Getting to the party

AriCooks, cake, dessert, Summer, Tips and Tricks

We have a lot of summer birthdays in my family, which, in addition to the summer I spent running a little cake-making business from my kitchen, has taught me a bit about how to make birthday cakes (and frosting) in warmer temperatures, and how to create a lovely-looking cake in stages so that you, the cake-baker, arrives at party day relaxed and ready to enjoy.
For the sake of simplicity, let’s assume you are baking (really, building) a straightforward sheet or layer cake here. I think most of these guidelines would also be applicable to something like carrot cake, which is also often frosted, or even a genoise, which is soaked and then covered with ganache or glaze. Also, I am going to assume that if you’ve gotten this far, you know the basics of cake-baking and may even have a recipe in mind. If not, take a peek at these:
Weeknight Cake Making

Birthday Cake, Straight-Up

Chocolate Raspberry Layer Cake 

Photo from a million years ago

Photo from a million years ago

So, it’s July or August, or even a steamy early-September, and you have a cake to bake. I like to begin cake-building 3-4 days before the party, especially in the summer,and when there are other preparations that will take up time as well.

  1. The actual baking: After I have made my shopping list and arrived home with my ingredients (and checked to see that I have all the necessary staples– parchment paper, pan spray etc), I bake the cake/cake layers. If it’s hot, this is best done in the early morning (after coffee!), or late evening. Preheating an oven and baking the cake for 30-40 minutes, really increases the temperature of the house, especially if you live in a smaller space. When the cake has cooled (in the pan for 5-10 min, then out of the pan completely) you should wrap it up really well with plastic wrap (layers should be wrapped individually) and freeze it until you are ready to frost it — ideally, the night before the party. Do not refrigerate it. If you have done this step just one day before the party, you can leave it out, wrapped well, but not if the cake has ANY fresh fruit or veggies in it (blueberries, carrots etc).

2. Making Frostings and fillings: Most icings, frostings, and fillings (ganache is not so easy to make ahead) can certainly be made ahead of time and refrigerated or even frozen. Most of them will need to be brought to room temp before spreading and something like buttercream will definitely need to be re-beaten before it can be spread. If you don’t mind doing that, then I do recommend making buttercream ahead of time because it is time-consuming and you want to feel fresh and relaxed for the fun part- the decorating. If you are planning an outdoor party, where the cake may be sitting in the heat for a bit, it is HIGHLY recommended that you use at least part shortening or margarine in your buttercream. An all-butter buttercream is very tasty, but butter’s low melting point does not lend it to a stable frosting that will stand up to heat. You want to set yourself up for success after all this work, so unless your summer cake-eating is happening in air-conditioning, I recommend at least half shortening. You can use something like Earth Balance (supposedly healthier) or just a simple margarine.

3. Building your cake: The night before the party get your frosting at the right consistency and unwrap your frozen cake. Frosting a frozen cake has a great advantage: you may not need a crumb layer– that is to first frost your cake with a thin layer of frosting that some crumbs stick to and show-through, and then chill it and frost again with a second layer, thus hiding the crumbs. Frozen cakes tend not to shed as many crumbs, but obviously if your frosting is lily-white and your cake is chocolate, you may need a crumb layer regardless. When you have frosted the cake, and perhaps decorated with any piped frosting, cover the whole thing in some kind of cake-keeper until the day-of. Save any floral, fruit, or chocolate embellishments until right before the presentation, as they will not hold up well to overnight refrigerating.

4. The Day-Of: Complete any final touches on your cake in the hours before the party. Keep cake refrigerated until about half an hour before serving. Also, remember that certain fruit, like strawberries, can bleed color onto white frosting, so don’t leave those on the cake for too long before serving.

A little strawberry cake

AriCooks, cake, dessert

The thing about butter, is that it tastes really good.

butter softening on my counter, a very typical sight in my kitchen.

butter softening on the counter, a near-daily  sight in our kitchen.

