Honey and apples are the most well-known foods eaten on Rosh Hashanah — the Jewish New Year — for nothing is more symbolic of a round, sweet year than apples and honey. No Rosh Hashanah meal is complete without a plate of apple slices passed around to each guest, followed by a bowl of honey; slices are dipped, the prayers said, and apple slices slippery with honey are eaten amid shouts of "L’Shanah Tova! Happy New Year!"
This year, my own New Year’s meal will end with these smooth, sweet, delicious honey custards baked in round ramekins and topped with caramelized apples – giving a new twist to a traditional holiday dessert and a new way to herald a round, sweet year.
Jewish holidays are rich with culinary traditions, special foods laden with symbolic meaning. At Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, we fry foods like potato latkes, fish, and doughnuts in oil to remind us of the miracle of the oil burning in the Great Temple for eight days and nights. At Passover, an array of foods — such as matzoh, bitter herbs, and salt water — are eaten to remind us of our time spent as slaves, our journey to freedom through the desert, and, ultimately, our liberation, as well as foods eaten symbolic of spring and rebirth. On Sukkot, a fall festival, we eat newly harvested fruits and vegetables in temporary outdoor cabins, symbolic of the time we spent during the exodus living and eating outside in the desert.
And at Rosh Hashanah, a time of celebration and new beginnings, it is traditional to eat new fruits, like pomegranates, to thank God for bringing us to this new season, along with fish, the symbol of fertility and abundance, and round, sweet foods, like apples, to represent the wish for a round, sweet year to follow, from beginning to end, an unbroken circle of life.
Chicken or lamb baked or stewed with apples, honey, dates, prunes, and raisins add sweetness to the New Year meal. Sweet side dishes, such as carrot tzimmes and apple kugel, are also served. And the meal always ends with desserts laden with apples and rich with honey; every family seems to have their own recipe for the traditional honey cake and apple cake found on every table.
Enjoy this easy baked custard, sweetened with honey and topped with caramelized apples, on your table this year — and all year long! L’Shanah Tova! Happy New Year!
Given the dairy in these custards, they are not pareve and under kosher rules would not be eaten directly following a meal with meat. As such they make a wonderful rich dessert to follow a fully vegetarian Rosh Hashanah feast. One could serve these with a dairy brunch after attending morning services, if the evening meal is meat, or as a late snack after the main meal. Or, of course, if your household does not keep kosher, they make a lovely way to incorporate the traditional flavors of apples and honey.
Honey Custards with Caramelized Apples
For the honey custards:
3 cups (700 ml) milk
3 large eggs
1/2 cup (125 ml) runny (liquid) honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
For the caramelized apples:
2 medium apples, any variety (see Recipe Note)
1 generous tablespoon butter or margarine
2 to 4 tablespoons honey
1 to 2 tablespoons rum, optional
Cinnamon or nutmeg, optional
Whipped cream for serving, optional
To make the custards: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Arrange 6 to 8 ramekins or oven-safe custard cups inside a 9x13-inch baking dish (or other similar-sized dish that will hold a few inches of water).
Place the milk into a saucepan over low to medium heat and gently bring it just barely to a boil. Immediately remove from the heat.
Whisk the eggs together in a medium to large bowl. Add the honey and salt, and whisk briskly until well-blended. Pour the warm milk into the egg and honey mixture in a slow stream while whisking constantly. Once all of the milk has been whisked in, stir in the vanilla.
Divide the custard evenly between the ramekins – I find it easiest to pour the liquid into a large measuring cup with a spout, which allows you to pour cleanly into the cups without making a mess. Dust the top of each custard with just a tiny pinch of nutmeg and place the baking pan in the preheated oven. Very carefully pour very hot water (hot tap water is fine) in the baking pan, around the custard cups, careful not to splash any water in the custards.
Bake the custards for 40 to 50 minutes; exact baking time depends on the size and depth of the custard dishes as well as the oven. The custards are done when set in the center – test by very gently touching the top of the custard or gently jiggling the pan. The custards will continue to firm up a bit when chilling.
Remove the pan from the oven and place on a cooling rack. Allow to cool for about 10 minutes. Carefully lift each custard from the water and place on a rack until cool enough to refrigerate. Cover each in plastic wrap and chill for 3 or 4 hours, or overnight.
To make the caramelized apples: Peel, core, and chop the apples into small cubes. Heat the butter or margarine in a skillet and toss in the apple cubes. Cook, tossing often, until the apples are tender. Add small amount of water occasionally as the apples cook; the water will help cook the apples and keep them moist while preventing them from browning.
Once the apples are fork-tender, drizzle in 2 tablespoons of honey; taste and add more honey depending upon your preferred sweetness and the tanginess of the fruit. Continue to stir, adding more water as needed and desired. Stir the rum into the fruit, if using, and continue cooking until it has simmered away. Scrape the apples into a bowl to cool slightly before serving over the chilled custards.
To serve: Top each custard with a generous spoonful of the apples, a very light dusting of ground cinnamon or nutmeg, and a bit of whipped cream.
- Two apples is enough for a heaping spoonful of apples per custard. If you'd like a little more topping, just increase the number of apples used. Use roughly 1 teaspoon of butter or margarine and 1/2 to 1 tablespoon of honey per apple.