Recipes often tell a story, especially ones we use on Rosh Hashanah. Food and ingredients become laden with meaning as we choose dishes for their symbolic connection to the High Holidays.
For some, probably no foods are more emblematic of Rosh Hashanah than apples and honey. Eaten together, they have become an Ashkenazi mainstay as a wish for a sweet New Year. This recipe for Apple Honey Baklava combines an Eastern European Jewish tradition with Sephardic and Mizrachi phyllo pastry for a dessert suitable throughout the holiday season.
The dish has an extra level of meaning for me. I first learned how to work with the dough from the late Sarah Sheidlower z”l, who taught a phyllo dough workshop for our Hadassah chapter When I make phyllo pastries, I always think of her.
Sarah was generous in teaching others the dishes associated with her Sephardic Turkish Jewish heritage. In her hands-on workshop for the Hadassah Oakland Ruach chapter, she showed all of us how to work with the paper-thin sheets of dough and the crisp magic they could create. She taught us how to make sure a filling wasn’t too wet, to grease the phyllo layers properly and not to worry about rips (since, if one sheet tears, it is covered up by the next layer).
The recipe is non-dairy. To make it vegan, use agave syrup instead of honey. Substitute almonds if your custom is to avoid walnuts on Rosh Hashanah. Find phyllo dough in the refrigerator or freezer case in supermarkets and in kosher, specialty and Middle Eastern food stores.
Apple Honey Baklava
Makes 16 pieces
About 1/3 cup neutral-tasting vegetable oil
2-1/2 cups shelled walnut halves (or larger pieces)
1/4 to 1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. plus 1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. plus 1/8 tsp. ground cardamom
2 medium-large Pink Lady, Gala or Fiji apples (12 oz. total), unpeeled
9 sheets phyllo dough, each about 12 x 17 inches, room temperature*
3/4 cup mild honey
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 cup water
Oil bottom and sides of a 7 x 11 x 2-inch baking pan.|
Place two cups of walnuts in food processor bowl with sugar (use 1/4 cup for a more intense walnut taste), 1/2 tsp. cinnamon and 1/4 tsp. cardamom. Pulse into 1/8_inch pieces. Or chop walnuts by hand and stir in sugar and spices.
Chop the remaining 1/2 cup walnuts into 1/4-inch pieces. (Keep separate.)
Cut apples in half and remove core. Slice halves into 1/8-inch-thick slices.
Heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Fold one phyllo sheet (about in half) to fit in greased pan, trimming if needed (it doesn’t have to be a perfect fit; edges will get tucked in). Place in pan and then brush top lightly with oil.
Place the second folded sheet on top. Brush lightly with oil. Repeat with the third folded sheet. Tuck edges down so layer is flat. Brush lightly with oil. Evenly scatter half of the spiced ground walnuts on top of phyllo. Arrange half of apple slices in single layer on top of walnuts. Top with fourth folded phyllo sheet, brushing lightly with oil.
Repeat with fifth and sixth folded phyllo sheets. Scatter the second half of spiced walnuts and apples and top with seventh folded phyllo sheet. Brush oil lightly on top. Repeat with eighth folded sheet. After placing ninth folded sheet on top, tuck in ends again and press down to compact, then give the top a heavy brushing of oil.
Sprinkle reserved chopped walnuts on top. With a sharp knife, cut into 16 portions. Place on middle rack in oven.
Bake about 40 minutes until the top is golden brown and edges are crisp (go by looks, not time). Take out of oven and let cool for three to four hours.
Make syrup. In a small saucepan, combine the honey, lemon juice and water with 1/8 tsp. each of cinnamon and cardamom. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Lower heat. Simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 25 minutes or until slightly thickened. Spoon hot syrup evenly over top of cooled baklava. Let cool again before serving. Cut around slices to make serving easier. The baklava is best made to serve the same day, though you can make it a day ahead and store at room temperature, well wrapped in a baking pan. After that, store in refrigerator for up to five days. (To serve warm, bring to room temperature and heat in 250-degree Fahrenheit oven.)
My other holiday recipes can be found in 52 Shabbats: Friday Night Dinners Inspired by a Global Jewish Kitchen at www.faithkramer.com.
*Follow directions on phyllo package for thawing and handling. Keep covered with dish towel when using. Unused phyllo sheets can be refrigerated for a week or refrozen for two months.