For the Ashkenazim, the specialities for Shavuot
are cheese blintzes and strudel, cheese, kreplach, lokshen pudding with cream
cheese, borscht with sour cream, cheesecake, and paschko. For
the Sephardim, they are filas and sambousak with
cheese, milk puddings like sutlach, and pastries like
ataif, stuffed with cheese. Shavuot is also regarded as a harvest festival
of fruit, and all kinds of fruit puddings and cake are eaten.
For the pastry base:
1 1/3 cups (200g) flour
Pinch of salt
1/3 cup (75g) sugar
4 oz (100g) unsalted butter; cut in pieces
1 medium egg, lightly beaten
For the filling
1 lb (500 g) curd cheese
2/3 cup (150 ml) sour cream or fromage frais
5 eggs, separated
7/8 cup (175 g) superfine sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of half a lemon
A few drops of vanilla extract
For the pastry base, mix the flour, salt, and
sugar in a bowl and rub the butter in with your hands. Mix in the egg and
work very briefly until bound into a soft dough, adding a little flour if
it is too sticky. Wrap in plastic wrap and leave for half an hour.
Line a greased 10 1/2-inch (26-cm) spring-form
pan or flan mold with the pastry by pressing it all over the bottom and a
little up the sides with your hand (it is difficult to roll out). Bake it
blind in a preheated 350 F (180 C) oven for 30 minutes. Let it cool before
you cover it with the filling, or it will break up.
For the filling, mix the curd cheese with the
rest of the filling ingredients except the egg whites and beat until smooth.
Beat the egg whites to stiff snowy peaks and fold into the cheese mixture.
Pour into the pan or flan mold over the pastry shell. Bake in a preheated
300 F (150 C) oven for 1 ½ hours. Let it cool slowly in the oven with
the door open.
Stir 1/2 cup (75 g) black or golden raisins
soaked in water, rum, or kirsch into the cheese mixture after the egg whites
have been folded in.
Pour 1 cup (250 ml) sour cream over the top after baking.
Fila au Fromage
Small Cheese Triangles or Cigars
(makes about 60)
These ever-so-light little pies, also known as
filikas, ojaldres, and feuilletes, were always among the most
popular items on the buffet and tea tables of Oriental Jews. Today people
mix all kinds of cheeses for the filling most often feta with Gruyere
or cottage cheese and Parmesan. ( I made 240 of these cheese triangles for
my daughter Anna's 30th birthday party while watching four programs over 2
weeks. I put them in the freezer -- uncooked and without brushing them with
egg glaze and baked them on the day straight from the freezer.)
½ lb (250 g) Edam, grated
½ lb (250 g) Gouda, grated
½ lb (250 g) Cheddar, grated
½ lb (250 g) cottage cheese
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 lb (500 g) filo
6 oz (175 g) butter, melted
4 tablespoons sunflower oil
2 egg yolks, to brush the tops
Mix the cheese with the eggs. Cut the filo dough,
brushing the pastry strips with a mixture of melted butter and oil and the
tops with egg yolk mixed with 1-2 teaspoons water.
Add 3 tablespoons finely chopped dill
or mint to the filling and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg.
Sprinkle with 1/2 cup sesame seeds before baking.
For an alternative filling, mix 1 lb (500 g) cottage cheese with 1
lb (500 g) feta cheese (both drained of their liquid) and 4 eggs.
In Turkey, where the pastries are called filikas and ojaldres de keso,
they mix feta cheese with Gruyere and fry the pies in oil.
Fragrant Milk Pudding (basic recipe with variations)
Milk puddings with ground rice are ubiquitous
in the Middle East. For the Jews they are the all-purpose dessert of the dairy
table and the traditional sweet of Shavuot and Purim. In Turkey and the Balkans
such a dish was called "sutlage;" in Syria and Egypt, as in the
rest of the Arab world, it was "muhallabeya." Every community has
its own traditional flavorings and presentation. Use the basic recipe, and
add the flavorings from one of the variations that follow. Each one transforms
the pudding into something special.
3/4 cup (150 g) rice flour
5 1/2 cups (1 1/4 liters) cold milk
1/2 cup (100 g) sugar
For the flavorings and garnishes, see the variations
In a little bowl, mix the rice flour with a cup
of the cold milk, adding it gradually and mixing thoroughly to avoid lumps.
Bring the rest of the milk to the boil in a pan. Pour the rice flour-and-milk
mixture in, stirring vigorously, then cook on very low heat, stirring continuously
until the mixture thickens. If you don't stir every so often, the milk will
thicken unevenly and form lumps.
Let the cream cook gently for a few minutes more
(in all, 15-20 minutes). Stir in the sugar and cook until dissolved. Stir
with a wooden spoon, being careful not to scrape the bottom of the pan, because
the cream always sticks and burns at the bottom, and you want to leave that
part behind, untouched. The cream might seem too light, but it does thicken
when it cools. Pour into a large bowl or into small individual ones and serve
The most common way is to add 1-2 tablespoons
orange-blossom or rose water towards the end of the cooking and to garnish with
a sprinkling of chopped almonds and pistachios.
For a Judeo-Spanish version from Turkey, boil the milk with a stick of
vanilla or add a few drops of vanilla extract or the zest of ½ lemon.
Serve sprinkled with I teaspoon cinnamon.
My favorite pudding is with cardamom a popular flavoring with
Indian, Iraqi, and Iranian Jews. Add 1 teaspoon ground cardamom and 1 tablespoon
rose water a few minutes before the end of cooking.
Instead of rice flour, you can use cornstarch or a mixture of rice flour