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What is Shavuot? A Cheesy Holiday for Jewish Learning

Shavuot, the cheesiest holiday that many folks haven’t heard of, celebrates God giving the Torah to the people at Mount Sinai. Watch this video to learn more about what this holiday was originally intended to celebrate, how the giving of the Torah wasn’t such a smooth process, and why many Jews celebrate Shavuot by pulling an all-nighter.


Dairy-Free Cream Cheese Tartlets

Tina Wasserman

Tina Wasserman is the author of Entree to Judaism: A Culinary Exploration of the Jewish Diaspora and Entree to Judaism for Families, a cookbook filled with tools to help children learn to cook with confidence, with clear, step-by-step instructions for every recipe and tips for adults to make the experience safe and rewarding. 

I created this recipe for people who are sensitive or allergic to dairy products and gluten. If you do not have those food intolerances, this tartlet is also delicious made with regular cream cheese, dairy cream, and a graham cracker crust. Either way, enjoy!

2 1/3 cups Puffins Honey Rice cereal, or any gluten-free, lightly-sweetened cereal
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
4 tablespoons melted vegan butter or coconut oil
8 ounces good-quality cream cheese substitute (I used Kite Hill)
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Grated zest from 1/4 medium orange
1 egg
3 tablespoons nondairy creamer
  1. Place the cereal in a processor work bowl and pulse on and off until you get a fine crumb.
  2. Add the sugar and spices to the work bowl and pulse 3 times to combine.
  3. With the processor running, add the melted fat and process until all the crumbs are moistened and begin to cling together.
  4. Press the crumbs into 4 four-inch tart tins with removable bottoms or a 9-inch pie plate. Place in freezer for 10 minutes while you preheat oven to 350 °F.
  5. Meanwhile add the cream cheese substitute and sugar into a clean processor work bowl and process until cream cheese is smooth. Add the remaining ingredients and process for 3 minutes stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl at least once to create a smooth batter.
  6. Place the prepared pans or pie plate in the preheated oven and bake for 5 minutes.
  7. Remove from the oven and fill the pan(s) with the prepared filling.
  8. Bake for 18-20 minutes for tartlets and 25-30 minutes for a pie.
  9. Serve chilled, plain or with fresh fruit topping.

Use this family-friendly telling of the story of Shavuot to help your children understand the history and meanings of the holiday.

Sally Rosenkranz's Honey Cake

Sally Rosenkranz

Sally's daughter Rita writes, "My late mother, Sally Rosenkranz, who was from Radom, Poland, lost her mother in the Holocaust. Mom learned to cook and bake from her aunt, refining recipes over the years. I bake this crowd-pleasing honey cake for the holidays, and also freeze individual slices for drop-in guests."

1/2 cup brewed coffee, cooled
3 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon powdered cloves (optional)
1 1/2 teaspoons powdered ginger (optional)
4 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups dark honey
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts or almonds
1 cup raisins (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F and grease two 9-inch loaf pans or a 16 x 11 x 4-inch baking pan.
  2. Brew the coffee and set it aside to cool.
  3. In a medium bowl sift the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger. 
  4. In a separate large bowl, beat the eggs on medium speed, gradually adding the sugar and beating for several minutes, until the mixture turns a pale yellow.
  5. Beat in the oil, honey, and cooled coffee. Gradually add the flour mixture to the egg mixture, beating on low speed to prevent the flour from flying out of the bowl. Turn the speed up to medium and beat for several minutes, until a smooth thick batter is formed.
  6. Stir the chopped nuts into the batter. If adding raisins, stir them in at this time.
  7. Fill the prepared pans halfway with batter. The cake rises considerably when baking. (Any extra batter can be used to make delicious muffins). Bake at 325°F for 1 to 1 1/4 hours until the top of the cake is a cinnamon brown, but not burnt, and a bamboo skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely before slicing.

Primer on Honey 

Honey is a great way to sweeten just about anything. Your taste buds interpret it as being sweeter than sugar, so start slowly when adding it to your dish. Honey is one of the only foods that does not spoil. Some say honey was actually found fresh, in the unearthed tombs of the Pharaohs, so when adding honey to your cakes and recipes you prolong their freshness. If the honey crystallizes, place the jar or container in a warm water bath and let it liquefy. You can do this over and over. Important to note, honey should never be given to an infant, their bodies cannot always process it safely.

Reprinted with permission from Recipes Remembered: A Celebration of Survival by June Feiss Hersh (Ruder Finn Press, 2011)

Camp Recipe: Homemade Banana Pudding

Nothing says “Welcome to camp!” like a serving of our homemade banana pudding! This recipe has been astaple at URJ Jacobs Camp, a Reform Jewish summer camp in Utica, MS, since before we can remember. Our campers eagerly await banana pudding on opening night, and they enjoy it again on closing night to send them home with a final sweet taste from summer.

1 #10 can vanilla pudding
3 cups milk
1 can condensed milk
2 cups whipped cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups sugar
2 boxes Nilla Wafers
12 to 14 bananas
  1. Mix pudding in a bowl.
  2. Add milk, sugar, vanilla, condensed milk, and whipped cream.
  3. Stir all together.
  4. Once mixed well, get a bowl or pan. Put Nilla Wafers in a pan and put bananas on top of cookies, then layer with pudding.
  5. Continue Step 4 until container is full.
  6. Enjoy!

Adam Orlansky is the assistant director at URJ Henry S. Jacobs Camp, a Reform Jewish summer camp in Utica, MS. 