Over the past couple of decades or more, the general attitude towards butter has been in tremendous flux, vacillating from treasured and essential staple, to the root of all heart-health evils.  In the 1980s butter was a bad word in many kitchens and restaurants, and in Jewish homes the issue was made even more complex by the Kashrut (the adherence to which dictates that Jews not mix milk and meat at the same meal, therefore preventing many a buttery desert from being served post-meat meal).

My own relationship was even further complicated by various eating doctrines I subscribed to throughout my teens, and early adulthood, but I am happy to say that along with the general changing attitude towards butter (though, I like to think of myself as being slightly ahead of the curve), I have now long-accepted that like most natural ingredients, butter is a wonderful thing that can and should be used in moderation, and with reverence to it’s unique properties as a tenderizer of baked goods, and taste-enhancer of …. just about everything.

This little strawberry cake that come to mind almost every time my husband buys too many off-season strawberries at a wholesale store, would not be the same without butter. As a matter of fact, most simple cakes, including buttermilk and upside-down, which have few ingredients, need butter to make them worth making and eating.


Simple Strawberry Cake

I’ll admit, I think this cake has a lot of sugar (and I often cut the amount down by a 1/4 or 1/3 of a cup). It’s also worth noting that I do not make this with summer, peak-season strawberries, as it would be a waste of their flavor (just eat them). This cake is for those less-than-perfect strawberries found in your market’s refrigerated section in winter-time. After trying them, you can decide how much sugar you need. 

1.5 cups spelt flour (you can use all purpose)

1.5 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

6 TBS softened butter

1 cup sugar

1 egg (I use an egg sub because of my daughter’s allergy: 1 TBS oil, 1 TBS water, 1 tsp bkg       powder, mixed)

1/2 cup milk (I use soy/rice/oat)

1 tsp vanilla

1.5 cups hulled, halved strawberries

Preheat the oven to 350 (180 C?), butter an 8 inch square pan or a 9 inch pie dish, set aside.

Sift the flour and bkg powder, set aside.

With an electric mixer or a wooden spoon cream the butter and sugar well. Add the egg and mix until combined. Add the milk, mix well. Fold in the dry ingredients and spread the (thick) batter into the baking pan– I use a small offset spatula to level it. Now press the strawberries into batter slightly, cut side down, arranging them evenly over the top of the cake.

Bake for approximately 30 minutes.



Cookbook Review: Secrets from Lori Rapp’s Kitchen

AriCooks, cake, Dairy Free, Jerusalem

Hello! I am visiting from The Dreamy Day with a little cookbook review. Shortly after arriving back in the States I received an e-mail from Lori Rapp of Jerusalem’s La Cuisine, asking if I would mind reviewing her new cookbook on my blog. Since Ari Cooks is my food blog, and the one that is still quite active for recipe-seekers, I thought it best to post the review here. Hope you enjoy (and you can purchase the book on amazon)!

secrets from Lori Rapp's kitchen

Review: Secrets from Lori Rapps Kitchen Tales and recipes from Jerusalem’s popular La Cuisine.

As someone who has worked in the food industry from a young age, both behind the counter and in the kitchen, I thought I knew all the reasons why opening one’s own business is a risky and somewhat crazy endeavor. Over the years people have asked me again and again if I would consider opening my own bakery or cafe one day, and my answer has always been that I don’t have the desire to make my life that hectic and complicated. Inside, however, I have secretly thought that maybe, maybe when my girls are a bit older, and I have more time and energy to devote to such a thing, perhaps I could open something small and unassuming. Just a little place that might become a local favorite somewhere for breads, muffins and cakes. Lori Rapp’s book has done a swift job of reminding and informing me of the perils of the food biz, hitting so close to home for me, that I feel a bit traumatized after internalizing her experiences catering from her home and running her cafe and bakery in Jerusalem.

Amazingly, that is not how Lori Rapp feels. Despite the fact that she was the one whose bathtub was filled with salmon (in the early days of her business), whose face and arm were disfigured by burning caramel, who went through a miscarriage and chemotherapy with little time off from the rigorous pace of her work’s demands, and did all this while navigating an extremely inhospitable city-licensing bureau, impossible-to-please health department, and myriad other hurdles that would have sent most people running for a pleasant desk job, Lori Rapp is glad she spent 21 years doing what she loves.

