It is almost time for one of the few holidays that allows us to put away the chicken soup. Shavuot is the holiday of cream and cheese and white foods. It is a sweet holiday celebrated with lots of sweet foods and all that the joy that they bring us.
There are lots of reasons to eat dairy products on Shavuot. One story says that the Jews, living in the desert, gave up meat as a sacrifice just before Moshe went up the mountain to receive the Commandments.
The story of that ascension is one of the most interesting in the entire Torah, at least to me. I got most of my understanding of that event through the Cecil B. DeMille movie, with its thunder and lightning-filled scene that I have watched dozens of times. But the story covers over a hundred chapters in the Bible.
Moshe was chosen to be the conduit between G-d and the people, but the food part is a result of the events that created the rules of kashrut and the times when the Israelites did not eat meat, which corresponded to receiving the Torah. This was a joyous time, so the Israelites celebrated with honey and the sweet milk they had. Thus a tradition began.
My grandmother made all kinds of dairy foods during Shavuot. Mostly she made hundreds of blintzes. She also made cheese Danishes and cheese kugels. But she never made a cheesecake — that culinary delight never made it into her extensive repertoire. But her paper-thin crepes for blintzes, and her cheese kugels, were incredible. Nothing I have ever made has come close to what I remember, even if my memory is gilded by the passage of time.
I made my first cheesecake when I was newly married and the couple who lived downstairs from us invited us for dessert. It was a lemon cheese pie, and it was delicious. I doubled the recipe for the filling and made it in a spring form pan. It was not as high as a cheesecake, but it had a requisite crack in the center, which I thought was a good thing. It turns out that cheesecake cracks because it is too dry, and the goal is to have a cheesecake that does not crack!
Dairy and honey on Shavuot. What a celebration! What a story! However you celebrate this joyous holiday, do it with some dairy and some sweetness!
Blueberry Bread Pudding (Dairy)
This is delicious cold or warm, with whipped cream or ice cream.
10 to 11 cups challah bread cubes, each about 1 inch square
8 large or extra-large egg yolks (reserve the whites for omelets)
1-1/2 Tbsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2-1/2 cups cream, or 2-1/2 cups regular milk for a lower fat version
2-1/2 cups milk, or 2-1/2 cups skim or 2% milk OR
5 cups half-and-half or 5 cups 2% milk
1 to 1-1/2 cups blueberries
4 Tbsp. melted butter
1/3 cup demerara sugar
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Cut challah into inch-thick slices, then into cubes. You can discard the crusts if you like. Place the cubes on two rimmed cookie sheets and place in the oven. Your goal is to dry the bread, not toast it, so stir the cubes often, rotate the trays and remove from the oven when the cubes are dry and firm, maybe just a tiny bit golden in some places. Let cool.
Whisk the egg yolks in a large bowl. When well blended, add the vanilla, salt, 3/4 cup sugar, the milk and cream (or half-and-half). Whisk well.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Reserve 2 cups of bread cubes and place the remaining cubes in a 9 by 13 well-greased glass baking dish. Pour the custard over the bread cubes and gently push the bread cubes under the custard. You will have to do this for several minutes, as the dried cubes are quite buoyant. As they begin to absorb the liquid, they will sink. Cover lightly and place the dish in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.
Remove from the fridge and let sit 10 minutes. Scatter the blueberries over the bread and press them gently into the mixture so they are interspersed evenly. Scatter the remaining bread cubes over the dish. Press them gently into the liquid. Drizzle with the melted butter and sprinkle the demerara sugar mixture over the dish.
Place the glass dish on a rimmed baking pan and place in the center the oven. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until the top is firm and no liquid comes out when the top is pressed. Serve with some creamy vanilla ice cream or whipped cream. Serves 8 to 12.
Cheese Veggie Lasagna (Dairy)
You can add any vegetables you like. I have used cooked eggplant slices, roasted cauliflower and roasted red peppers. The more veggies, the better!
1-1/2 16-oz. boxes lasagna noodles or no cook lasagna noodles
1 container (2 lbs.) ricotta cheese
2 egg yolks
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 to 1 tsp. pepper
2 Tbsp. parsley flakes
2 cups grated Parmesan cheese, divided
4 garlic cloves, grated or very finely minced
1 small onion, very finely minced 3 zucchini
1 to 2 boxes (10 oz. each) sliced white mushrooms
2 to 3 zucchini thinly sliced on the diagonal
4 to 6 oz. baby spinach leaves
12 oz. mozzarella cheese
1 to 2 jars marinara sauce
If using traditional lasagna noodles, prepare as directed until they are a little firmer than al dente. Place on a rimmed backing sheet that has been sprayed with non-stick spray.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Mix the ricotta cheese with the 2 egg yolks and 1 egg. Add the salt, pepper, parsley flakes, and 1 cup of the grated Parmesan. Mix well. Set aside.
Heat a large skillet and add 2 Tbsp. of olive oil. Add the onions and cook until translucent. Add the mushrooms and cook until they are golden. Add the garlic and mix for 1 minute, until fragrant. Set aside.
Pour about 1 cup of sauce in the bottom of a deep lasagna pan and spread to coat the bottom. Lay in the lasagna noodles. Dot the noodles with small spoons of the cheese mixture and gently spread them together. Top with the mushroom mixture and spread evenly.
Top with small dollops of sauce and then a layer of lasagna noodles. Add more cheese and the thinly sliced zucchini. Top with some sauce and another layer of the noodles. Add some cheese and the baby spinach leaves. Add sauce and another layer of noodles. Press down gently and top with a good amount of sauce, which will help weigh down the spinach leaves.
Cover tightly with foil and place in the preheated oven. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until bubbly. Remove from the oven and remove the oil. Sprinkle the mozzarella cheese over the top and sprinkle the remaining Parmesan over that. Place back in the oven just until the cheese melts completely. Remove from the oven, let sit for 10 minutes and serve. Serves 8 to 12.
Dulce de Leche Chocolate Chip Cookie Cheesecake (Dairy)
You can use any cookie recipe for the base. Try oatmeal, sugar cookies, gingersnaps, or even peanut butter cookies!
1 recipe chocolate chip cookies
20 oz. jar dulce de leche
2 8-oz. brick style cream cheese, softened at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
3 extra large eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Make your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe and press enough dough into a 9 by 13 pan to a thickness of about 1/3 to 1/2 inch. Use the rest for cookies.
Bake until the cookie base is cooked through and golden. Remove from the oven and let cool until just warm to the touch. Pour a thin layer of the dulce de leche sauce over the cookie dough and spread evenly. Let cool completely.
Meanwhile, make the filling. Place the cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on low until creamy, scraping the sides and bottom as needed. Add the sour cream and vanilla and beat to blend, scraping the bowl as needed. Add the eggs and beat until smooth, scraping the bowl as needed.
Pour the cheese mixture over the cooled cookie base and place back in the oven. Bake until puffed and lightly golden, about 40 to 50 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool. Refrigerate.
Remove 10 minutes before serving. If you like, drizzle the top with some dulce de leche. Makes 18 to 24 squares.