Learn more about URJ Henry S. Jacobs Camp or find a Reform Jewish summer camp near you.

At the end of the Passover story The Greatest Escape, we left the Israelites celebrating their escape from slavery in Egypt. What happened next? Where did they go?

Melopita (Honey and Cheese Pie)

Tina Wasserman

This ricotta cheese-filled honey pie is perfect to serve on both Shavuot and Rosh HaShanah. But most of all, it is a reminder of the Jewish community in Greece. Enjoy!

1 ¼ cup all purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 stick very cold, unsalted butter
1 egg, separated
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon brandy or lemon juice
1 tablespoon ice water
15 ounce container whole milk ricotta
3 eggs
½ cup wildflower or orange blossom honey
Finely grated zest of 1 medium lemon
1 tablespoon flour
2 tablespoons sugar
confectioners sugar for rolling dough
cinnamon (optional for garnish)
  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Add the flour sugar and salt to a processor workbowl and pulse the machine 3 times to combine the ingredients.
  3. Cut the butter into 8 pieces and add them around the mixture and pulse the machine on and off about 10 times or until the mixture looks like lumpy sand.
  4. In a small custard cup combine the egg yolk with the vanilla, brandy (or lemon juice and the ice water. Stir together with the tip of a knife or a bar whisk. Immediately add to the dough and pulse the machine on and off until the mixture begins to come together. If mixture appears too dry add 1 more tablespoon of ice water. Do not let a ball of dough form or crust will be tough
  5. Remove dough and gently knead a few strokes to form a smooth ball. Pat dough into a disk, cover and refrigerate while you make the filling.
  6. Wipe out processor bowl (no need to wash) and add the remaining ingredients (except the cinnamon). Process until mixture is combined and free of all lumps. Scrape down bowl once during this process. Set aside.
  7. Generously sprinkle confectioners sugar on a board or your counter top. Place dough on prepared board cover with plastic wrap and roll out into a circle that is at least 10 inches in diameter (this will fill a 9 -10 inch quiche pan or 9 “ pie plate-whichever you choose to use)
  8. Transfer the dough to the quiche pan (I like to fold the dough in half and then quarters and place the point of the fold in the center of the pan and then unfold the dough.) Starting from the center, gently pat dough so that it is an even thickness on the bottom and pressed into the fluted sides of the pan. Use a rolling pin on the sides to cut off any excess dough.
  9. Brush some of the egg white on the dough and bake for 10-15 minutes until dough just begins to look a little dry.
  10. Remove pan from oven, lower temperature to 350°F, pour cheese mixture into crust and return to the oven for another 25 minutes or until custard doesn’t jiggle and is lightly golden.
Tina's Tidbits: 
  • Brushing egg white on the top of the crust before filling helps prevent a soggy crust from forming.
  • When working with cheese fillings, a slight movement of the filling is okay because it will solidify more upon refrigeration.
  • If you want to eat this pie warm, let it rest for at least 15 minutes so that the pie will cut easily.

Rethinking Shavuot - Join Rabbi Greene to explore how the Book of Ruth can help us focus on the importance of living in community, the power of small acts of kindness in building trust, and the necessity of imagining a different future.

Saturday, May 23, 2015 - 8:15pm

Italian Cheesecake

Tina Wasserman

It is rare that we can re-create a food memory from our childhood. Time and experience color our thoughts and palate. However, I was able to re-create the delicious, light cheesecake from Debold's Bakery in Hempstead, N.Y. They might not have considered it Italian, but with the ricotta instead of cream cheese and sour cream, it definitely hails from close to the Mediterranean.

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 pound ricotta cheese
1/2 pound cream cheese
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
Grated zest of 1/2 lemon
2 eggs
4 egg whites
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup crushed pineapple, drained
  1. Preheat the oven to 300°F, and butter the bottom and sides of a 10-inch springform pan.
  2. Place the flour and sugar in a processor and pulse on and off to combine. Cut the butter into 6 pieces and add to the work bowl. Pulse the machine until the mixture looks like coarse meal.
  3. Combine the egg and vanilla in a small dish, and add it to the work bowl with the processor running. As soon as the ball of dough begins to form, stop the processor and remove the dough.
  4. Roll the dough 1/4 inch thick between two sheets of plastic wrap or wax paper, and using the bottom of the pan as a pattern, cut out a 10-inch circle. Place the dough in the pan, prick it all over with a fork, and bake for 15 minutes. Cool.
  5. Drain the ricotta, and place the 2 cheeses in the processor work bowl and process until the mixture is smooth. Add the flour, salt, vanilla, lemon zest, and 2 eggs, and process until smooth. Pour into a bowl.
  6. In another bowl, beat the egg whites with the sugar until stiff, but shiny. Fold into the cheese mixture.
  7. Spread the drained, crushed pineapple over the crust, and gently pour the cheese mixture over the pineapple. Bake for 45 minutes or until the cake is fairly set. Cool and serve.
Tina's Tidbits: 
  • The crust for this cake is a murbeteig, or German short crust. A firm cookie dough is needed so that the pineapple doesn't dissolve it during baking.
  • Use whole-milk ricotta for a rich taste and lower water content.
  • If cream cheese is at room temperature, it will blend well with other ingredients and no lumps will be apparent.
  • Creating a meringue before adding to the cheese mixture not only incorporates air into the mixture but also ensures that the sugar will be completely dissolved.

"Marriage and Conversion in the Book of Ruth" - led by Rabbi Avi Schulman and Rabbi Larry Milder

Saturday, May 23, 2015 - 9:30pm


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