     The first third of Lori Rapp’s book is memoir, taking the reader on a short trip back in time to her childhood, growing up as the daughter of Holocaust survivors in Toronto. The kitchen of Rapp’s youth was filled with some predictable foods, like shmaltz and poppyseed cake, and some less predictable, such as Mallomars and Aunt Jemima’s pancake mix (Rapp’s father was impressed with the sweets and convenience foods of the new world). As she grew older, Rapp began to discover foods and cooking styles different from her parents’, and her courtship with her husband-to-be, Marvin, was filled with butter-laden, time-consuming recipes — the kind of cooking one does when time and energy allow for impractical meals eaten at late hours.

Rapp then describes in detail, and with the fondness that hindsight can bring, the early years of their catering business: meals for 200 or more, somehow prepared from their small Jerusalem apartment. Adventures in catering brought incidents such as a $2500 electric bill one month, and their five young sons often ate disappointingly simple meals while piles of glazed baked goods (for customers!) mocked them from the kitchen counter.

When Lori and Marvin finally took the business out of the apartment, they were naive and unprepared for the roller coaster of the holiday season in a country obsessed with certain foods at specific times (mountains of cheesecakes and a line out the door on Shavuot, hundreds of honey cakes on Rosh HaShanna). Even so, they smiled their way through 14 years of business ownership before selling off La Cuisine to their partner in 2012.

Luckily for us, that sale did not include the rights to Rapp’s recipes for her wildly popular baked goods and savory items from La Cuisine’s catering menu. When I moved back to Jerusalem in 2011, one of the first things I heard (no joke) was praise for Lori Rapp’s non-dairy cheesecake. Because of the laws of Kashrut, cheesecake had formerly been relegated to the holiday of Shavuot, and the occasional dairy luncheon. When La Cuisine began selling (or selling out of, most often) this cake, happy folks all over the city could serve it at their Sabbath meals. The recipe for the tofu cheesecake of legend is generously provided by Rapp on page 76 and it was the first item I chose to make from her book. I am providing the recipe and photos (my own) below. As for more of Rapp’s delicious cakes (Chocolate Symphony, Chocolate Mousse, Dacquaoise), cookies (florentines, alfajores, butter pecan) tarts and more, you’ll have to buy the book.


tofutti cheesecake

Lori Rapp’s Tofu Cheesecake

makes one 9-inch cake

Lemon Curd (make ahead and cool)

1/2 cup plus one Tbs sugar

1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

3 oz butter or butter-flavored margarine (I used smart balance)

2 tsp grated lemon rind

3 eggs (or 2 eggs + 2 yolks, if you want it extra rich)


180 grams (1.5 cups) Petit-Beurre or Marie biscuit crumbs (“Kedem” biscuits in the kosher section of the supermarket are also good)

1/4 cup brown sugar

3 oz butter or butter-flavored margarine


32 oz Toffuti plain cream “cheese” (do not substitute other brands)

1.5 cups sugar

5 eggs

2.5 tsp vanilla

2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

240 ml (one cup) lemon curd


120 grams (4 oz) lemon curd

1 Tbs warm water

1-2 Tbs non-dairy heavy whipping cream, unwhipped

Preheat the oven to 350°F

line one 9-inch spring form pan with baking paper for easy removal of the cake

make the lemon curd:

put the sugar, lemon juice, butter/margarine, and lemon rind in a small saucepan, bring to a gentle boil.

whisk the 3 eggs in a separate bowl.

when the butter/margarine mixture is entirely melted in the saucepan pour the mixture into the eggs while whisking (careful not to scramble your eggs!), and pour the mixture back into the saucepan.

bring the mixture back to a simmer while whisking. When bubbles start to break the surface and the curd thickens slightly, pour it out through a sieve into a clean bowl (if your curd is very smooth, just pour it into a bowl to get it out of the hot pot). Curd keeps for 4-5 days in the fridge.

thickened lemon curd

make crust:

mix all the ingredients together and press the the crumbs into the bottom and sides of the  prepared pan.

petit beurre crust

make filling:

beat the tofutti cream cheese and sugar in a mixer with the paddle until smooth. Slowly add the eggs, vanilla, and lemon juice. Scrape down the sides once with a rubber spatula and mix again until it’s smooth.

