Best Shavuot Cheescake Cake Ever

Cheesecake with vanilla cream for Shavuot

Shavuot, the holiday of receiving the Torah, and celebrating the wheat harvest, the first summer fruits and the newly born lambs and kids is here (the 2nd day of it, to be precise).
I've written before about milky notes in perfumery, and I have just updated it with some newly found and thought about notes.

For the culinary aspect of the holiday, eveyrone agrees that cheesecake is a must. Herding is the traditional, ancient lifestyle, and therefore celebrating the birth of newly born kids and lambs and the milk that flows with them is a tradition every late spring.

I'd like to share with you my favourite ever cheesecake. It is simple to make, but tastes and feels so extravagant, that I only bake it once a year - if I can. And if I can find quark cheese. Which should be more readily available for baking enthusiasts like me; but is not only hard to find but also ridiculously expensive. Even more than cream cheese. In Israel, the cheese used for that is a soft cheese simply titled "white cheese", and it's considered a staple food and priced accordingly. It also has far less butterfat - typically 9%, but also in lower fat (5% and 1%). Anyway, quark cheese is as close as it can get to the original recipe.

The making of a cheesecake
1kg Quark Cheese
5 eggs, separated
1 package instant vanilla pudding (see notes below for alternatives)*
4 Tbs tapioca starch (or corn starch)
1.5 tsp Pure Vanilla Extract 
1 cup fine raw sugar (evaporated cane juice)
Zest of 1 organic lemon
Pinch of salt
1 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup whole milk

For the cheesecake:
- Line a springform pan with parchment paper.
- Pre-heat the oven to 160c (320F)
- Beat the egg whites with a drop of lemon and a pinch of salt, just until light and fluffy.
- Add 1/2 cup of sugar and continue whipping until soft peaks form. Set aside
- Beat the yolks with the remaining sugar.
- Add 1tsp vanilla extract and the lemon zest
- Add the quark cheese and beat until smooth
- Beat in the tapioca starch and 4Tbs of instant vanilla pudding powder and ensure the mixture is smooth and uniform
- Fold the egg white mixture into the yolk until well blended.
- Pour into the pan and spread it evenly.
- Bake in the oven for 60-80min, until the cake is golden in the centre and lightly brown on the edges.
- Let the cake cool slowly inside the oven, while you leave the oven's door slightly open.

For the vanilla cream:
- Combine the whipping cream, milk, remaining package of instant vanilla pudding and 1/2tsp of pure vanilla extract in a bowl.
- Whip on high speed until the mixture is creamy and fluffy.
- Once the cake is completely cooled down, spread the cream on the cake and decorate as desired (you can make a pattern with a fork, or use a fancy piping if desired).
- Chill for at least 2 hours before serving.
- Serve alone or with fresh fruit. This cake is so incredibly balanced in flavour that I never feel I need to serve it with anything really; but chocolate milk is an option, as is cafe au lait, fruit flavoured kombucha or a milky oolong.

* This cake calls for instant vanilla pudding, which is essential for getting the beautifully smooth and thick cream on the top. This processed product has its merits, but also tastes like fake vanilla. To improve that, I suggest adding some pure vanilla extract to the cream. But you can also seek out alternatives to instant vanilla pudding cream if you're a purist.
If you'd like to substitute the instant vanilla pudding in the cheesecake portion (not the whipped cream topping) - I suggest you substitute the 4 Tbs of instant vanilla pudding mixture with 4 Tbs of tapioca starch, and add 1/8tsp xanthan gum. It works fantastically well consistency-wise (maybe even better than with the instant powder), and you won't feel at all as if the cake is any less sweet.
For the topping I'm still experimenting with more wholesome alternatives; but for now I just want the good old fashion flavour and texture of my grandma's cheesecake.

Beets and Time Travelling

Rosh Hashana 2007, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

"The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious". (Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume)

No matter how simple, beet salad is sure to impress. The sweetness of beets always comes through as a surprise – this is not what you would expect from a vegetable! And if you are not taken with its peculiar flavour - than at least you’ll be shocked by thei intense colour of beets, which paints everything it touches with a jewel-tone. Beets simply cannot be ignored even if you try hard!

I’ve always loved beets. I can’t remember myself ever not liking beets (as long as they are cooked, that is; raw beets do nothing to me). I can never forget sitting at the train-long table at my step-grandparents’, a table full of cousins (all boys!) all sitting patiently and quietly waiting for all the rituals to be over so we can eat all the delicacies laid down in front of us (all, with no exception, made from scratch by my step-grandmother and great-grandmother – no one was allowed to help with the cooking!). Somehow, without nobody noticing, in between the Seder’s few glasses of grape juice, I managed to eat my way through the little salad plates full of beets that my little hands could reach. Or was it Sukkot? It doesn’t matter. Because in every Jewish-Morrocan holiday table that respects itself, there will always be a beet salad of some sort – either shredded or sliced – to add colour to the meal.

