Recipes: Honey is the key to making these dishes for Rosh Hashanah

Honey is the food most associated with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which begins on Sunday evening, Sept. 25. Traditionally the holiday meal begins with honey, and in many households, also ends with honey. Apples dipped in honey are the starter, and honey cake is often served for dessert.

For the festive dinner we like to use honey in other dishes as well, both savory and sweet, and to include favorite Rosh Hashanah fruits such as pomegranates and dates.

Which honey to use in cooking and baking is a matter of taste. The flavor of honey depends on the kinds of flowers from which the bees collected nectar. As with wine, wrote Marie Simmons in “Taste of Honey,” honey’s character is influenced by its terroir, the environment in which the flowers grew. “Lighter-colored honeys generally have a milder flavor but with a pronounced floral aroma often accompanied by herbal, spice, vanilla … or other flavor notes.” Darker colored honeys have more distinctive aromas and tastes and are often described as robust or assertive.

Mani Niall, author of “Covered in Honey,” finds fruity and floral honeys the best all-round honeys for baking. Some examples he mentions are alfalfa honey, orange blossom honey, raspberry honey and safflower honey.

For baking we usually choose light or golden, mild flavored honey.  For sauces and dressings we like either light or dark honey.  For Rosh Hashanah, you might want to serve two or three kinds of honey for dipping apple slices, and taste the difference.

Store honey in a cool, dark place. If it crystallizes, you can liquefy it by placing the honey jar in a large bowl of warm water; you may need to change the water once or twice.

Since the weather in Southern California is quite warm around Rosh Hashanah, we plan to include light dishes like Arugula and Apple Salad with Saffron-Honey Vinaigrette in our menu. We will prepare desserts with relatively short baking times, like Orange Honey Cakes with Dates and Pecans, or simple no-bake desserts like figs with ice cream and honey.

The recipe for Orange Honey Cakes with Dates and Pecans was adapted from the cookbook “Orange Appeal” by Jamie Schler. (Photo by Yakir Levy)

Orange Honey Cakes with Dates and Pecans

The recipe for these individual honey cakes, dotted with dates, pecans and oat flakes, is adapted from “Orange Appeal” by Jamie Schler. For kosher meals that include meat, make them with nondairy milk and vegan butter.

Yield: 12 muffins


1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 cup oat flakes or rolled oats chopped into flakes in a food processor

1/2 cup chopped pecans, plus 12 pecan halves for garnish

2 or 3 oranges

2 large eggs

1/3 cup honey

1/4 cup maple syrup

1/2 cup whole or low-fat milk

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup pitted dates in bite-size pieces


1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a standard 12-cup muffin tin with cupcake liners; butter or oil the liners.

2. In a large mixing bowl, sift flour with baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Stir in oat flakes and pecans.

3. Squeeze enough oranges to get 1/2 cup juice. Coarsely chop half a squeezed orange with its pulp and peel. Place chopped orange in a food processor with the juice and blend for 30 seconds or until peel is finely ground and mixture is liquid. Add eggs, honey, maple syrup, milk, melted butter and olive oil. Blend until mixture is smooth. With a spoon, stir in dates.

4. Pour orange mixture into flour mixture and stir to combine, just until all the dry ingredients are moistened and batter is well blended and smooth. Do not overmix.

5. Pour or spoon batter into prepared muffin cups. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until muffins are risen, set and golden brown, and are just beginning to pull away from the sides of the muffin cups. Cool on racks.

Walnut thumbprint cookies are made with cardamom, orange blossom water and rosewater. (Photo by Yakir Levy)

Thumbprint Cookies with Exotic Flavors

Cardamom, orange blossom water, rose water and honey flavor these cookies, which are filled with walnuts and dates. For kosher meals that include meat, make them with vegan butter. The recipe is from The Essential Jewish Baking Cookbook by Beth A. Lee.

Yield: 24 cookies



2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon ground cardamom

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 cup (8 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature

1/3 cup sugar

1 large egg

2 teaspoons orange blossom water

1/2 teaspoon rose water


1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts (divided)

1/2 chopped pitted Medjool dates

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

2 teaspoons honey

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

About 1/4 cup powdered sugar (for dusting)


1. In a medium bowl, whisk flour with salt, cardamom and baking powder.

2. In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat butter with sugar on medium-high speed for 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add egg, orange blossom water and rose water. Mix on medium speed until just combined.

3. With mixer on low speed, add flour mixture in 2 batches, stopping to scrape down sides of bowl as needed; you may need to incorporate the last bit of flour with your hands.

4. Transfer dough to a piece of plastic wrap, shape it in a disk and wrap it. Refrigerate for 2 hours until firm but still flexible.

