You’d think having a Jewish partner, I’d have been to a Passover Seder meal at least once. Nope. Every year I hope like a silly school boy in yarmulke that I’ll be invited to someone’s home for a Seder. Instead, I end up at a gym working out with the rest of the goyum and lapsed Jews.
Some Jewish friends (non-observant today) have told me that having grown up with long Seder services with large gatherings of relatives—and some being the youngest child having had to read the Four Questions aloud in Hebrew from the Haggadah—they welcome the true intent of the holiday and relax as freed people (in this case from the annual family ritual). Others do one night and some observe both and look forward to the tradition. Most seem to follow an edited down version of the Seder service.
Of course, it’s the food that fascinates me. Every year as Passover approaches, you read, hear, and watch instructions on preparing the special dishes for this holiday. Aside from the food items that are part of the service, I’ve been warned every family has its own traditions for the meal—and any single dish, such as chicken soup with matzo balls, can have dozens of variations. (If you want to start a “lively” discussion, ask two people who grew up with traditional Jewish cuisine what is the proper texture for matzo balls.)
As with every other part of the Seder meal and all food consumed during the eight days of the holiday, no leavening agent, such as yeast can be used (many traditions also ban baking soda and powder). Since I couldn’t employ typical leavening, I used eggs instead.
Spiced Apple Cake uses matzo cake meal in the batter, but it’s essentially an apple dessert that uses the batter as just a binder. The multiple layers of apples are flavored with cinnamon, ginger and orange. The center is filled with brandy-soaked raisins for a little festive surprise.
Spiced Apple Cake is a dessert that you can make ahead, and its flavor improves with time. The cake is well suited for travel, if you happened to get an invitation to a Seder. Even if you don’t observe the holiday, you can enjoy a sweet ending.
Spiced Apple Cake
recipe adapted from Arthur Schwartz
makes one 8-inch cake
4 medium apples, about 2-1/4 pounds, such as Golden Delicious or Crispin
1/3 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup brandy
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup canola oil
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons orange zest, about 1 orange, freshly grated
3/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
3 large eggs, room temperature
3/4 cup matzo cake meal
1. Preheat oven to 350℉ with a rack set in the lower-middle position. Lined a 8-inch-cake pan with parchment paper and lightly spray pan with cooking spray, set aside.
2. Peeled, cored and halved the apples, 1/4-inch-thick slices.
3. Combine raisins and brandy in a small microwave-safe bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and microwave at 50% power for 90 seconds. Remove bowl from microwave and let sit for 20-30 minutes. Drained and set aside.
4. Combine sugar and orange zest in a small bowl, rub with fingers until fully incorporated.
5. Stir butter and oil in a separate measuring cup. Set aside.
7. Add eggs to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat on medium-high speed until combined, about 30 seconds. Beat in remaining 3/4 cup orange/sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, until mixture is thick and foamy, about 4 minutes. Reduce speed to medium, slowly pour in oil mixture until combined. Remove bowl from mixer and fold in matzo cake meal quickly until fully incorporated.
8. Pour half of the batter into prepared cake pan. Sprinkle over half of the walnut mixture, half of the apples, and raisins. Pour over remaining batter and top with remaining apples; sprinkle over remaining walnut mixture. (The assembly might rise above the rim of the 2-inch tall cake pan.)
9. Transfer cake to oven and bake until the sides of the cake pull away from the baking dish very slightly and topping begins to caramelize, about 60-75 minutes. 10. Remove cake from oven, place a piece of parchment on top and press down lightly to compress the cake.
10. Remove cake from oven, place a piece of parchment on top and press down lightly to compress the cake. Leave parchment on for 5 minutes, then remove and set cake on cooling rack to cool completely, at least 3 hours, before cutting.
1. If you practice a strict Kosher diet. omit butter and increase the canola oil to 2/3 cup.
2. Brandy can be substitute with kosher wine or orange juice.
3. Cake can be covered tightly with plastic wrap and store at room temperature for up to 2 days, as the flavor improves with age.