The main course is certainly important, but dessert is arguably the central part of the Rosh Hashanah meal. This is a time to break out the sugar—sweet foods are a must for the holiday, symbolizing a sweet year to come. Apple slices and honey may be the most traditional symbols of prosperity, but we figure adding an extra dessert or two to the mix must mean extra good luck, right? From classic honey cake and rugelach to apple pie and saffron-orange ice cream, we've got all the recipes you need to finish off your Rosh Hashanah dinner right.
Parve Rosh Hashanah Desserts
Easy, Light, and Tender Honey-Vanilla Almond Cake
Sweet doesn't have to mean unhealthy, as this gluten-free almond cake demonstrates—it manages to feel indulgent without being gut-busting. We give it a light, airy texture with whipped egg whites stabilized with a little lemon juice. The recipe calls for greasing the pan with butter, but you can use oil instead to keep the cake parve.
Apple-Ginger Tishpishti (Gluten-Free Almond and Walnut Cake)
This Sephardic Jewish, gluten- and dairy-free dessert is typically served for Passover, but the presence of apples and warm fall spices makes it feel perfectly appropriate for Rosh Hashanah, too. Almond flour, either store-bought or homemade in your food processor, takes the place of wheat flour, while a syrup spiked with ginger and all-American Applejack brandy replaces the rosewater-scented concoction traditionally used to douse the cake.
Apple Cinnamon Quick Bread
Like honey, apples are an iconic Rosh Hashanah food. Here, we pair them with warming cinnamon and just a bit of ginger to make an easy quick bread; as with the cake above, if you use oil instead of butter to grease the pan, the recipe is completely parve. This bread isn't super sweet on its own, but that's nothing a drizzle of honey can't fix.
Our basic challah is already just about rich enough to serve for dessert, but adding fruit to the bread makes it an even more appropriate finale for a Rosh Hashanah dinner. Here, the challah gets a fall twist with tart cranberries added to the dough.
Despite being a Rosh Hashanah staple, honey cake can be a little, well, boring. Our version gives the classic new life with apple, cinnamon, cloves, and whiskey, plus a dose of strong brewed coffee to give the cake extra depth. It's already fairly sweet, but we glaze the finished cake with warm honey for good measure.
The World's Second-Easiest Fig Dessert
When I have access to great fresh figs, I make the world's easiest fig dessert, which involves nothing more than serving the fruit raw. But if you've got slightly lackluster figs, go for a preparation that's only a bit more involved—cutting them in half, sprinkling with vanilla seeds, drizzling with honey, and broiling until the figs start to brown.
Gluten-Free Cornmeal Cake
Whipped egg whites are again the secret ingredient here, giving this dairy- and gluten-free cornmeal cake its light texture. Using a very finely ground cornmeal (or even corn flour—not to be confused with cornstarch) also helps yield an incredibly delicate cake. Try adding about a lemon's worth of zest to the batter to give the cake a citrusy kick.
Dairy-Free Chocolate Cake
No, you don't need milk or butter to make a special occasion–worthy chocolate cake. The olive oil that replaces the butter here contributes both moistness and a nuttiness that complements the Dutch cocoa powder and black coffee. For a straightforward chocolate cake, try a basic, lighter-flavored olive oil that you'd use for everyday cooking; if you want a more unusual effect, go for a bold, fuller-flavored olive oil whose peppery notes will shine through alongside the chocolate.
Non-Parve Rosh Hashanah Desserts
Easy, Old-Fashioned Apple Pie
While it isn't the most traditional Rosh Hashanah dessert, we see no reason not to incorporate apple pie into your holiday festivities, and this recipe wins points for its low-tech, laid-back approach. No precooking the apples on the stovetop—simply macerate the raw fruit with sugar and spices, add a little tapioca starch for thickening, and dump it into our flaky pie crust, which will remain crisp even under such a juicy filling.
The Best Apple Crisp
With all of the other preparations you're likely facing in advance of a holiday dinner, no one could fault you for not having the time to make a pie. What you probably do have time for is an apple crisp, a dessert that's just as delicious as pie but much easier to make. A simple mix of apples, sugar, cornstarch, salt, and whiskey makes the filling, which we blanket with a nutty, buttery topping.