5. Filling: In a small saucepan combine 1/4 cup walnuts with dates, cinnamon, orange juice, honey and salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Simmer uncovered over low heat, stirring often, for 5 to 7 minutes, until mixture forms a thick paste. Transfer to a bowl. Cool to room temperature.

6. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. To shape a cookie, wet your hands and break off a walnut-size piece of dough. Roll it into a ball. Flatten it with your hand until about 1/2 inch thick. Place on a lined baking sheet. With your thumb make an indent in the center. Repeat with remaining dough.

7. Fill each indent in dough with 1/2 teaspoon of date mixture. Sprinkle some of remaining walnuts on top.

8. Refrigerate cookies uncovered 45 minutes until firm.

9. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. To bake both sheets at once, place oven racks on top and bottom thirds of oven.

10. Bake cookies about 25 minutes, until just beginning to brown and undersides are golden. If baking 2 sheets, switch their positions halfway through baking. Transfer cookies to a rack; cool completely. Before serving, dust cooled cookies with powdered sugar.

Arugula and Apple Salad is topped with Saffron-Honey Vinaigrette. (Photo by Yakir Levy)

Arugula and Apple Salad with Saffron-Honey Vinaigrette

Vinaigrette flavored with saffron honey syrup beautifully complements this salad, which is topped with pomegranate arils and feta cheese. The recipe is from “Saffron” by Emily Brooke Sandor and Christina Xenos. For kosher meals that include meat, use vegan feta or omit it.

The saffron honey syrup is also delicious over ice cream.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Saffron Honey Syrup:

1 cup water

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon saffron threads

1/2 cup honey


14 ounces arugula or other tender greens

2 red-skinned apples, cut in thin wedges

2 mini cucumbers, cut in half slices

1/4 cup red onion slivers


2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar or rice vinegar

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons Saffron Honey Syrup

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste


1/4 cup feta cheese cubes, or to taste

Arils of 1/2 pomegranate, or to taste

1/4 cup chopped almonds


1. Saffon honey syrup: Combine water, sugar and saffron in a small saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring, until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat. Stir in honey. Let mixture steep for 10 minutes. Pour into a glass jar and seal; let cool to room temperature before using or storing.

2. Salad: Combine arugula, apples, cucumbers and onion in a large mixing bowl.

3. Dressing: In a small bowl, whisk vinegar with mustard and syrup. Add olive oil and salt and whisk until dressing is well emulsified. Dip an arugula leaf into dressing; taste and adjust seasoning.

4. Pour half of dressing over salad and toss. Add more dressing if needed.

5. Top with cheese, pomegranate and almonds.

The recipe for Roasted Bok Choy with Orange Honey Miso Dressing is from Katie Chin’s “Global Family Cookbook.” (Photo by Yakir Levy)

Roasted Bok Choy with Orange Honey Miso Dressing

This flavor-packed, easy way to serve baby bok choy is from Katie Chin’s “Global Family Cookbook.”

Yield: 4 servings


4 to 6 baby bok choy, halved or quartered lengthwise

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

1 garlic clove, minced

1/4 teaspoon salt


2 teaspoons vegetable oil

2 tablespoons orange juice

2 tablespoons mirin or rice vinegar

1 tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon white miso paste

2 teaspoons dark sesame oil

1 teaspoon minced peeled gingerroot

1 teaspoon grated orange zest

1 to 2 teaspoons Sriracha sauce

Sesame seeds (for sprinkling)


1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Toss bok choy with oil, garlic and salt in a medium bowl.

2. Place coated bok choy on a baking sheet. Roast on oven’s lowest rack, stirring twice, until bok choy is wilted and tender-crisp, about 6 minutes.

3. Dressing: Combine vegetable oil, orange juice, mirin, honey, miso, sesame oil, gingerroot, orange zest and Sriracha. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring, until warm. Serve bok choy drizzled with the dressing and sprinkled with sesame seeds.

You can make a dessert out of fresh figs with ricotta, honey and pine nuts (Photo by Yakir Levy)

Figs with Ricotta, Honey and Pine Nuts

We love fresh figs in simple desserts like this, which is perfect as a light finale for the Rosh Hashanah dinner. Instead of ricotta, you can use vanilla ice cream; for kosher meals that include meat, use vegan ricotta or vegan ice cream. Instead of honey, you can use Saffron Honey Syrup. (See the recipe for Arugula and Apple Salad with Saffron-Honey Vinaigrette.)

Yield: 2 servings


1/2 cup ricotta

4 fresh figs, halved

1 tablespoon honey, or to taste

1 to 2 teaspoons pine nuts

Scoop ricotta into dessert dishes. Add fig halves. Drizzle with honey and sprinkle with pine nuts.

Faye Levy is the author of 1,000 Jewish Recipes.

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