In the village where I grew up, beets seems to symbolize the very essence of rustic yet festive cooking. In every celebration in my village, there will be at least one beet salad. That’s why I can’t really agree with Tom Robbins that beets are melancholy!
"The beet is the melancholy vegetable, the one most willing to suffer. You can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip... "
(Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume)

They always looked similar, but always had an added personal touch – one woman would use chopped parsley, another would add coriander seeds instead of cumin, or just slice the beets in a different thickness…

In Rosh HaShana, beets have an added meaning – it becomes a symbol for “banishing the enemies”. This is simply because the name for beets seems to have the same root as “banish” in Hebrew. So I wish for all of us that we will have no enemies at all, and will be able to enjoy our beets without thinking such nasty thoughts. Remember, the best way to banish an enemy is to turn him/her into a friend!

Any recipe for a good beet salad starts with getting the right beets – they need to be not too old (or else they will be too fibery and not sweet enough), yet not too small either (because it’s more difficult to peel and cut beets that are very small – the crown that connects them to the leaves and stems take over too much of the root and there isn’t enough left for eating!).

The following recipe is easy to make and keeps well. You can make it a day or two ahead of the occasion you wish to serve beets for - and it will only improve with time.

You will need:
6-8 fresh beets, unpeeled, uncut, with stems removed.
Juice from 1 lemon
1 tsp. Olive Oil (Optional)
1-3 cloves garlic, minced
Cumin to taste (but it’s best to use lots – about 1Tbs.)
Parsley sprigs for garnish (optional)

Place the beets in a large pot with enough water to cover the beets. Do not cut or peel the beets, as this will cause them to “bleed” out all their colour and flavour!

Boil in water over medium heat until soft, but firm enough (the beets should not be mushy – cook until you can poke through the beets with a fork).

As soon as the beets reach the softness desired, rinse them under cold water, and remove the “skin” the peel immediately with your hands – as soon as you can without burning your fingers. If you wait too long until the beets cool completely, the peels will refuse to leave the beets and you will loose a lot of the beets’ flesh, and create a lot of work for yourself (as you will now need to peel them with a knife!).

Slice the beets thinly (I usually cut them into quarters before slicing them).
Add the lemon juice, cumin and garlic, and olive oil if desired. Serve at room temperature or cold, garnished with parsley sprigs.

Beet salad is especially wonderful when served alongside other salads and dips. Tahini makes a particularly great accompaniment to beets, served with fresh flat bread or a Challah.

- You may also add chopped parsley to the beet salad.
- Add a dash of balsamic vinegar and seeds of sour-sweet (deep, dark red) pomegranate, omit garlic and cumin.
- Instead of slicing the beets, grate them with a large grater. Use only lemon and cumin for dressing – but if you wish you can also add a bit of pressed garlic.


Blintzes are these fantastic little thinner-than-crepe pancakes, filled with good stuff (sweet or savoury) and rolled up. They can be served warm, cold or at room temperature - depending on the filling. Blintzes filled with a sweet cheese filling have become a traditional holiday food in Israel for Shavuot. For the cold ones, you'll need to use a specialty cheese that cannot be found in (most of) North America (I am pretty sure you will be able to find "Gevinah Levanah in Brooklin LOL!). So I am going to offer here only the recipe for the baked cheese blintzes, which my dearest grandmother Ruth gave me. They are absolutely divine!

For the Blintzes:
3 eggs
1 cup milk
2 Tbs. vegetable oil of your choice (preferably non-GMO, such as organic grapeseed oil)
3/4 cup unbleached wheat flour
salt to taste (no more than 1/2 tsp.)
Butter for greasing the pan
Mix together all the ingredients in the above order
Pour 2 Tbs. at a time on a hot girdle or pan (greased with melted butter)
Smooth and spread around (like you do with crepes) to form a round, pretty form
Fry only on one side, and once finished, set aside on a plate, stacked with their fried side up, until ready to fill them all.

For the filling:
2 cups soft, unripened cheese (such as ricotta or quark cheese, or cottage cheese; if you like this to be more creamy and smooth and less crumbly, you can substitute some cream cheese or sour cream for part of the cheese - but no more than 1/2 cup, otherwise it may be too runny!)
1 egg yolk
2 Tbs. sugar
1 Tbs. lemon juice
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Grated lemon peel of 1 lemon
Raisins (optional)
* Additional sugar and cinnamon for sprinkling on the top (Optional)

Preheat the oven to 180 celsius.
Fill the Blintzes with one Tbs. of the filling, roll and close from both ends. Layer on a butter-greased pan, and sprinkle with a bit of cinnamon and sugar (if desired).
Bake for 15 minutes or until golden and the sugar has melted.

Serve warm (not hot!) or at room temperature. These are perfect on their own, but will happily lend themselves to a garnish of strawberry or other fruit or even Creme Fraiche or ice cream on the side. But these will be completely unnecessary because these Blintzes truly are perfect the way they are!
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