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How much do you know about Shavuot?

When her early childhood class plans a Shavuot hike, Sadie is afraid she won’t be able to make it to the top of the “mountain” and tries to think of ways to avoid the walk. When the day arrives, it’s much different (and better!) than Sadie expected.  

Shavuot celebrates the giving of Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible) to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai.

Classic Cheesecake

Paula Shoyer

Cheesecake is the classic Shavuot dessert and is one of my weaknesses. I can resist overeating a lot of desserts, but cheesecake is not one of them. I had a really fun time making the fruit garland to decorate the cheesecake pictured here. First I washed, dried, and sliced the fruit I wanted to use. Then I designed a garland for the cake on a round dinner plate and moved the fruit to the top of the cheesecake in the same pattern. Decorate the cake right before serving. The fruit will start to go bad after two days, so either finish the cheesecake by then or remove the fruit from the top before it spoils.

13 graham crackers
1 tablespoon sugar
6 tablespoons (85g) unsalted butter, plus one tablespoon for greasing pan
2 pounds (900g) cream cheese (not whipped), at room temperature for at least 45 minutes
5 large eggs
1 1/4 cups (250g) sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon zest (from one lemon)
1 cup (240g) sour cream
1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar
sliced or whole fruit and berries, optional, to decorate

To Prep

Preheat oven to 325°F (160°C). You will need a 9 -10-inch (23 to 25-cm) springform pan. Trace the bottom of the pan on parchment paper and cut out the circle. Cover the top of the pan bottom with a 20-inch (50-cm) piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil and then wrap the foil under the bottom. Attach the pan sides to the bottom, lock it in place and then unwrap the foil and wrap it up and around the sides of the pan. (This will keep water from seeping into the cheesecake while it’s baking in a water bath.) Rub 1 tablespoon (14g) of butter around the bottom and sides of the pan. Press the parchment circle into the bottom of the pan and grease the top of the circle. Put aside a large roasting pan—the sides should be more than 2” (5cm) high.

To make the crust

Process the graham crackers in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade until finely ground. Add the sugar and mix. Heat the remaining 6 tablespoons (85g) of butter in a microwave-safe bowl for 15 to 25 seconds, until the butter softens. Add the butter to the food processor bowl and mix it into the crumbs. Spoon clumps of the mixture into the prepared pan and press it into and cover the bottom of the pan. Set the pan aside.

To make the filling

Put the cream cheese into the bowl of a stand mixer or blender and beat on medium-high speed until smooth. Scrape down the bowl. Add the eggs, one at a time, and scrape down the bowl each time to make sure all the cream cheese and eggs are thoroughly mixed. Add 1 ¼ cups (250g) sugar, vanilla, and lemon zest, and mix on medium speed until combined. The mixture should be entirely smooth. 

Pour the cheesecake filling on top of the crust. Place the pan into the larger roasting pan and place it on the middle rack of the oven. Pour boiling water into the roasting pan, around the cheesecake pan, until the water reaches one-third to halfway up the sides of the cheesecake pan.

Bake the cheesecake for 1 hour and 10 minutes. Turn off the oven and prop the door open with a wooden spoon. Leave the cheesecake in the oven for 1 more hour. Remove the cheesecake pan from the roasting pan and let it cool on a wire rack until the cheesecake is completely cool. Refrigerate it for five hours or overnight.

To make the topping

Combine the sour cream and confectioners’ sugar and mix well. Spread the mixture over the top of the cake and decorate as desired. Store in the fridge for up to five days or freeze (without the fruit on top) for up to three months.

Reprinted with permission from Holiday Kosher Baker © 2013 by Paula Shoyer, Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. Photography by Michael Bennett Kress

Paula Shoyer, “the kosher baker,” is the author of The Holiday Kosher BakerThe Kosher BakerThe New Passover Menu and The Healthy Jewish Kitchen (November 2017). Paula graduated with a pastry degree from the Ritz Escoffier in Paris, and does cooking and baking demos across the United States and around the world for Jewish organizations, synagogues, Jewish book festivals and more. She is a freelance writer for the Washington PostHadassahJoy of Kosher, and Jewish Food Experience, among other publicationsPaula competed on Food Network's Sweet Genius and appears on TV before every major Jewish holiday – over 26 times. In 2015, Paula was honored by Jewish Women International as a “Woman to Watch” and in 2016 as a “kosher food pioneer” by the kosher food bloggers community. Paula lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland with her husband and four children.

Tina's Tidbits: 

Paula Shoyer's Baking Tip

  • Use room temperature cream cheese: Desserts with cream cheese will come out smoother if the cream cheese is at room temperature before you use it.

Vegan Coconut Rum Raisin Tapioca Pudding

Kenden Alfond

Eating animal-based dairy on Shavuot is a tradition that I am updating to meet my health goals and dietary preferences. I find ways to enjoy healthier “creamy” foods for the holiday by creating non-dairy “creamy” dessert options like this delicious one. 

Tapioca, made from cassava (yuca) root vegetable, is a comeback food. I asked my parents and aunts and uncle and they all agree that they enjoyed tapioca pudding in their youth. 

