Traditionally, Shavuot is the holiday when we celebrate receiving the Torah. Don’t admit this to your rabbi, but for many of us, the holiday is even more about receiving cheesecake – lots and lots of cheesecake. Like many Jewish customs, the reason why we eat dairy foods on Shavuot is far from obvious. Some commentators suggest that when the Torah was given at Mount Sinai, the Israelites were told for the first time about the laws regarding kosher slaughter. Without time to prepare a kosher meat meal for the holiday, they whipped up a delicious dairy concoction instead.
Regardless of the reason, Idan is in no doubt that dairy makes Shavuot the tastiest time of the Jewish year. The head pasty chef at Hilton’s Tel Aviv hotel, he and his team will be the stars of the Shavuot show as they create cheesecakes and desserts for 450 hungry people. “For the holiday, there’ll be a special food market in the hotel,” he explains. “Guests will choose meals from different stations. There‘ll be pastas and other dairy dishes at the edges but in the center will be the cheesecakes and desserts. Don’t tell the hotel’s executive chef I said this – but on Shavuot, all eyes are on the desserts!”
Idan has a passion for desserts. “You need to be incredibly precise. There is so much planning in preparing desserts for a whole hotel.” A slight mistake in the ingredient measurements can cause huge problems. “But what really makes me happy is the creativity and the compliments from the guests. A good dessert combines flavors, elements and textures. The visual element is also vital. You see some desserts that are just for show but I’m always looking for taste as well as beauty.”
It’s a labor of love to produce such sweetness. He starts his day at 5 A.M. “We spend more time in the kitchen than our homes so I think of my team like my family.” Only 27, he started his career at age 14 washing dishes in a restaurant. He worked his way up, including an “intense” period studying desserts at an elite Parisian cooking school. But at night the last thing he wants to do is cook desserts. “I make a quick omelette and salad and then I want to sleep. My girlfriend often begs me to prepare desserts. I tell her that I love her but I’m too tired to make another cheesecake.”
Israel is a land of cheesecakes. Many visitors are amazed to see cheesecake amongst the endless options in hotel breakfasts. “You should really run 20 miles after an Israeli hotel breakfast,” Idan jokes. He’s a patriot when it comes to naming his favorite cheesecake. “Give me the classic Israeli baked cheesecake any time. It’s light, airy. I love our American guests but American cheesecakes are too heavy for me. And don’t ask me what I think about donuts, cupcakes and other American desserts.
So how can you impress your family and friends this Shavuot? Follow Idan’s recipe and remember this tip. “To stop cheesecakes from collapsing, cook it in two stages. First, on a very high temperature and then on a much lower temperature.”
Thanks to Idan for the tip and Hag Sameah, have a happy holiday.
ISRAELI BAKED CHEESECAKE
100 grams butter melted
200 g biscuits made into fine crumbs
525 g of 5% farmer cheese
300 g white cheese with 5-9% fat
7 egg yolks
70 g sugar
100 g sifted potato flour
400 g milk
Lemon zest from half a lemon
1 vanilla stick
2 g salt
7 egg whites
170 g sugar
1. Preheat the oven to fan 250 C/480 F.
2. Crust: Line the base of a 26 cm springform pan with parchment paper. Melt the butter and stir with the biscuit crumbs so that the mixture is evenly moist. Pack the mixture into the bottom of the pan.
3. Filling: Mix all ingredients in the first part to a uniform mass.
4. Beat the egg whites and sugar to firm foam and fold to the cheese filling.
5. Bake at 250 C/480 F until the top of the cake is browned (about 15-20 minutes). Remove the cake and lower the oven temperature to 160 C/320 F.
6. Release the cake sides with a knife and put back in the oven for about 50-60 minutes.
Idan Hadad | Hiton Tel Aviv | Cover photography: Liron Almog Photographer