Besides being best known as the holiday which celebrates the Torah and the Ten Commandments, Shavuot is also an agricultural holiday in Israel, marking the final grain harvest and the first fruit harvest.
What is so nice about Shavuot is that the food and the flowers all connect to midrashim about this special day. One story says that on the beautiful morning that Moses brought the Torah down from the mountain, the barren desert suddenly bloomed with millions of fragrant, beautiful flowers and lush green grasses. So, especially on this holiday, we bring the beauty of nature into our homes with plants and flowers.
Another story says that the Promised Land flowed with milk and honey, so we celebrate with dairy foods such as blintzes that, set side by side, resemble the two tablets. We indulge in sweet treats to remind us that life is good and that G-d provides. It is customary to stay up all night to study the Torah, its commentaries and midrashim. This tradition came about because it is rumored that the wandering Jews overslept, even on the morning that the Torah was delivered to them.
We now stay up all night to avoid “missing” anything about the Torah and its commandments. I guess that is one way to avoid oversleeping! After a night of study, is nice to enjoy a delicious, sumptuous, Shavuot brunch to feed body and soul with sweetness, grains, fruits and, of course, cheesecake!
In addition, if not primarily, if there was ever a holiday that celebrates the strength and intelligence of women, Shavuot is it.
Yes I know it is most commonly associated with Moses bringing the words of G-d down from the mountain to a less than grateful nation. But, it is also the holiday on which we read about Ruth, whose story is one of strength of character and perseverance.
The story tells how Ruth and Naomi work in concert to achieve their goals. The story examines, perhaps for the first time in such depth, the beliefs and struggles of female characters. Ruth took a huge leap of faith and adopted a new religion. She trusted Naomi with her very life and, while other women in Biblical stories worked against each other or were fueled by jealousy, these two cooperated to ensure the continuation of the Jewish people. Together, they made sure that Ruth married Boaz which produced future generations; in this case the generations that led to King David.
Encourage your family members to work together as Ruth and Naomi did and then, together, make some great food — including cheesecake! Have a wonderful, joyous, holiday.
Onion Artichoke Galette (Dairy)
This is easy and delicious. Use canned or frozen baby artichokes to save time and add any vegetables you like. A great side dish with salmon.
2 cups flour (a mixture of white and whole wheat works well)
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
1-1/2 sticks very cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup ice water, you may need less
Place flour, salt and sugar in a food processor bowl. Pulse once or twice to mix. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal and has a few lumps. Slowly add ice water through the feed tube as the machine is running and add just enough to cause the dough to stick together. Remove and form into a disc. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 15 minutes.
Roll the dough out on a floured surface until the crust is about 16 inches in diameter. Fold gently in half and then in half again to facilitate easy transport to a large cookie sheet that is lined with parchment paper. It is best if the cookie sheet has an open side so that sliding it onto a serving dish after baking will be easy. Open the dough and set aside.
3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. butter
6 shallots peeled and cut into quarters the long way
2 to 3 garlic cloves, finely minced
10 to 12 baby artichokes frozen, thawed or canned, well-drained
OPTIONAL: •1 small jar (about 3 to 4 ounces) sun-dried tomatoes, drained, use as many or few as you like. •1 to 2 cups baby spinach leaves, 3/4 to 1 cup shredded (not grated) Parmesan cheese (Asiago cheese is nice on this), 1/3 to 1/2 cup pine nuts
2 Tbsp. fresh snipped chives, salt and freshly ground black pepper •You can add torn basil leaves to this or fresh thyme leaves as you like.
Heat a large skillet over medium-low heat and add the olive oil and butter. Add the shallots and sauté until golden brown and caramelized, about 20 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté about 2 minutes, stirring gently but constantly. Add the artichokes and cook about 5 minutes. If you like, add the sun-dried tomatoes and heat through, about 2 minutes. Season as desired with salt and black pepper. Set aside.
Spread the cheese over the dough in a diameter that leaves a three- inch border clear. Place the pine nuts over the cheese and spoon the filling over the cheese and nuts. Sprinkle with snipped chives. Fold the dough rim up and over the filling, pinching pleats together to hold. There should be about a 2 to 3-inch frame all around the filling.
Bake at 400 degrees for about 20 to 25 minutes or until the crust is nicely browned. Let sit for about 5 minutes. Cut into wedges. Serves 6 to 8.
