As a kid in Hebrew school, I learned that my classmates would have apples and honey and round challah at Rosh Hashanah to bring in the Jewish New Year, and that was pretty much it when it came to food traditions. But at home it was a different story.
As an Iranian Jew, Rosh Hashanah was an elaborate affair. We’d gather the extended family for the first two nights of the holiday, the first at my parents’ house, the second at my aunt’s. Dining tables, coffee tables and folding tables would be lined up to make one long dinner table covered with tablecloths to accommodate a good 20 or so family members. The table would be spread with platter after platter: mountains of saffron-laced basmati rice, crispy tahdig and flavorful stews — maybe a deep green stew of celery and lots of herbs, or a tomato-based eggplant stew, tangy with unripe grapes.
But before dinner, we’d (mostly) pause the loud chatter — a lively mix of Persian and English — for a full Sephardic Rosh Hashanah seder. Yes, there were apples and honey. But we’d also have dates, beets, pomegranate seeds, slow-cooked black-eyed peas and beef tongue, Persian leeks and fried zucchini, each with a symbolic meaning and a blessing for the coming year.
This date upside-down cake takes the dates from my family’s Rosh Hashanah seder and pairs them with the two fragrant ingredients found in so many Persian sweets: cardamom and rosewater. The cake’s batter uses buttermilk for a bit of tang and goes easy on the sugar to provide some balance for the topping: a super sweet combination of velvety dates in a rich butter caramel. It’s a moist and aromatic dessert that pairs perfectly with a glass of amber-colored Persian tea.
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