Pour and lightly spread about 240 ml (1 cup) lemon curd into the bottom of the prepared crust. Gently and carefully pour in the cheese mixture.

Bake the cake for about 50-55 min, until it is puffy, lightly golden and a little bit wobbly.

When the cake cools and sinks back down, loosen it from the pan by cutting around the inside of the ring with a sharp knife, but leave the ring on. Refrigerate overnight, and then remove the outer ring. Lift the cheesecake off of the bottom by pulling on the baking paper. Carefully pull off the paper.

decoration (optional):

mix the lemon curd with a tablespoon or two of warm water and pour it on top of the cooled cake, letting it run evenly almost to the outer edges.

Pour the unwhipped cream into a pastry bag (you can also use a ziplock), cut off a bit of the tip with scissors, and zigzag a design onto the lemon curd, pulling into various designs with a toothpick or a sharp knife.

The rest

AriCooks, cake, dessert, quick breads and tea cakes, Spring, Summer

Loquat (shesek) tree hangs over our balcony

It’s May in Jerusalem and nothing could be more delightful. The days are warm, the evenings are breezy, and our loquat tree is bursting with fruit. The old ladies that wander the shuk with their backyard-offerings are selling a variety of basil that lasts for weeks in a glass of water set out on our table (it even starts to root), and smells amazing. My fruit and vegetable guy had organic lettuce this week, grown by his teenage neighbor, and bright, sweet cherries, also grown without pesticides. I know that the heavy, sticky heat is imminent and I am enjoying every second of this season.


I’ve been making a pitcher of my favorite iced tea every few days, which is basically just a fruity tea mix with berries, apples and hibiscus, sometimes mixed with a little white or mild green tea, steeped in a litre of just-boiled water for a few minutes, cooled, chilled and served over ice. Sometimes I mix it with bought or homemade lemonade and sprigs of fresh mint and verbena.


And after our five week stay in Boston this winter reminded ever more how lucky I am to have access to cheap lemons (80 cents a piece at the markets in Boston!!) I have been also been using them in everything from salad dressing, to dips, to this lovely tea cake adapted from The New York Times Cookbook:

Simple Lemon Cake

1.5 cups flour – I used 50-50 white and whole wheat (you could also use part spelt)

1/4 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 lb butter (~125 grams)

2 large eggs, at room temp

3/4 cup sugar

6 Tbs milk

2-3 Tbs fresh squeezed lemon juice

2-3 Tbs lemon zest

tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350F/180C, grease and flour a loaf pan (English cake pan)

Add a little of the lemon juice to the milk to curdle it.

Sift flours, baking soda, powder and salt together in a bowl, set aside.

In a large bowl beat the butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time, and then beat in lemon zest and vanilla.

Alternately beat in flour mixture and liquids. Beginning with flour, then adding a bit of the milk and lemon juice etc, ending with flour. Do not overmix.

Spread batter into loaf pan and bake for about 45 minutes on the center oven rack.

Happy Spring, listen to this if you haven’t yet (or even if you have).

Basbusa – Moroccan Semolina Cake

AriCooks, cake, Dairy Free, dessert, Jerusalem

Although the cafe may not be the hippest hang-out in town , I have to hand it to my boss, Linda. Fifteen years in business and we do a slamming lunch rush almost every single day. Holidays are completely crazy (I’m already getting nervous about Shavuot), and we make almost every single thing from scratch. When you work with the same folks every day, cranking out orders and baked goods, it is inevitable that everyone will get to know each other pretty well, and fairly quickly.