Tapioca is a lifelong food that can be enjoyed by everyone – from babyhood to old age.  It is a gooey, creamy mouth food that is eaten by the spoonful. The added rum-soaked raisins makes the dessert fancy and may remind you of the ice cream flavor rum raisin.

1/2 cup small tapioca pearls
3 1/2 cups good quality mineral water
1/2 cup coconut milk cream
1/4 cup natural cane sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup raisins
2 tablespoons dark rum, or brandy
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Equipment: medium strainer, medium saucpan, individual bowls for serving

  1. In a small bowl, combine the raisins and rum, and set aside.
  2. Rinse the tapioca pearls in strainer.
  3. Place tapioca in medium saucepan and add 3 cups of water. Soak the tapioca for 30 minutes. Do not drain after soaking.
  4. Add the coconut cream, sugar, rum-soaked raisins and rum (it may be all soaked into the raisins) and kosher salt.
  5. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until mixture comes to a gentle boil. Simmer uncovered over very low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring frequently, until mixture is thick (it if becomes too thick add a bit more water).
  6. Stir well.
  7. Pour into bowls. Serve warm or chilled. Place plastic wrap on top of bowls so that the pudding does not develop a skin. 

Reprinted with permission from © JewishFoodHero - All Rights Reserved.

Kenden Alfond is the author of Feeding Women of the Bible, Feeding Ourselves (2019). She is the founder of Jewish Food Hero, a website to nourish mind, body, and spirit. Her mission is to help a global community of women come home to themselves. 

Challah Cheese Souffle

Tina Wasserman

This recipe is featured in Tina Wasserman's cookbook, Entree to Judaism for Families, 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.

When the Jews left Egypt and wandered in the desert, God sent manna from the heavens to feed them. On Friday they received a double portion because they could not work on the Sabbath. That is why we have the tradition of two loaves of challah on our Shabbat tables. Dew fell from heaven to protect the manna, and that is why many Jews today either cover their challahs with a special cloth or sprinkle sesame seeds on top to symbolize the dew.

Unless you have a large family or your two challahs are very small, you will have a lot of challah left over! This recipe and the two others that follow are good ways to use these leftovers. Not only do the recipes provide delicious ways to engage a child in the kitchen, they offer opportunities to discuss the meaning of Shabbat and its customs.

A modern version of a soufflé, this recipe will not fail or collapse, since bread binds the ingredients together. This dish is perfect for younger children with short attention spans because the dish needs to be assembled several hours ahead of time or even the night before. This gives the challah time to absorb the liquids, and the dish will puff up when baked.

1–1 1/2 medium challahs (approximately 12 cups of challah cubes)
1 stick unsalted butter
6 eggs
2 cups milk (whole, 1% or 2%)
1 teaspoon salt
10 grindings of freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
12–16 ounces shredded sharp cheddar cheese or Jarlsberg cheese (about 3 1/2 cups grated)
Additional butter or cooking spray for greasing the pan
  1. Cut challah into 1/2-inch slices, and then cut the slices into 1/2-inch cubes;or pull the bread apart into small pieces if that is easier. The crust does not need to be removed if it isn’t hard. Set aside.
  2. In a 1-quart glass bowl covered with a sheet of paper towel, melt the butter in the microwave according to the manufacturer’s setting. Set aside.
  3. Using a mediumwhisk, whisk the eggs and the milk together with the salt, pepper, and nutmeg in a 2-quart mixing bowl. Add the melted butter and whisk to combine. Set aside.
  4. If not using packaged shredded cheese, grate the cheese on a coarse grater.
  5. Grease a 2-quart casserole or soufflé dish with butter or nonstick cooking spray.
  6. Arrange 1/3 of the bread cubes in the bottom of the pan, and then layer 1/3 of the cheese on top. Make 2 more layers of bread and cheese, and then pour the egg/milk mixture over all. Lightly press down to make sure all of the bread layers are covered with liquid ingredients.
  7. Cover the dish with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.
  8. When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake the dish in the center of the oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until the top is golden brown and a thin pointy knife inserted in the center comes out wet but clear.

TIna Wasserman is the best-selling author of Entrée to Judaism: A Culinary Exploration of the Jewish Diaspora. An award-winning cooking instructor specializing in contemporary kosher cuisine, Tina holds degrees from Syracuse University and New York University, and is a popular food educator in her own cooking school and as a scholar-in-residence in communities across North America.

Tina's Tidbits: 
  • Older children will enjoy the reinforcement of their math and geometry lessons with this recipe, and younger children can easily make this dish if you let them break the challah into little pieces with their hands and you buy packaged shredded cheese.
  • Butter often splatters when melting because it naturally contains some water. To avoid having it explode all over your microwave oven, cover the dish lightly with a piece of paper towel when melting.
  • It goes without saying that children under the age of ten or those not tall enough to reach into an oven should not be removing any hot baking dish from an oven.
  • If a child is doing the testing to see if the soufflé is fully baked (step 8), the test should be done out of the oven with the soufflé dish placed on a counter. If the soufflé is not ready and it is taken out of the oven for too long, it will become dense when fully baked, so young children should not do the testing.

Kitchen Conversations

  • Discuss why challah is so special for Shabbat. What’s your favorite challah? Does it have raisins? Plain? Flavored? Whole wheat?
  • Did Jews always eat fancy braided bread?


BimBam: 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)


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