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 for 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.
Persian upside-down cake with dates and cardamom
For the date topping:
27 Medjool dates
6 tablespoons butter, softened
½ cup brown sugar
Pinch of salt
Pinch of ground cardamom
For the cake:
1½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more
for the pan
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened,
plus more to grease the pan
⅔ cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons rosewater
½ cup buttermilk
1. In a medium bowl, cover the dates with hot water and soak them for at least 20 minutes. Remove the skin from the dates, halve them lengthwise and remove the pits.
2. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
3. Butter and flour the sides of a 9-inch round nonstick cake pan.
4. For the date topping, cream together butter, brown sugar, salt and cardamom until well combined. Spread the butter mixture evenly across the bottom of prepared pan. Arrange the date halves over the butter mixture in a pattern of concentric circles with their cut sides facing up.
5. To make the cake batter, whisk the flour, baking powder, salt and cardamom together in a medium bowl.
6. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar together until creamy and pale in color. Add the eggs one at a time, incorporating one fully before adding the next. Beat in the rosewater to fully incorporate.
7. With the mixer on a low speed, add one-third of the flour mixture, mixing until just incorporated (do not over-beat). Follow with half of the buttermilk, then the second third of flour, the other half of buttermilk, then the remaining flour, mixing completely between each addition.
8. Spoon the batter over arranged dates, spreading it evenly and taking care not to jostle the dates. Bake the cake in the middle rack of the oven for 30-40 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan on a rack for about 5 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of the cake, then invert it onto a serving plate, replacing any dates that stick to the pan.
9. Garnish the cake with edible flowers, ground pistachios or dried rose petals. Serve the cake warm or at room temperature. pjc
This recipe originally appeared on The Nosher.