The chef, Mali, whom I work alongside each day, is a fast-working, savvy veteran of the hotel-kitchen industry who has been running the cafe’s kitchen for 7 years. She is a trained pastry chef (our main commonality) as well as a savory chef, with surprising patience for her staff, and little for anyone else. She is also Moroccan, an identity which she carries like a flag, making more than a few comments about Ashkenazim and their tiresome palates, customs and social skills. Like a lone crusader of truths, she dispenses Moroccan folk-wisdom (and a great deal of Mali-isms) throughout her day, both amusing and confusing the staff (mainly me). Although I take her worldview with a grain of salt, her recipes are no joke. This family recipe for semolina cake is just one example of the kind of  wisdom I am glad to take from her, and am excited to share with others.

Mali’s Moroccan Basbusa Cake

This cake is also called one-one-one cake because most of the ingredients are in 1-cup quantities, which makes this recipe very easy to cut in half. Basically, this cake is a separated sponge, with a simple syrup poured over it right after it is removed from the oven. Because its ingredients are so straightforward, I think you could play around with flavors if you wanted to. Perhaps add some citrus zest to the batter, or almond/orange blossom water. 

For the cake:

6 eggs, separated

1 cup oil (Mali uses canola, I used half canola, half olive oil)

1 cup orange juice

1 1/2 cups sugar, divided (I used less, see below)

1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes

1 cup semolina

1 cup flour (I used half whole wheat)

pinch of salt (my addition)

for the syrup:

the syrup is essential!

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

Make the cake:

In a large bowl, mix the 6 yolks with the oil, juice and one cup of sugar (I used about 1/2 a cup, instead). Add the flour, coconut, semolina and a pinch of salt and mix until just combined.

In a separate bowl, whip the whites until foamy, then add the remaining 1/2 cup sugar (I used 1/3 cup) SLOWLY, whipping as you add, until the whites have reached soft peaks.

Fold the whites into the batter (careful not to over-mix, or you will deflate your whites) and pour the batter into a wide, shallow, greased pan (I used a glass 9 x 13 inch pan, coated with Pam spray).

Bake at 170°C/350°F until golden brown and firm/springy to the touch ~ 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, boil the sugar and water in a small pot for a few minutes.

When the cake comes out of the oven it may be very puffy, and almost higher than the pan. Very slowly and carefully pour the syrup over the entire cake, making sure it is getting distributed evenly.

Allow the cake to cool for a bit and the syrup to fully absorb before serving.

Weeknight Cake-making

AriCooks, cake, Jerusalem

It has taken a while, but I finally managed to get the electricity adapter I need to convert my US appliances for use in our apartment here in Jerusalem. I was beside myself with joy to turn on my mixer again for the first time, and was talking to my food processor, like a batty old lady, apologizing for keeping him in the cupboard for so long…

I had two immediate thoughts when I heard those little motors purr to life: devil’s food cake with strawberries & frosting, and walnut basil pesto.

It's the start of strawberry season here in Israel, and this year's crop is GORGEOUS

Elbowing my way to the basil

I used my favorite devil’s food cake recipe for the cake’s base, and a fantastic “marshmallow” frosting recipe that is dairy-free, smooth, silky deliciousness. For the pesto, I simply made my favorite dairy-free, free-form version which includes walnuts, lots of basil and some fruity, organic olive oil, delivered by our egg and honey man, Amnon.


Super-spreadable Fluffy White Icing, adapted from The Modern Baker by Nick Malgieri

You need a little patience to make this swiss meringue recipe, but I promise it will pay off. The most important thing to remember is to whisk continuously, both while the meringue is over the bain-marie (simmering water) and once you pull it off the heat, until it has reached the desired texture. 

4 large egg whites

large pinch of salt

2/3 cup sugar (I use organic/natural sugar)

1/2 cup light corn syrup (do NOT grease your cup to help the corm syrup slide out! Your egg whites will not firm up if mixed with even a tiny drop of oil)

Half-fill a saucepan with water and bring to a boil over medium heat.

Combine the whites, salt, sugar, and corn syrup in the bowl of an electric mixer (or any bowl, if you are using a hand-mixer — just make sure the bowl sits over the water, not in the water). Whisk ingredients by hand, just to combine.

