September 12, 2023

Olive Oil Apple Honey Cake with Honey & Rosemary Syrup

Warm honey and rosemary syrup is poured over a moist slice of apple honey cake with two forks. The rest of the cake is in the background

Rosh Hashanah was late in 1997, not that I had ever thought about it, really. We were housesitting at a friend's farmstead just off the Gravenstein Highway in Sebastopol, and if you know the area, especially from decades ago, you'll recall the unforgettably heady floral and honeyed aroma of this apple variety as you drove along. The apple-laden orchards were often on both sides of the road. Sadly, the 15,000 or so acres of apple trees from that era have been reduced to fewer than 2,200 acres--replaced by grapes or other projects. Commercially, this variety of apple just doesn't travel well.

By early October, harvest had long since been completed, and only the memory of aromatic drives lingered. Our friend's apple tree still had a few hangers-on, and Donald and I picked one for dessert, slicing it to enjoy outside. Unknown to me at the time was the Jewish tradition of dipping apples in honey with the wish for a sweet new year. Donald, however, knew and off we trundled inside to open a jar of honey produced from the farmstead's own bees. Gravensteins are renown for their aroma and flavor, and although I did not have the training at the time to jot down the exact sensations, have since read aroma descriptors which include "floral, earthy, honeyed, with a hint of citrus zest". I asked Chat GPT to describe the flavor of a Gravenstein, and s/he replied [read this in a computer voice]:

"The Gravenstein apple offers a harmonious balance between tart and sweet. Its flavor profile conjures a bright acidity reminiscent of a lemony tang, complemented by undertones of ripe pear and hints of honey. The flesh, juicy and firm, provides a satisfying crunch that, when bitten into, releases a burst of refreshing juiciness. Compared to the common Red Delicious, the Gravenstein is brighter in taste, less sugary, and possesses a more complex flavor palette that lingers pleasantly on the palate."

It is not an exaggeration to claim that this--standing in a pantry noshing on slices of this late-season apple, heads bent over a shared butter plate filled with a pool of hyperlocal honey--will probably remain the peak apple-honey experience for me.

That said, this recipe is an unanticipated close second!

Olive oil honey cake, drizzled with honey and rosemary syrup, on a delicate Limoges plate.