Jewish Apple Cake, With Egyptian Touch

Try something a little different for dessert that still incorporates the apples and honey that form our taste memories of the holiday: Basbousa, a semolina cake of Egyptian origin that is moistened with a sweet syrup. 

This year, Rosh Hashanah falls on the earliest day that is mathematically possible, something that hasn’t happened since 1899.

It does seem difficult to be thinking about apples and honey when the summer produce is still exploding in the market, but being Jewish has always involved sacrifice.
We’ve been brainstorming about our Rosh Hashanah menu at Zahav (available Sept. 9-15). We wanted to do something a little different for dessert, but still incorporate the apples and honey that form our taste memories of the holiday. And then in walked a tray of basbousa.
Basbousa is a semolina cake of Egyptian origin that is moistened with a sweet syrup. It often is made with nuts, and the syrup is flavored with orange blossom or rose water. It’s an easy cake to make and the syrup acts as a great preservative.
Our Rosh Hashanah version at Zahav is a bit of a mashup between a classic Basbousa and a Jewish apple cake. Instead of making the basbousa syrup with sugar, we use honey. We also poach apples in the syrup and then bake those apples directly into the cake.
Unlike my partner Michael Solomonov (chef of Zahav; perhaps you’ve heard of him?), I’m not a big fan of rose water. But even I have to admit that it works well with the apples, honey and walnuts. You can leave it out or experiment with other flavorings. We thought a cham­omile tea bag infused into the syrup would be pretty great as well.
Basbousa With Apples and Honey
Adapted from Zahav
1⁄4 lb. butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 and 1⁄2 cups fine semolina flour
1 and 1⁄2 tsp. baking soda
1 and 1⁄2 tsp. baking powder
1 cup finely chopped walnuts, toasted
1 cup milk
1 recipe apple-honey syrup (see below)
Preheat the oven to 350˚. Grease a 9×9-inch pyrex baking dish.
In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs and beat until smooth.
Combine the semolina with the baking soda and baking powder and then whisk in a little at a time, alternating with the milk, until you have a smooth batter. Fold in the walnuts and pour the batter into the prepared baking dish.
Scatter the poached apples (see below) over the top of the batter and bake in the oven for approximately 15 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean in the center.
Cool the basbousa on a wire rack. Using a cake tester, make holes all over the top of the cake at one-inch intervals. Pour the apple-honey syrup over the cake, a little at a time, allowing it to be absorbed before adding more syrup, approximately one cup in total. The cake should be moist, but not completely saturated. Allow the cake to rest at least an hour before serving.
Serves 6 to 8.
Apple-Honey Syrup
2 apples
3⁄4 cup honey 
1⁄2 cup water
1⁄2 tsp. rose water (optional)
Peel and core the apples, reserving the peels. Dice the apples into half-inch pieces. Place the apples and reserved peels in a saucepot with the honey and water. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and continue to poach the apples until they are just tender.
Strain the syrup, reserving the apples separately. Discard the peels. Allow the syrup to cool to room temperature and stir in the rose water if desired.
Steven Cook is co-owner of Zahav, Percy Street Barbecue and Federal Donuts.


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