Regulate the heat under the pan so that it boils gently and place the bowl on the pan. Whisk gently, just to keep the mixture moving, until it is hot (~130°F/55°C) and the sugar is dissolved. Place the bowl on the mixer and whip with the whisk attachment until the icing has cooled and becomes white and fluffy. It will look silky and will hold medium-firm peaks.

Things that start with chocolate chip

AriCooks, breakfast, cake

I just made my first traditional banana bread since we arrived in Israel last December. I am not sure what the significance of that is precisely, but I know it’s big. Banana bread was a staple at our house when we were living in Boston, something I made at least once a month and sometimes every other week. There have been a lot of standby-recipes that I haven’t been making here in Israel, some have been out of rotation because of their hard-to-find ingredients, while others have just felt…. out of place. Chocolate chip banana bread made its comeback tonight with the help of goat yogurt and canola oil (substitutions for the vegan margarine I used in the States), and it is completely delicious.

The week before last, another old staple that I’ve been avoiding also made an astoundingly brief appearance in our kitchen (Jeff and I both proclaimed them “dangerously good”) — chocolate chip cookies. Olive oil was the shortening that replaced Earth Balance Margarine, based off a great recipe my friend Liz sent over from Organically Cooked.

And muffins have resumed their rightful place as the breakfast food of choice in our house, with Auralee helping more than ever to sift, beat, stir, and lick the bowl. We are currently on a mission to “healthify” the cafe’s recipe for chocolate chip and apple cinnamon, respectively, with terrific results thus far — more on those in a future post.

Enjoy this simple and easy to adapt recipe. Play with it, and make it yours!

Everything-New-is-Old-Again Chocolate Chip Banana Bread 

Makes one 9 x 5 inch banana bread 

2 large eggs

1/2 cup goat yogurt (feel free to use cows’ milk yogurt or buttermilk)

1/3 cup canola oil

1/2 cup sugar (I use cane sugar)

3 medium, ripe banans, well mashed

1 cup all purpose flour

3/4 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp baking soda

3/4 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

1/3 cup mini dark chocolate chips.

Mix the wet ingredients including the mashed bananas, plus the sugar, in a large bowl. Add the dry ingredients, being careful not to over-mix, and fold in the chocolate chips. Bake in a greased 9 x 5 pan at 325°F for one hour until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. If humanly possible, cool on a rack before slicing.


AriCooks, cake, Dairy Free, dessert, Fruit Pies, Summer, Upside-down cake

Italian prune plums, in a shuk near you

After spending eight hours at work making cakes and chocolate babkas — though not a bad way to spend a day — I came home tired and a little irritable yesterday evening. Somehow, the only remedy to my exhaustion-induced crankiness was to make plum kuchen (nerd alert). My usual excuse for buying large quantities of prune plums is Molly Wizenberg’s plum-ginger crumble, but after making two or three of those in the past couple of weeks, it was time to find another recipe that showcases the little oval beauties.

After Jeff and I spent a few minutes arguing over the pronunciation of the word kuchen (a discussion which ended with my throwing my hands in the air and reminding him that I am only half Ashkenazi, after all) I set to work on this terribly simple, and intoxicatingly delicious-smelling Eastern European dessert.

humble-looking plum kuchen... smells like home.

Plum Kuchen, adapted from The Essential New York Times Cookbook

Kuchen is german for “cake”. This one is made by first assembling a pate brise-like bottom crust or cake, and then topping it with plums that have been tossed with sugar, cinnamon and flour. You can certainly use whatever purple plums are available in your area, just be sure to choose small one for this recipe. 

For the cake

1 1/2 cups sifted whole wheat flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup butter/margarine

1 large egg

1/3 cup whole milk

grated zest of one lemon

melted butter/margarine for brushing

For the topping

1/3 – 1/2 cup sugar – depending on the sweetness of the plums

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 1/2 tsp all-purpose flour

8 small, ripe plums, halved and pitted

1 large egg yolk

2 Tbs heavy cream/soy milk or soy creamer

To make the cake, heat the oven to 400°F/200°C. Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar into a bowl. Add the shortening/butter/margarine and cut in using a pastry cutter or your fingertips, until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal.