Caramel Cheesecake Bites (Dairy)
Don’t want a whole cheesecake? These are smaller and delicious and, if you don’t like caramel, top them with fresh berries for a beautiful dessert that are perfect for a small gathering. Just place each piece in its own paper cupcake liner to serve.
1 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 cup almond flour
1/2 stick butter, melted (a bit more may be needed)
1/4 cup dark brown sugar or white sugar
20 ounces jarred or canned dulce de leche at room temperature
2 (8-ounce) packages brick-style cream cheese, softened
2/3 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. light brown sugar
3 large eggs
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9 x 13-inch inch baking pan with parchment
Leave an overhang at both ends.
Place the graham cracker crumbs and almond flour in the bowl of a food processor. Add the melted butter and sugar and process until the mixture is the consistency of sand. Add a bit more melted butter if needed. Press the crumbs into the pan and up the sides, about an inch.
Place in the oven and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until fragrant and slightly golden. Remove from the oven and let cool.
Stir the dulce de leche sauce well, then drizzle 1-1/4 cups evenly over the base. Gently spread with an offset spatula. Reserve the rest for the topping. Place the coated crust in the fridge to chill about 30 minutes or until very cold.
Place the cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of the electric mixer and beat on medium speed 2 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition, and scraping the bowl as needed. Beat until smooth and fluffy.
Spoon dollops of the cream cheese mixture over the chilled crust and smooth. Bake until the cheesecake is puffed and the edges are golden, 40 to 45 minutes. Cool completely in the pan on a rack, then chill until cold, 3 to 4 hours. Use the paper ends to help lift the bars from the pan.
Before serving, heat the remaining dulce de leche just until pouring consistency. Place in a plastic bag, snip a tiny corner and drizzle over the cooled bars. If you like, you can then top with berries or use berries instead of more caramel.
Use a long knife dipped in hot water to cut the bars as desired. Makes 24 to 32 bars. Place each piece in a cupcake liner and place on a serving platter. Refrigerate until 30 minutes before serving.
Chocolate Cheesecake (Dairy)
I love this cheesecake. It is definitely chocolate, but it is not overwhelming. You can add a teaspoon of espresso powder for a delicious mocha flavor.
35 Oreo or other cream-filled chocolate cookies
5 Tbsp. butter, melted
6 ounces semisweet chocolate
2-1/2 pounds cream cheese, softened
1-1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 Tbsp. dark, unsweetened cocoa powder
4 large eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup semi-sweet. Milk or dark chocolate
1 (1-1/2-ounce) dark chocolate bar. Make sure the oven rack is in the center position and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9-inch spring form pan. Set aside.
Place the cookies in the bowl of a food processor and process until fine even crumbs are created. Add the butter and pulse a few times to mix completely. A pinch of the mixture should hold together.
Press the cookie mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan. Place in the center of the oven and bake the crust until fragrant and just set, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool for at least 15 minutes before adding the filling. Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees.
Place semisweet chocolate in a microwave-proof glass bowl or measuring cup and heat the chocolate on 15 second intervals, stirring after each interval, until almost completely melted. Stir to melt the rest. Set aside.
Place the cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla extract in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat until creamy and smooth, 3 to 4 minutes. Turn the mixer off and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Sift in the cocoa powder and beat to incorporate. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition, scraping the bowl as needed. Add the sour cream and melted chocolate and beat until smooth. Using a rubber spatula, transfer the batter to the prepared pan with the baked crust.
Place a pan filled about 1/2-inch with hot water on the bottom shelf of the oven. Place the cake on the shelf above the water. Bake at 350 degrees until the cake rises and puffs and the center is just set, but still slightly wiggly, 65 to 75 minutes.
Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool. Place in the refrigerator and chill for several hours. Remove the ring from the pan and place on a serving plate.
Place the chopped chocolate in a heat-proof bowl. Heat the cream until it just steams and barely begins to bubble. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and cover with a piece of waxed paper or cloth. Let sit for 5 minutes. Then stir the mixture until all the chocolate is melted. Continue to stir to thicken and cool. When barely warm, pour on top of the cheesecake and allow a bit to drip off the sides. Place back into the refrigerator and let chill.
You can grate the chocolate bar and sprinkle the shavings over the top of the ganache while it’s still warm. You can skip the ganache top and just grate the candy bar over the warm cake, if you like. Remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes before serving. Serves 10.