Eating a “new” fruit − one that you have not tasted yet this year − is a custom that dates back to ancient times. The fruit is eaten after the “Shehecheyanu” blessing is recited, on the second day of Rosh Hashanah: “Blessed are you, Lord, our God, sovereign of the universe who has kept us alive, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this season.” It was only a millennium ago that apples − the most domesticated fruit on the planet − replaced dates as part of this holiday custom, and since in Israel apples ripen around the time of Rosh Hashanah, they are particularly suitable for consumption with the blessing.

Apples have an exquisite taste. In addition to their crunchiness and perfect amount of juiciness, their flavor is measured by the precise balance between sweet and sour. Thus, if we were to use an imaginary scale, we would find the Fuji, Delicious and Gala varieties on the sweet side; the Golden Delicious and Pink Lady in the middle; and the Jonathan and Granny Smith toward the sour end of the continuum. Each variety is typified by the presence of unique flavors that distinguish its character: the degree of rose blossom flavor, or the hints of such fruits as wild plum, pears, pineapple, strawberries and rhubarb.

Besides being eaten as is, apples are particularly suitable for use in baking cakes and tarts, as well as in preparation of desserts, jams, ciders and brandy. The varieties appropriate for baking, because of their reduced level of nectar, are the sweet Golden Delicious for cakes and tart Granny Smith for sweet-and-sour pastries.

It is important to buy apples that are free of blemishes and dents; indeed, every bruise injures the pulp and causes rapid decay. Apples taste best on the day they are picked, and every day that passes affects their texture and nectar level. Their sweetness also decreases because the sugar in the picked apples turns to starch. Gala and Jonathan apples, for example, should be refrigerated to decelerate the process in which sugars break down and dry up; Golden Delicious and Hermon apples need to be refrigerated after two or three days; and Granny Smith and Pink Lady apples should be stored in a shady spot. Be careful not to let apples come into contact with other fruit because they emit ethylene gas, which accelerates ripening. You can test an apple’s freshness by dunking it in water: A fresh fruit will bob, as apples contain 25 percent air.

A raw apple sliced into thin slivers will go beautifully with salads made of mixed greens, fennel, radish, goat’s cheese, dates and nuts.

Apple cake with honey pudding

Honey pudding:

200 ml. milk
1/4 cup ‏(75 grams‏) honey
2 tbsp. corn starch
1 egg

For the apples:

6 Golden Delicious apples, peeled, pitted and quartered
100 ml. Calvados or cognac
100 ml. water
120 grams walnuts, coarsely chopped
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

For the cake:

3/4 cup ‏(150 grams‏) dark brown sugar
125 grams room-temperature butter
3 eggs
1 1/4 cup ‏(175 grams‏) sifted flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
pinch of salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 container ‏(200 ml.‏) sour cream

Combine the pudding ingredients in a small pot. Bring to a boil on a low heat, stirring all the while; keep cooking and stirring constantly. When the pudding thickens to the consistency of very thick porridge, turn off the stove and transfer to a deep bowl that has been greased with butter. Cool for 1 hour in the refrigerator.

Place all the ingredients that go with the apples in a large skillet. Saute over a medium-high heat, stirring periodically, until all the liquid in the pan has evaporated, taking care not to scorch the apples. This generally takes 20-30 minutes. Cool.

Heat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius. Line a 26-cm. pan with greased baking paper. Using an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat. Combine the dry ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Alternately add them and the sour cream to the batter by hand. Beat briefly.

Transfer the thickened pudding to a cutting board and cut into medium-sized cubes. Add them to the batter and mix gently. Transfer the batter to the baking dish. Spread the apple mixture on top and bake for 70 minutes. Serve the next day with powdered sugar or honey.

Candied apples

A possible festive touch here can be attaching to each apple a personal note for each guest with a New Year’s greeting. Make a hole in the note with a hole-puncher and thread through it the kitchen twine that is used to tie the candy. It is important here to use heat-resistant paper and pen ‏(such as thick wax paper and a magic marker‏) because the greeting will undergo a brief baking.

6 Golden Delicious apples
6-12 cinnamon sticks
1 cup pure apple concentrate
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup Calvados or cognac

For the flan:

2 eggs
1 cup heavy cream
4 tbsp. syrup from cooking the apples

Peel the apples in a circular way, so that you get down to about half their diameter ‏(keep the peeled remains for fritters or a cake‏). Core the apples gently with the help of an apple corer. Shove a cinnamon stick or two ‏(depending on their thickness‏) into each apple, and place in a pot along with the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a boil; allow to boil gently for 1 hour, uncovered. Use a fork to roll the apples onto their other side a few times. Cool to room temperature in the syrup.

Cut two sheets of standard-sized baking paper into four equal parts measuring 18 x 21-cm. ‏(you’ll only need to use six of them‏). Remove each apple from the cooking syrup ‏(reserve for later‏), and set down − on its side − in the center of a piece of paper. Gather up the paper at both ends and tie both with kitchen twine, like a candy wrapper, spreading open the paper above the apple so it makes a canoe-shaped opening.

Before serving, heat the oven to 200 degrees Celcius. Arrange the candied apples on a baking tin. Mix the ingredients for the flan in a bowl. Pour some through each “canoe,” into the center of each apple, up the mid-point, and bake for 20 minutes.

Serve hot with the syrup reserved from cooking the apples, and tart yogurt or vanilla ice cream on the side.

Upside-down apple cake

100 grams white sugar
40 grams butter
4 Golden Delicious apples, peeled, pitted and quartered

Nut mixture:

50 grams walnuts, chopped
50 grams black raisins
2 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon

Batter:

2/3 cup ‏(85 grams‏) sifted ground almonds
1 cup ‏(140 grams‏) sifted flour
1 tsp. baking powder
pinch of salt
120 grams room-temperature butter
1/2 cup ‏(100 grams‏) sugar
3 eggs
2 tsp. Calvados or cognac

Syrup:

1 cinnamon stick
1/4 cup pure apple juice concentrate
1/4 cup sugar
3 tbsp. Calvados or cognac

In a 26-cm., oven-safe skillet, dissolve the sugar over a medium heat until it forms a dark caramel. Do not stir with a spoon because the caramel will crystallize into sugar; you can give the pan an occasional shake. Carefully add the butter, one cube at a time. In a small bowl combine nuts, raisins, sugar and cinnamon.

Arrange the apple quarters in a circular fashion, peeled side up, and cook for 5 minutes. Spoon the nut mixture into the gaps around the apples. Turn off the heat; cool for 5 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Combine the dry ingredients in a medium bowl. With an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar for 5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time. Add Calvados, vanilla extract and the dry ingredients. Beat briefly. Use a rubber spatula to place scoop mounds of batter on top of the apples. Flatten them slightly ‏(no need to level off the batter as that happens in the oven‏). Bake for 35 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the syrup in a pot for 15 minutes, keeping it on a gentle boil. Pour over the hot cake. Wait 15 minutes and overturn onto a serving platter.