Beat the egg, milk, and lemon zest together. Add to the flour mixture, stirring just until blended.

Press the dough into a greased 8-inch square baking pan. Brush the surface of the dough with melted butter/margarine.

To make the topping, mix the sugar, cinnamon, and flour. Arrange the plums cut side up on the dough. Sprinkle the sugar mixture over the fruit.

Blend the egg yolk with the cream and drizzle over the fruit. Bake for 35 minutes, covered for the first 15 minutes of baking. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream or creme fraiche.

Orange-Lime Chiffon Cake

AriCooks, cake, Dairy Free, dessert, Summer

People often ask me how I find the time to cook at home. I’ll admit that in the past I’ve had a very tough time answering this question because the truth is I’ve never thought of it that way. Just as I did not have to “find time” to exercise when I was dancing daily and performing weekly, being a food person/pastry chef/cooking instructor means that I rarely have to “make time to cook”– it’s more than just a passion, it’s how I make sense of the world.

Orange-Lime chiffon Cake, heavily adapted from Gourmet Today 

The light, summery cake made my Friday this week, after Shabbat got in the way of my plans to get over to Tel Aviv for an Israel Food Tours get-together yesterday evening.  I may have missed Liz’s watermelon-arak salad (sniff), but having an impromptu Shabbat dinner with our sweet neighbors, that ended with slices of this cake, made me feel much better. 

2 1/4 cups sifted cake flour (I used white pastry flour– sift before measuring)

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar (divided)

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

6 large eggs, separated when cold, then left to come to room temp for 20-30 minutes

6 Tbs fruity extra virgin olive oil

4 tsp finely grated orange zest

1 tsp finely grated lime zest

1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice

2 tsp vanilla extract

Put a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350°F/175°C. Grease a 10-inch tube pan and dust with flour, knocking out the excess.

Sift together flour, 1 cup of the sugar, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. Whisk together yolks, oil, zests, juices, and vanilla in another bowl. Add the liquid mixture to the flour mixture and mix until smooth.

Beat whites in a large bowl with an electric mixer (or a determined arm and a ballon whisk) until the just hold soft peaks. Begin to add the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar VERY SLOWLY– a couple tablespoons at a time, whisking/beating as your go, until whites just hold stiff, glossy peaks (do not overdo it, or you will have dry cake). Stir about 1/3 of the whites into the batter to lighten it, then GENTLY but thoroughly fold in the remaining whites. Spoon batter into the pan and smooth the top. Bake until cake is golden and a wooden pick inserted into the center comes out clean, 50 min- 1 hour. Cool cake completely in pan on a rack. Turn cake out of pan onto a serving platter. Dust with powdered sugar and serve with yogurt, ice cream, fruit or tea.

Something in between

AriCooks, cake, Dairy Free, dessert, Quick Meals, Vegan, vegetarian

Eating Chocolate Amaretto Cake. Recipe below.

Carbohydrates, mainly in the form of breads and cakes, are my first love in the world of sustenance. Although I often restrain myself and opt for protein (beans, nuts, etc), a bright green salad, or a beautiful piece of fruit (not hard to find in Israel), most of the time, when my stomach tells me it is time to eat, my immediate thoughts are of tea cake, whole wheat bread with peanut butter, chocolate cake, apple muffins, or pita stuffed with hummus. When the end of the week rolls around and I have finished making my favorite challah recipe, my thoughts immediately turn to dessert. Usually, by 2 or 3 pm on Friday, I am patting myself on the back for having everything done. The house smells like freshly baked bread, the dessert is cooling on a rack and it’s time to relax and catch up with what the rest of the world has been up to…. But then I remember: dinner. Right. Challah and cake are all well and good, but we are supposed to eat something in  between. Darnnit. Back to the kitchen I go.

looks good, but something is missing...

Although Jeff, Auralee, and I are not huge eaters, and certainly do not expect a multi-course feast when it is just the three of us, I understand the importance of a well-balanced meal. Luckily, there are many vegetable and veggie protein dishes in the pages of my  cookbook collection that come to the rescue on the Friday afternoons when the preparation of dinner catches me off guard.