Made-From-Scratch Caramel Apples
Even if you are serving apples dipped in honey on Rosh Hashanah, what’s to stop you from eating some apples dipped in caramel, too? The key to making caramel apples at home is to use small, easy-to-bite apples and a caramel that's thick enough to coat the fruit, but not so impenetrable that you break a tooth trying to get through it.
Apple and Pear Tarte Tatin
This elegant tarte tatin combines apples with another of our favorite fall fruits: pears. Cooking the fruit in caramelized sugar emphasizes its natural sweetness. Though you can make your own puff pastry, store-bought dough is by far the easier solution—just make sure to use an all-butter variety.
Cherry-Honey Blondies With Marcona Almonds
Not all honey is created equal, and we love experimenting with different varieties to achieve a range of effects. These fluffy blondies are best when sweetened with a strongly flavored honey, like Tupelo or orange blossom. We mix sweet-tart dried cherries into the batter and sprinkle crunchy Marcona almonds on top for added texture.
These bronzed, buttery, flaky little pastries are easy to roll out, thanks to cream cheese added to the dough for extra sturdiness, and they'll work well with a huge range of fillings—the secret ingredient is bread crumbs sprinkled over the filling, which helps to ward off runniness. This basic recipe uses a time-honored combination of chopped toasted walnuts, honey, citrus juice, and warm spices.
Nutella and Brown Butter Rugelach With Peanuts and Vanilla Glaze
They might not be Bubbe's rugelach, but it's hard to argue with a cookie recipe that draws inspiration from the flavors of Tin Roof ice cream: We spread rich Nutella over the pastry dough, then top it with chopped salted peanuts. A thin glaze of confectioners' sugar scented with vanilla makes these rugelach extra fancy-looking. For more inspiration, check out our recipe for rugelach with raspberry jam and almonds and savory everything-bagel rugelach with onion jam.
Classic Challah Bread Pudding
The best bread pudding is made with chewy loaves, and eggy challah fits the bill perfectly. Since you need stale challah to make bread pudding, you’ll want to make your loaf a few days early, which will give you a chance to practice your braiding technique.
Flourless Orange-Saffron Cake
When we think of a dish made with oranges, we usually picture orange juice or zest, or, rarely, the flesh of the fruit. This cake, on the other hand, is made with whole oranges, first softened in the microwave, then blended into a paste. The paste leaves this aromatic, saffron-tinged cake extremely tender, and adds just a hint of bitterness that can stand up to the sweet honey glaze.
Saffron, Honey, and Orange Ice Cream
This ice cream incorporates the same flavors as the cake above, but in a (much) cooler package. While the cherry-almond blondies above call for an assertive honey, here you're better off with a lighter variety, like acacia or alfalfa, to highlight the floral character of the saffron threads.
Pine Nut Honey Anise Pie
Delicate acacia honey is a good choice in this pine nut pie, though a more floral clover variety would also be lovely. Whichever you use, make sure it's high-quality, because honey is a dominant flavor in this dish. The honey gives the pie enough sweetness to keep it appropriate for dessert, but we balance it out with the slightly medicinal flavor of ground anise.
Cinnamon Apple Sour Cream Cake With Spelt
The only fat in this Bundt cake comes from sour cream, which both enriches the lean dough and gives it a tartness to complement the sweet apples. A pinch of cayenne added to the batter isn’t enough to make the cake taste spicy, but it does give it a subtle depth.
Olive Oil Cake
Need a crowd-pleasing dessert that can be whipped up in just an hour's time? This simple, elegant olive oil cake is the ticket. Buttermilk lends structure to the batter and a pleasant light tanginess, while lemon zest and orange flower water add a subtle, sophisticated flavor profile. Since the flavor of the olive oil will predominate, it pays to use a high-quality one; we have recommendations in our guide to buying olive oil if you're in the market.
Cherry and Pistachio Frangipane Tart
If you've stockpiled summer cherries in the freezer, this buttery, crisp tart is an impressive way to show them off. The frangipane is made using our Homemade Pistachio Paste in place of ground nuts, for improved texture and flavor (check out our how-to on blanching pistachios, which you'll need to do to make the paste). Halved pitted cherries studded throughout the frangipane turn jammy and sweet as they cook. Though it's a fairly involved recipe, a number of the steps—including making the crust, grinding up the pistachio paste, and pitting and halving the cherries—can be done ahead of time, so take advantage.