
Place the pears in a medium bowl, and cover with the lemon juice or fruit fresh. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, sift the flour, salt, baking soda and five- spice blend together. Set aside.
Add the margarine or butter, and sugar, into the large bowl of your electric mixer. Cream together on medium-high speed, until very smooth and light in color.
Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Slowly pour in the honey.
Turn to low speed. Add the sifted dry ingredients in three parts, to the egg mixture, just until it disappears each time. Turn the mixer to medium-high, and beat 3 to 5 minutes.
Fold the pears, dates and orange zest into the batter.
Spoon the batter into the prepared pans, filling each no more than halfway.
Bake 50 to 60 minutes, or until the top springs back when lightly touched. Cool in the pans 10 to 15 minutes. Remove and finish cooling on a cake rake.
Makes two 8x4-inch loaves.
Note: If you plan to freeze the honey cakes, glaze them just before serving them.Honey-Cake Glaze
1 cup confectioners'' sugar
2 tsps. brandy
2 tsps. orange juice or more for spreading consistency
In a small bowl, combine the sugar and brandy.
Add just enough orange juice to obtain the consistency of a thick syrup.
Drizzle over the top and sides of the cakes. Serve.
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As a member of the Herb Society of Greater Cincinnati, I''ve enjoyed expanding my knowledge of herbs and spices. This spice blend was given to us as a little "gift" at one of the meetings. I''m not sure where it originated, but cookies, cakes and pies made with this spice blend will fill the house with heavenly aromas.
Only 1 tablespoon of this baking blend is needed for cakes, cookies, batters and pies.
Store the spice blend in an airtight container in a cool dry place.Five-Spice Blend
1/4 cup ground ginger
2 Tbsps. ground cinnamon
2 Tbsps. ground allspice
1 Tbsp. ground nutmeg
11/2 tsps. ground cloves
In a 1-quart container, combine all the ingredients. Mix well with a fork.
Sift one or two times before storing the mix in an airtight container.
Makes 2 ?3 cups.Honey-Glazed Carrots
These carrots are a perfect accompaniment for any Rosh Hashanah entree.
1 lb. baby carrots, sliced into rounds
2 Tbsps. butter or margarine
pinch of salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
zest and juice of one orange
1/4 cup pineapple preserves
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup cold water
Microwave Method: Place carrots into a l-quart microwave-proof container. Add the remaining ingredients. Microwave on high for 5 minutes. Stir and microwave 3 to 5 minutes longer, until a nice glaze has formed on the carrots.
Conventional Method: Put carrots in a 1-quart heavy saucepan. Add butter or margarine, salt, sugar, orange zest and juice, preserves, honey and water. Cook uncovered, over medium heat, gently stirring now and then, until liquid is almost evaporated and a nice glaze has formed on the carrots. This will take about 15 to 20 minutes.
Serves 4 to 6.''Taiglach''
These are small pieces of dough, baked in honey and ginger. They''re a specialty of the house on Rosh Hashanah. I actually need to hide them from my husband, or there wouldn''t be any left for family and friends. These keep up to three months in an air-tight container without freezing.
Ingredients for Dough
6 large eggs
31/2 cups unbleached flour
1/4 cup vegetable oil
11/2 tsps. baking powder
3 tsps. sugar
pinch of salt
Ingredients for Syrup
2 cups honey
2 tsps. ginger
1 cup sugar
1 cup coarsely chopped nuts
Place the eggs, vegetable oil, and sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse several times.
Add 21 ?2 cups of the flour to the baking powder and salt. Process until the dough holds together and begins to form a ball around the blade. You may need to add an extra half-cup of flour.
Remove onto a lightly floured surface and knead several minutes, until smooth.
Preheat the oven to 450?.
Divide dough into 6 pieces. With floured hands, roll each piece between your palms into long ropes, one-third to one-half inch thick. Cut off half-inch pieces from each rope. Roll each piece into a ball and place in a 51 ?2x101 ?2x2-inch pan.
To prepare the syrup, combine honey, sugar and ginger in a large, 3-quart saucepan or an 8-cup microwave-safe container.
Bring to a boil over medium heat or microwave on high 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to simmer and cook 5 minutes, or stir and microwave on high 4 more minutes.
Pour syrup over dough, and stir with a wooden spoon.
Reduce the heat to 375F.
Bake 10 minutes. Stir pieces to prevent them from sticking together. Bake 5 minutes. Stir and bake 5 minutes more.
Place one piece of dough in a small amount of cold water. Taste it. If it''s hard on the outside and soft inside, they''re done; if it''s too soft, bake no more than 3 minutes. Total baking time should not be more than 20 to 25 minutes. These will continue to bake after you remove them from the oven.
Wet a tea towel with cold water. Wring out and place it on a cutting board.
Sprinkle the chopped nuts on top. Remove the taiglach from the oven. With a slotted spoon, remove taiglach from the pan onto the prepared towel.
Gather the corners of the towel together, and roll back and forth with your hands.
Turn the taiglach onto a foil-lined pan to cool.
Separate the pieces and store in an airtight container.
Makes about 6 dozen.