Egyptian Eggplant, adapted slightly from Claudia Roden’s, Cooking of the Mediterranean

This really could not be much easier. A kind of lazy-man’s moussaka, if you will. Accompanied by a freshly-made tabbouleh salad, this was the perfect simple, summer Shabbat dinner, and left plenty of room for Chocolate Amaretto Cake and Lemon Semolina Cake (see below)

3 medium eggplant

3 tomatoes, peeled and diced

1/2 cup goat cheese of your choice

salt & pepper

fresh mint

bread crumbs

Broil the whole eggplants in the oven (pierce each on a couple time with a fork), until completely roasted, and cooked through. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly before peeling and slicing into rounds or half-rounds. Spread the eggplant into a greased baking dish that has been dusted with bread crumbs and top with the diced tomatoes and diced/crumbled goat cheese. Season with salt and pepper and bake at 350°F for 30-35 minutes. Sprinkle baked dish with fresh, minced mint leaves. Serves 4

Chocolate Amaretto Cake, adapted from Vegan with a Vengeance, by Isa Chandra Moskowitz.

The original recipe calls for light rum, which I have used before when making this cake. This time, amaretto (almond liqueur) was what I had on hand. Both are delicious.

1 cup all purpose flour (I use 1/2 whole wheat)

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

3/4 cup sugar, divided (original recipe calls for one cup, but I think it’s plenty sweet with a little less)

1/2 cup dutch-process cocoa powder, divided

1/4 cup canola oil

1/2 cup soy milk (I used 1/4 cup soy and a 1/4 cup yogurt)

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tsp amaretto

1/2 cup pure maple syrup

1/4 cup amaretto

1/2 cup boiling water

Boil some water in a teakettle, preheat oven to 350°F (175°C), and grease a 9-inch round springform cake pan.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, 1/2 cup sugar, and 1/4 cup of the cocoa powder. Add the soymilk, oil, and extracts and mix into a thick batter (it will be very dense). Spread the batter into the prepared cake pan and sprinkle the top evenly with the remaining cocoa powder and sugar. Pour 1/2 cup of boiling water into a glass measuring cup, add the maple syrup, and amaretto to the water, and pour this mixture on top of the cake batter.

Place the cake on a cookie sheet in case of pudding overflow (mine did leak) and bake for 30 minutes. Let cool just a bit and then release the sides of the pan while it’s warm (over a plate to prevent spillage– this is one moist, messy dessert).

Lemon Semolina Cake, from Gourmet Today, edited by Ruth Reichl

12 blanched, whole almonds, finely ground in an electric spice mill, or food processor

3 large eggs, separated

3/4 cup superfine sugar (if all you have on hand is regular granulated sugar, you can give it  a quick whirl in the spice grinder as well)

3/4 tsp finely grated lemon zest

1 Tbs fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup, plus 1 Tbs semolina (I used whole wheat semolina)

For topping/serving

1/2 cup cold heavy cream

1 1/2 cups berries

Put a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat oven to 325°F/149°C. Grease a cake pan and line the bottom with a round of buttered parchment paper.

Separate eggs, putting yolks in a large bowl and whites in a slightly smaller one. Add sugar to yolks and beat with a whisk or an electric mixer until pale yellow and very thick. 3-5 minutes.

Gently, but thoroughly, fold in ground almonds and semolina.

Beat whits with cleaned beaters (they need to be completely free of yolk/oil) until they just hold stiff peaks. Fold gently but thoroughly into the yolk mixture (try to not over-mix, it deflates the whites, which are your leavening agent in this recipe).

Transfer batter to a pan and smooth top. Bake until a wooden pick comes out clean, 25-30 minutes, then run a thin knife around the edge of the pan and invert cake onto a cooling rack (you do not want to let this cake cool in the pan because the edges will cling to the sides of the pan while the middle deflates and you will have a concave cake). Carefully remove paper and cool cake completely.

Beat cream in a small bowl (with electric mixer or a strong whisk-arm) until it just holds stiff peaks.

Top/serve cake with berried and cream. Serves 6-8