This is the week before Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. As in most celebrations, there is food associated with the holiday. Apples and honey are the traditional fare of the New Year, so it is de rigueur to eat honey cake, a heavy quick bread that can be eaten with a meat meal since it doesn’t use butter, and cut up apples dipped in honey. At the new year challah is formed into round loaves instead of long braids, signifying that what goes around comes around. The beginning of the annual cycle is upon us and the world is renewed.
Since I didn’t grow up Jewish, and find that honey cake is not my fave, I have made my own adaptation to Rosh Hashanah. Every year around this time the new apple crop comes in. My mother, good Czech that she was, baked apple strudel in September to take advantage of the bounty in the most scrumptious, fattening, eyes-rolled-to-the-top-of-your-head way possible. I have used Rosh Hashanah as an excuse to break out the rolling pin and make an adaption of her traditional recipe suitable as a dairy dish to ring in the New Year. I didn’t use her pie dough because I just can’t get the hang of it, so I substituted Mark Bittman’s (my hero) flaky pie crust, which works well for me.
Happy 5773 everyone!
RECIPE: Grandma Sascha’s Apple Strudel, adapted for the Jewish New Year.
One batch of Mark Bittman’s flaky pie crust
½ stick unsalted butter
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ cup cracker meal
cinnamon to taste
4-5 tart, flavorful baking apples like Macintosh or Northern Spy
juice of one lemon
¼ cup sugar or honey
½ cup coarsely ground or chopped pecans
two handfuls of raisins
¼ cup powdered sugar
1 packet Dr. Oetker’s vanilla sugar (available in the international section of most supermarkets)
- Chill the dough for a little longer than Bittman recommends, say an hour.
- Grease a baking sheet and set aside.
- Roll the dough out thinly into a long oval. Use waxed paper to cover the rolling surface so that you can lift the dough when the strudel is assembled.
- Brush half of the melted butter on to the rolled out dough. Sprinkle cracker meal, brown sugar and cinnamon on the dough. The cracker meal is intended to sop up some of the apple juices so they don’t run out of the strudel.
- Peel the apples and then slice them very thinly, preferably using the slicing surface of a box grater. The slicing blade on a food processor will also do, although the apples come out a little thicker than desired.
- Mix the sliced apples with lemon juice and either sugar or honey.
- Place the apples lengthwise down the center of the dough, leaving broad margins on either side and on the ends. Sprinkle the pecans and two handfuls of raisins on top of the apples.
- Fold the dough around the filling to make a cylinder-shaped strudel. You can use the waxed paper to help lift the dough to cover the filling. Fold the strudel up tightly and seal the seam edges and ends so the apple juice won’t all drip out.
- Lift the folded strudel onto the greased baking sheet. My mother used to hoist it onto her forearm and then roll it gently onto the pan. I use the waxed paper to lift the dough onto the baking pan then remove the paper from under the strudel.
- Place the strudel seam side up on the baking sheet. Brush the top with the remaining melted butter.
- Bake for ½ hour at 400 degrees till light brown. Remove the strudel immediately from the pan and put it on a large serving platter. Do not let it cool on the baking sheet or it will flake and fall apart when you try to move it.
- While still hot, sprinkle powdered sugar mixed with vanilla sugar on top of it. Apply the powdered sugar mix through a small sieve so it doesn’t clump up.
- Let it cool completely before you eat it.