An article I recently read about Shavuot spoke about the dramatic noises, fire and seismic activity surrounding Moses’ receipt of the Torah. If one is to believe Cecil B. DeMille, there was a lot of fire, wind, and some thunder too.
Such drama! But why not? This event marked the first codification of a way of life, a set of rules by which we still live today. That is intense and very dramatic, so a little thunder and lightning seem to be appropriate.
Yet, when we celebrate this holiday, we do not do so with intense foods. The foods we eat are often smooth and silky — they inspire closed eyes and lots of sighs and smiles. If you believe in comfort foods, this is your holiday.
What is more comforting than cheesecake (just ask the Golden Girls)? And maybe we eat these foods so people of all ages, from the youngest babies to the oldest elders, can enjoy them together. After all, how much chewing does one have to do when eating cheesecake?
From creamy kugels to silky cheesecakes to ice cream (yes, it is dairy!) dairy foods are a delightful way to celebrate this important holiday. The contrast between the fiery, dramatic days on Mt. Sinai and the lovely sweetness of these pure creamy foods is intriguing. It is certainly worthy of more study, and it’s definitely worthy of more cooking.
Creamy Garlic and Herbed Goat Cheese Spread (Dairy)
5 oz. fresh goat cheese
2/3 cup sour cream
1 scallion, finely chopped
1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. minced parsley
1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. minced fresh chives
2 small garlic cloves, finely minced
1 to 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 French baguette, sliced thinly, toasted
1 large clove garlic, cut in half
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the goat cheese and the sour cream in a medium bowl and mix until creamy. Add 3/4 of the scallion, and 1 tablespoon each of the parsley and chives. Reserve remaining scallion, parsley and chives. Add half the minced garlic and reserve the rest.
Mix the herbs and cheese mixture until well-blended. Cover and refrigerate.
Mix the olive oil with the remaining herbs, garlic and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
Slice the bread and place on a rimmed baking sheet. Place in the oven and toast until golden, about 4 to 7 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool. Rub each piece with the cut half of a garlic clove.
Place the cheese in a mounded circle on a platter with a depression in the center, arrange the toasts around the cheese and place the olive oil herb mixture in the center. Serves 8 to 10.
My Mothers’ Kugel Souffle (Dairy)
This is the kugel that won a contest held by a Boston Jewish newspaper many years ago. Sandy Ropper’s recipe won hands down, mostly because of the unusual topping which incorporates honey and graham crackers in a delicious, gooey topping. I make it with dried Bing Cherries, snipped.
1 lb. wide egg noodles
6 extra large eggs
4 Tbsp. melted butter or margarine
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup sour cream
1 lb. cottage cheese (small curd)
1/2 lb. farmer’s cheese
1/4 lb. cream cheese
1-1/2 cups whole milk
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Optional: 1/4 cup (more to taste) dried cranberries, cherries or snipped apricots.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cook the noodles as directed until al dente. Strain them and rinse with cold water.
Place the eggs in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the sugar and blend well on medium speed. Add the melted butter and blend well. Add the cheeses and blend on medium high just until the mixture is smooth. Reduce the speed and slowly add the milk. Mix well. If you like, add the dried fruit and mix by hand to evenly distribute the fruit.
Remove the bowl from the mixer stand and add the noodles to the cheese mixture. Mix well with a large spoon.
Line a cookie sheet with foil (a tiny bit of liquid may leak from the pan) and place the spring-form pan on the cookie sheet. Pour the cheese noodle mixture into the spring-form pan. Place in the oven and bake for 50 to 55 minutes. While it is baking, make the topping.
1 -1/2 sticks melted butter or margarine
1-1/4 cups blanched sliced almonds
1-1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 cup honey
1 to 2 tsp. Cinnamon or apple pie spice to taste
Combine all in a saucepan or a bowl and stir until blended.
After 50 to 55 minutes, remove the kugel from the oven and pour the topping evenly over the hot kugel. Place the kugel back into the oven for another 40 to 45 minutes. If the top is browning too quickly after 20 minutes, cover lightly with silver foil and continue to bake.
Remove from the oven and let cool. Cut around the outside of the kugel and remove the ring. Place the bottom of the spring-form pan on a pretty plate and serve. Serves 12 to 20.
HINT FOR LEFTOVERS: To make cutting easier, cut slices before refrigerating the leftover kugel. Replace the spring-form ring and refrigerate. Let the kugel sit on the counter for an hour and then reheat at 325 degrees for 45 to 65 minutes.
Chocolate Swirl Oreo Cheesecake (Dairy)
This is a delicious and fun cheesecake that is a real crowd pleaser — especially with the kids!
1-1/2 cups crushed Oreo Cookies
4 Tbsp. finely ground toasted almonds
4 Tbsp. butter, melted
3-1/2 oz. bittersweet chocolate 65% cocoa solids, chopped
1-1/3 lbs. cream cheese (2-3/4 to scant 3 cups)
3/4 cup sugar
1-1/4 cup sour cream
2 extra-large eggs
1-1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease a deep, 9- or 10-inch spring-form cake pan, line with a 9-inch parchment round and butter the parchment. Set aside.
