Apple Cake - A Rosh Hashanah Tradition

Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) is a holiday that even Jews who don't consider themselves religious often celebrate.   Unlike the secular new year, the Jewish holiday is not about raucuous partying. It begins a period of 10-day period of contemplation that leads up to a day of fasting on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. 

While the Rosh Hashanah has a spiritual side, it is Jewish, so there is food too – and plenty of it.  (Even the Yom Kippur fast is traditionally followed by a delicious meal.)  Traditionally, Rosh Hashanah foods include apples, honey, and other sweets to make for a sweet new year.  

My favorite Rosh Hashanah dessert is this apple cake.  I have no idea when I first began making it, except that it has been a staple at my Rosh Hashanah dinners for decades.

apple cake with honey for Rosh Hashanah

Moist and sweet without being overbearing, this cake can take whipped cream or ice cream on the side. But honestly, it's so good on its own, I don't know why you would bother. No fancy icing either -  I simply sprinkle confectioner's (powdered) sugar on top, as I do for my poppy seed cake.

The ingredients are simple and inexpensive.  Plus, if you have “fear-of baking”, a terrible condition that afflicts too many, then this is the dessert for you. You may have heard that baking is an exacting process, requiring sifting and exacting measurements. Not so with this cake. No sifting required and you won't ruin the result if your measurements are a bit off. Finally, if you are kosher and do not use dairy (including butter) in a meal that includes meat, this non-dairy (pareve) cake is perfect for your meat meal. 

If you do not celebrate Jewish holidays, you'll still love this cake, and it is a wonderful way to enjoy apples in the fall, for a dinner dessert, a brunch cake, or an afternoon coffee/tea break. 

Rosh Hashanah Apple Cake

Serves 10.  Total cost - $12 for entire cake (less than $1 per serving)

Ingredients

ingredients for apple cake
  • 1 cup canola oil + bit additional for coating the pan. (Any oil without a strong taste is fine. Olive oil does not work well because its taste is too strong.) If you prefer, you can coat the pan with a butter or oil-based cooking spray.
  • 2 cups granulated (white) sugar
  • 3 eggs at room temperature
  • 3 cups all purpose white flour 
  • 1 cup raisins – a combination of dark and golden yields a nice color and taste contrast. 
  •  ⅓ cup orange or apple juice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 cups of peeled, chopped apples – Many varieties work well, including Golden and Red Delicious, and Granny Smith.  Macintosh and Rome are too soft.  I prefer a mixture of 2-3 varieties. Generally 2-4 medium-sized apples will yield the required 3 cups. 
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • Optional – if you like a dusting on top, then about 1 tablespoon confectioner’s sugar.

Equipment

  • Large bowl 
  • Large fork
  • Spatula
  • Measuring spoons
  • Measuring cups (for liquids and solids)
  • Fruit and vegetable peeler
  • Cutting board
  • Knife
  • Small bowl
  • Bundt pan 
  • Wire cake rack for cooling cake

Optional:

  • Wooden bowl and chopping blade for nuts
  • Apple slicer - I love mine, but honestly, it's easy to quarter apples, then chop them
  • Small strainer and spoon for confectioner’s sugar topping

Preparation

  • Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  • Chop the nuts.
  • Heat  the juice, add the raisins and soak them (to plump them up) while you prepare the other ingredients.  I heat the juice by microwaving it on high for about 1 minute.
  • Oil the bundt pan, making sure to coat all the crevices.
  • Mix the oil and sugar in the bowl.  Then add the eggs and mix again.
  •  Add flour in 2-3 batches, mixing after each one. As you add it, the mixture gets stiff.                                         
  • Add the raisins and juice in which they are soaking, then mix. 
  • Add in the salt, cinnamon, baking soda, and vanilla and mix thoroughly.  
  • Peel, slice and chop the apples into pieces about 1-inch long. Then add those pieces into the batter and mix it again. (Hint - If you peel the apples earlier, their edges will darken unless you submerge them in water with a few squeezes of lemon juice. The citric acid in the lemon juice keeps the apples from discoloring.)
  • Finally, add in the chopped walnuts, again mixing until they are combined.  
  • By fork or spoonfuls, move the batter into the greased bundt pan and smooth the top out with the spatula. The batter is stiff - way too thick to pour.
  • Bake the cake for 1 hour – 1 hour 20 minutes, until a knife inserted in it comes out clean (no wet batter sticking to the knife.)
  • Let the cake cool in the pan sitting on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes.  After the cake has cooled, gently run a knife edge around the outside and inside of the tube, place a plate or the wire cooking rack on the top of the cake and turn it over. The cake should release when you flip it over.  If it doesn't, turn it back up and  gently work the knife in a bit farther bent from the outside rim toward the center.  Let it cool further.  
  • Once the cake is completely cool, you can dust it lightly with confectioner’s sugar.

I often make this cake ahead of time and freeze it, well wrapped, for a week or longer. But I warn you, the smell is divine and you may not be able to resist taking a taste before you put it away.  Happy new year!

apple cake on fork
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