A Holiday Cake That Brings the Love and Saves You Time
By the time sukkot rolls around, many home cooks may be feeling burned out from the constant stream of preparations they have been making for large family dinners and gatherings from Rosh Hashanah through the break-the-fast meal after Yom Kippur.
Even though I’m a chef and caterer, I also feel pressure when I host special meals. In many respects, I feel that expectations for a meal at my house are higher than they would be at the home of someone who isn’t a professional chef. Also, isn’t this the time of year when we ask ourselves hard questions and meditate on the past and the future? Thinking about what we need to do differently and what habits and thoughts aren’t serving us anymore is hard work.
It’s so important to recharge yourself because you’re not very useful to anyone else if you’re exhausted and running on empty. I’m not saying you shouldn’t cook that special fish dish or kugel that’s traditional in your household, but do you have to cram one side of the table to the other with specialty foods over the holidays?
I say no. Your kids, your spouse, your parents, your friends — they love you for more than your cooking. They love your company, your hugs, your kisses, your humor and your caring face. All the therapy in the world won’t help you hold on to your relationships if you take for granted your primary sources of joy and happiness. Imagine if everyone concentrated on themselves and their loved ones. Then imagine what a better place emotionally and spiritually your environment would be if people took care of themselves, felt special, and even pampered themselves a little.
When facing challenging and busy times, less is more. Keeping things simple and easy can help you find moments of calm and sanity. Rather than taking on more, even if your family relies on you to execute the holiday menus, it’s important to take a breath and think about your well-being. It’s one thing to want to please everyone in your life; it’s another to be so stressed that you forget yourself completely.
If you are hosting people for Sukkot, make only dishes that are simple and enjoyable for you. If your specialty is complicated and time-consuming and you are overwhelmed — stop! Readjust your plans. Ask guests to bring a dish or buy prepared cuisine.
There is no shame in saying no, either. Don’t be the person whom everyone counts on for holidays if you feel crushed by the burden of cooking. Trust that the people who love you would rather have you vital and happy and dancing around your kitchen than to eat the most delicious thing you could possibly offer them.
“Your kids, your spouse, your parents, your friends — they love you for more than your cooking.”
While I’m not suggesting that you forget about everything that makes the holiday feel special to you, I am giving you permission to do less. Take a page out of the French playbook and make a simple dessert or, better yet, buy one.
According to baker extraordinaire Dorie Greenspan, who lives part of the year in Paris, the French don’t bake at home much. This makes sense because why would you try to compete with the amazing patisseries on every corner? But when they do, most everyone has a yogurt cake in their arsenal.
I’ve been making this one for years, not knowing that it’s a French staple. It’s easy enough that even after I’ve been at work and on my feet baking fancy pies and tarts for days on end, I can still manage this cake. I’ll call it my “charity begins at home” cake because it’s barely baking at all and every ingredient is probably already in your pantry. It’s also such a winning cake for a casual holiday table because it’s rather plain and will remind you of days gone by when Entenmann’s and Sara Lee were the only choices instead of the 4,000 brands available in stores today. It also has a homey, endearing split on top when it comes out of the oven.
This recipe is adapted from Greenspan’s. I use one of her tricks when making this loaf that will make you happy (see recipe). I’m going to pass down the secret with a wish that you serve this under your sukkah this year. You can dress it up and make it fancier by cubing it trifle-style and layering it with berries or coconut whipped cream, but honestly, no one will complain if you serve it as is.
I make the cake in two small loaf pans, but you can make it in one standard 9-by-4-inch pan. It also freezes well, so you can double the recipe to have a spare on hand for when people drop by for coffee or tea. It comes out like a light pound cake with a slightly orange flavor and a comforting, cakey crumb.
Here’s to being more generous with your time this Sukkot — time for yourself.
Rind of 2 clementines (use lemon or orange if you wish)
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup plain yogurt (or vanilla-flavored or Greek yogurt)
1 teaspoon vanilla paste or extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup neutral-tasting vegetable oil
2 tablespoons raspberry jam (optional)
2 tablespoons honey, warmed
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Greenspan’s trick: Take the rind of both clementines and rub into the sugar with your fingertips until the sugar is moist and the citrus scent hits your nostrils. Rubbing releases the oils in the rind and makes the cake zing with flavor.
In the same bowl, add the yogurt and mix well. Add the eggs and vanilla and whisk until smooth.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients and add them to the egg/yogurt mixture in batches, or until you no longer see flour. Then, switch to a spatula and fold in the oil until the batter is smooth and shiny.
Pour into your loaf pan and spoon jam (if using) onto the batter using a knife to disperse the jam and create some swirls. Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out dry or with just a few crumbs.
Glaze the cake with warm honey after it comes out of the oven for that nice holiday touch.
Cool for 30 minutes and then turn out onto a cooling rack. Serve warm or cold. Store in refrigerator in a sealed container.
Yamit Behar Wood, an Israeli-American food and travel writer, is the executive chef at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, Uganda.