Sweet new year

Dress up apples and honey this Rosh Hashanah with help from Bistro 185’s Ruth Levine

Ruth Levine's apple confit and honey cake.

Ruth Levine’s apple confit and honey cake.

Story by Ed Wittenberg
Photography by Michael C. Butz

Ruth Levine

Ruth Levine

Ruth Levine has fond memories of growing up in a traditional Eastern European Jewish home, watching her mother cook and bake in the kitchen, especially around the Jewish holidays.

“My parents were Polish, and I was always very interested in the kitchen,” says Levine, chef and co-owner with her husband, Marc, of Bistro 185 in Cleveland’s North Collinwood neighborhood. “When I started going into the restaurant business, I still kept the traditions, but with a different twist, and I developed some of my own.”

With Rosh Hashanah approaching, Levine offers some more modern ways to enjoy traditional holiday foods such as apples and honey.

“I do a wonderful honey cake that’s really different from what most people make,” she says. “Honey cake is super traditional during the holidays, because you eat honey for a sweet year, so along with a honey cake, I like to make an apple confit.”

To keep the honey cake moist, Levine says she grates in an apple and uses zest and juice from an orange and a lemon. Along with the honey and some spices, she puts in “a little pinch” of black pepper.

“That pepper gives it a little bit of zip, so you have contrast between the sweet and the pepper,” she says.

Ingredients for honey cake.

Ingredients for honey cake.

The apple confit consists of apples cooked in a honey syrup, served alongside the honey cake.

“They go together, so you get the apples and honey idea, but a little more accompaniment to your cake,” she says.

When Levine makes chicken soup for Rosh Hashanah, she makes it very much the way her mother did, but she adds fresh ginger.

“That ginger really lends a wonderful aroma and taste to the soup, and it also has health benefits,” she says.

Separate from the soup, Levine says she sometimes makes a roasted chicken with pomegranate sauce.

“My mother would roast the chicken, but now I do something a little different, with pomegranate glaze or apricot glaze on roasted chicken,” she says. “Also in our kosher home, we ate meat and added a little sweetness to the meat; I continue to do that.

“Now because people are so diet conscious, the trend is away from meat, so I try to bring more fish into the meals and things with more grain, like quinoa and farro – what chefs call ancient grains.”

Levine says she also has made a vegetarian stuffed cabbage.

“Instead of using traditional green cabbage, I’ll use savoy cabbage,” she says. “My mother introduced me to savoy cabbage; she used to put it in her soup. It’s much more tender (than traditional green cabbage), and I love the flavor; it’s more distinct.”

Levine says she incorporates some of these dishes into the meals she prepares at Bistro 185, but mostly she does this type of cooking at her Pepper Pike home. Thanks to the influence of her mother, the traditions live on – with her own unique spin. js

Ruth Levine’s recipes for honey cake and apple confit

Apple confit

Apple confit

Apple confit

3 to 4 apples cored and peeled thinly in rounds
1 cup sugar
¼ cup honey
3 cinnamon sticks
½ tsp. pure vanilla
5 whole cloves

  1. Preheat oven to 275 degrees
  2. Toss apple slices with the other ingredients. Place in oven-proof skillet and cover with approximately 1 cup of water or until just covered.
  3. Bring to simmer and cover tightly. Put in oven for one hour.
  4. Gently remove apples and reduce the liquid to syrup consistency.
  5. Serve with the honey cake.

Honey cake

Honey cake

Honey cake

1 apple grated, no need to peel
2½ cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
½ cup white sugar
½ cup packed dark brown sugar
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. ground cardamom
¼ tsp. ground ginger
¼ tsp. ground cloves
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
3 grinds of coarse ground black pepper  (optional)
zest and juice of 1 orange
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1¼ cups very strong coffee – room temperature
2/3 cup dark honey
6 tablespoons canola oil
1 cup chopped walnuts  (optional)

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Line two loaf pans with parchment paper and spray with Pam.
  3. Combine all ingredients in a stand mixer until well blended. This is a loose batter.
  4. Bake for approximately 50 minutes in the center rack of your oven. Test with skewer in center of cake. Cake is done when skewer comes out clean and dry. Let cool on rack and remove from pan.
  5. Serve with apple confit.

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