Toast the almonds in a pan until fragrant, about 2 to 4 minutes. Let cool. Place the cookies and almonds in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until uniform crumbs are formed. Add the melted butter and pulse until the mixture resembles wet sand. Pour the crumbs into the prepared pan and press down firmly. Place in the oven and bake until set, 10 to 15 minutes.
Remove from the oven and let cool. Reduce the temperature to 275 degrees. Fill a roasting pan halfway with water and place in the bottom rack of the oven.
Place the chocolate in a small microwave safe bowl and heat in 10 second intervals until barely melted and smooth. Set aside.
Place the cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat just until smooth. Add the sour cream, eggs and vanilla and mix just until blended. You do not want to whip the mixture; the less air, the denser and creamier, the cheesecake.
Pour half the batter into the prepared pan. Using half the chocolate, place spoonfuls of chocolate on top of the cheesecake. Use a thin knife or a skewer and swirl the chocolate through the cake. Carefully pour the rest of the batter evenly over the first layer and repeat the swirl with the rest of the chocolate. Tap the cake on the counter a few times to release any air bubbles and place the cake in the oven.
Bake until the cake is set around the edges but still slightly jiggly in the middle, 35 to 50 minutes. Turn off the oven and leave closed for at least 4 hours. The cake will continue to cook and set.
Remove from the oven, let cool completely, slide a thin knife around the edge pf the pan and remove the ring. Keep the cake on the parchment and slide onto a serving plate. Refrigerate overnight and garnish with chocolate curls, Oreos, and/or more toasted almonds. Serves 8 to 10.
Creamy Cheesecake with Caramel Topping (Dairy)
I learned that the key to a creamy cheesecake is to avoid whipping too much air into the mixture and placing a pan of water on the rack under the cake.
2-1/2 cups Graham Cracker Crumbs
2 Tbsp. dark brown sugar or white sugar (Brown sugar adds to the caramel flavor of this cake)
7 Tbsp. melted butter
2-1/2 lbs. block cream cheese, softened completely
1-1/2 cups sugar
5 extra-large eggs
2 extra-large egg yolks
1 Tbsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup full fat sour cream (generous)
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup heavy cream
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom of a 9-inch spring-form pan with a round of parchment paper. Set aside.
Place the graham cracker crumbs, the brown sugar and the melted butter in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the S blade. Pulse until the crumbs resemble wet sand. Scrape the crumbs into the prepared pan and press into the bottom and 1 to inch up the sides of the pan. Bake for 8 to 12 minutes, until the crust is lightly browned on the top edges. Remove from the oven to cool. When cool. Set the pan on a rimmed baking sheet.
Fill a large roasting pan with 2 to 3 inches of hot water and place in the bottom shelf of the oven to heat.
Cream the cheese and sugar on medium in an electric mixer, until fully blended, scraping the bowl often. Add the eggs, yolks and vanilla and beat on low until evenly blended. Add the sour cream and mix, scraping often, until blended. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and, using the rimmed baking sheet, transfer to the oven.
Bake at 350 for 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 225 and bake for an additional 75 to 90 minutes. To test for doneness, the center of the cake should jiggle just a tiny bit when the pan is moved.
Turn off the oven and leave the door closed for 25 minutes. Open the door and let the cake sit for another 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for 1 to 2 hours. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Remove the sides of the pan by running a thin knife around the edges. Transfer the cake with the parchment paper to a pretty serving platter. OR, for ease, leave the cake on the bottom of the spring-form pan and place on a large serving platter. Pour the prepared caramel over the top and use an offset spatula to gently spread the caramel to the edges of the cake so it drizzles down the side. Serves 12+
CARAMEL: Place the water and sugar together in a heavy saucepan and mix to evenly blend. Place over medium heat and bring to a boil. The sugar will dissolve and in 2 to 3 minutes will begin to turn amber. Swirl the pan constantly at this point and adjust the heat so that the syrup bubbles strongly, but does not rise up in the pan.
Continue to swirl the pan gently until the syrup is a rich amber, but not too dark. Remove from the heat and slowly pour in the heavy cream while whisking gently. The mixture will bubble vigorously, so be careful.
Place the pan back on low heat and mix until any hardened sugar has melted and the caramel is evenly colored and the texture is smooth. Remove from the heat and let cool until it is room temperature, stirring often. Glaze the cake as desired.
NOTE: Caramel can go from beautiful amber to burnt sugar in a very few seconds. You MUST watch very carefully. The caramel will continue to cook until the cream is added, so have the cream ready to go the second the color is deep amber.
NOTE: Sometimes, the sugar crystalizes. No worry. Add 1/4 cup of water and start again. The crystals will melt and all should be fine.