Shavuot Tradition – Cheesecake!

Before I begin, I must tell you that I am happy that this is the last holiday for a while. I am really over preparing all the holiday food.

As I explained in my first entry about Shavuot, traditionally we serve dairy dishes because the Torah which we received on this day is white, pure, and sweet like milk.

Among the most famous Shavuot dishes are blintzes, cheesecakes, cheese kreplach, cheese platters, sambousak and more.

Most Ashkenazis have a meat meal on the night of Shavuot and a dairy meal on the day of Shavuot. The dairy meal consists of a fish dish, salads and most likely cheesecake for dessert.

During Shavuot it is customary for some Sephardic Jews to eat leftover Passover matzo softened with milk and sweetened with honey. Other dishes such as Sutlatch (Turkish rice pudding), Atayef (Syrian), Kahi (Iraqi), Malabi (Middle Eastern), cheese-filled phyllo dough pockets, coriander cheese balls and artichokes stuffed with breadcrumbs and cheese are also common.

Sephardic women from Tunisia, Morocco and Libya take pride in baking a seven-layer cake for Shavuot called Siete Cielos or Seven Heavens. The cake is created in seven circular rising tiers, one smaller than the other with the smallest on top. Frequently it is decorated with various symbols made from dough. I have never seen one of these cakes, nor have I been able to find a recipe for it, but it sounds interesting. I have a feeling that it is more like bread, than a cake.

Kurdistan Jews eat a wheat cereal with labane and cheese-filled fritters, while many Afghani Jews cook rice and serve it with butter and yogurt.

Libyan, Greek, Turkish and Balkan woman bake wafers or bread in symbolic shapes. Among the symbolic shapes is a ladder which stands for Moses’ rise up Mount Sinai. Another shape is that of a hand, denoting hands openly receiving the Torah. Frequently there are two tablets representing the ten commandments.

I usually make cheesecake, but one that is not as rich as is made in the States. I do not use cream cheese. I use Israeli white cheese, which is similar to a thick greek-style yogurt. It is much lower in fat than cream cheese. I prefer to have a more tart cheesecake, so I make my personal favourite, which is lemon cheesecake.

Chag Shavuot Sameach everyone!

Lemon Cheesecake with Lemon Confit
This is a recipe that I adapted from several different recipes. I use an Israeli white cheese, which is similar in texture to a Greek-style yogurt. You can use cream cheese, if you prefer.
  • <a href="" title="Cheesecake Ingredients by BaronessTapuzina on Flickr">Cheesecake Ingredients
For the lemon confit:
  • 2 large juicy lemons unwaxed if possible
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
For the shortbread crust:
  • 60 g 1/2 stick unsalted butter (room temperature)
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 2 cups finely ground petit beurre or shortbread i.e. Pepperidge Farm Chessmen cookies
For the cheesecake filling:
  • 3 500g/16oz containers of Israeli 5% white cheese or Greek-style yogurt
  • 250 g 8oz container mascarpone cheese
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 4 tablespoons lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
For the topping:
  • 500 g 16oz sour cream
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Make the lemon confit:
  1. Start by making the confit as this needs to be prepared ahead of time – the day before you want to serve it, if possible.
  2. Sliced Lemons
  3. Take one and a half of the lemons and slice them into thin rings about 1/8 inch (3 mm) thick, discarding the end pieces and pips. Place these in a saucepan and cover with cold water, bring to a simmer for 3 minutes, then drain through a sieve and discard the water, Pour 12 fl oz (425 ml) water into the same pan, add the sugar, stir over a low heat until all the sugar dissolves, then add the lemon slices. Cook for 45 minutes, until the skin is tender.
  4. Lemon Confit
  5. Remove the slices with a slotted spoon. Reduce the liquid to 5 fl oz (150ml). Squeeze the juice from the remaining half lemon, add to the syrup and pour over the lemon slices. Cover and let sit overnight at room temperature.
Make the crust:
  1. Petit Beurre Biscuit
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together for 3-4 minutes. Add flour and ground petit beurre biscuits or shortbread to the mixture and blend for 3-4 seconds until fully incorporated. Press the mixture evenly into the bottom of a 22cm (11-inch) spring-form pan.
  3. Cheesecake base
  4. Bake the crust at 180° for 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown. Allow the crust to cool completely.
Make the cheesecake filling:
  1. Israeli White Cheese
  2. Beat the white cheese until light and smooth. Add the mascarpone cheese and sugar and continue to beat on medium speed. Add the eggs one at a time. Add the lemon zest and juice. Pour mixture into the cooled crust.
  3. Wrap aluminium foil around the outside of the spring-form. Place the cheesecake pan into a roasting pan, and add enough water to the roasting pan to reach halfway up sides of the cheesecake pan. Place in a 180° oven for approximately one hour or until the cake is set and the top is light brown.
Make topping while cheesecake is baking:
  1. Let sour cream stand at room temperature 30 minutes. In a bowl whisk together sour cream, sugar and vanilla extract. Spread over entire top of cake, smoothing evenly. Bake cheesecake in middle of oven 10 minutes.
  2. Remove the cake from the roasting pan and place on a wire rack. Allow the cake to cool slightly, and then place it in the refrigerator for 6 hours or overnight.
  3. Before serving, decorate the top of the cake with lemon confit or plate and place on top of a slice of cheesecake.
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Written by Baroness Tapuzina

Michelle Nordell (aka Baroness Tapuzina) was a foodie from the womb growing up in the House of Weird Vegetables, so named by a family friend because all of the unusual and exotic food cooked and eaten there. She loves to change recipes using herbs from her garden and spices from the spice shops she enjoys visiting.

6 thoughts on “Shavuot Tradition – Cheesecake!

  1. Actually, I heard that the reason we eat non-meat meals on Shavuot is that at Mt. Sinai, with the receiving of the Torah, we also received the laws of kashrut dictating the separation of meat and milk. Some say that Abraham himself separated meat and milk, although he was not commanded to do so. I’ve heard some legends that the Jews did not eat meat in the desert, and so we do not eat meat on Shavuot as a reminder. I’ve also been told that the emphasis on dairy, specifically, as opposed to parve, is an Israeli thing that has been promoted by Israel’s highly successful and omnipresent dairy industries. According to various religious friends of mine, in the Diaspora, there is less emphasis on dairy and simply a tendancy to refrain from meat for at least one meal on Shavuot.
    Curly Carol

  2. We tried this recipe – yummy!
    I do think that there may be a miscalculation when you call for two cups of crushed petit beurre. This seems to have created way too much crust!
    BTW, we used chocolate petit beurre which was very nice.
    For all readers out there: don’t miss out on the lemon sauce – it transforms the cheesecake!

  3. I am so glad you enjoyed the cheesecake. My pan may be bigger than I thought; I will measure it again and adjust the crust recipe accordingly.

    I saw the chocolate petit beurre at the supermarket this year and wondered how they would taste with the lemon. I will try it next time.

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