Breaking the Fast With Aunt Rita's Cake

After an early, pre-sunset dinner this Friday, Sept. 21, Jews will begin to observe Yom Kippur, the day of atonement that may include reflection, prayer and a 24-hour fast. By Saturday night, everyone is ready to chow and break the fast among family and friends, a repast that's usually heavy on the dairy and eggs.

Aunt Rita's marble cake. (Kim O'Donnel)

Over the past week, I've surveyed a bunch of friends about breaking the fast, and many of the menus looked the same - a carb-o-licious spread of bagels, cream cheese, smoked fish, noodle kugel and cake for dessert. But I liked the way my pal "Mister MG" describes the meal that he shares with his family every year:

"It's a giant spread of bagels, cheeses, smoked fishes, noodle kugel and more. A great, fresh bagel, with smoked whitefish or sable, a slice of red onion, tomato and some sweet Muenster cheese. You could plotz. And the meal isn't complete without an egg cream -- made with Fox's U-Bet syrup. Nothing else will do. Add some devilled eggs, boiled potatoes with sour cream and as many friends and family as you can fit around the table, and you're starting the new year off right."

Then I heard from my friend Jeff, who lives on New York's Upper West Side. We met earlier this year in New Orleans, as volunteer chefs with CulinaryCorps. Although we only met in June, it feels like we've known each other for years, a kinship that happens when people meet at the stove. And this group of 15, we quickly became attached, sharing knives, recipes and culinary gumption.

And so Jeff, who used to run around in a suit and tie, now cooks for a living, teaching classes at a New York area supermarket and catering on the side. He's always running around fetching something for supper - a recent e-mail reads, "Just went up to Arthur Avenue for some Italian supplies. Going to make a fresh sauce from farmers' market tomatoes later this afternoon. Tomorrow ricotta gnocchi with a sausage ragu."

I knew I could count on Jeff for a tasty contribution to breaking the fast, and sure enough he offered up his late great aunt Rita's marble cake recipe, which he plans to bake on Friday. He writes: "Aunt Rita Greenberg died in 2002 at the age of 90. She was married to my great Uncle Bernie (who was born on the Lower East Side). She was a great baker and baked up to the end of her life. My Mom and I just had lunch at Uncle Bernie's in Queens the other day. He still shops, cleans and cooks for himself at the soon to be age of 95."

Earlier this year, I baked a marble cake and brought it to the funeral of my pal, Hilton Filton, the DC piano player who died in February. That a second marble cake recipe crosses my path in the same year and is connected to someone who has passed on feels like no coincidence. So I make Aunt Rita's marble cake, and it's just scrumptious (as my mother would say). The melted chocolate is a wonderful touch, lending a richness that I don't get with my other marble cake recipe. It's a cake you want to eat with a cup of coffee or a glass of milk, a cake you might snack on after school or in the middle of the night when you can't sleep. And it's a cake that you share with all your best people gathered together to break the fast and perhaps remember, just for a moment (or a bite), those who used to join the table and now live on in spirit - and in recipes.

Share your tried-and-true Yom Kippur recipes and traditions in the comments area below.

Join me today at noon for What's Cooking.

Recipe below the jump.

Aunt Rita's Marble Pound Cake
From Jeff Seligman, New York, N.Y.

2 ¾ cups all-purpose flour, plus a small amount for dusting the pan
2 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, plus 1 tablespoon for greasing the pan (KOD note: I used equal amounts of Earth Balance shortening with great success)
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar (KOD note: I reduced amount to 1 1/2 and was happy)
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
¾ cup milk (buttermilk can be substituted)
6 ounces semi sweet or bittersweet chocolate
Optional garnish: ½ cup confectioners' sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease and flour a 9-inch Bundt pan. Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a mixing bowl.

In a makeshift double boiler (saucepan with a few inches of water covered with a snugly fit metal bowl), melt chocolate.

Using a mixer or electric beater, cream butter until fluffy and add sugar. Beat in eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla. Add flour in halves, alternating with the milk, ending with flour.

Pour half of the batter and into the pan. Add melted chocolate to the remaining batter and mix. Pour the chocolate batter into the pan and swirl.

Bake 45-55 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the middle of the cake comes out nearly clean.

Allow to cool for at least one hour. Use a table knife along the edges of the pan to loosen cake, then invert onto a serving plate. Dust with confectioners' sugar, if using

By Kim ODonnel |  September 18, 2007; 10:57 AM ET Baking , Jewish Holidays
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

This looks great. I'd also like to recommend the "black and white pound cake" from Maida Heatter's first book. It's made with Hershey's syrup, and is delicious. I've been making it every Christmas for my husband's family, and I'm not allowed to walk in the door without it.

Posted by: Annapolis | September 18, 2007 12:46 PM

I find it easier to fast when I've eatten lots of protein. The problem is that I'm (mostly) vegetarian... I find homemade mac and cheese to be a great, filling food that doesn't put you into a food coma during Kol Nidre services.

Posted by: DeenaJR | September 18, 2007 8:23 PM

The great Kabbalist, Rav Kadouri of Jerusalem, used to recommend eating 10 blanched almonds prior to the fast. Also, most people suffer because they haven't had enough water to drink the day before. Pregnant and nursing mothers should have at least 2 liters in the course of the day before the fast.

Posted by: yehudis | September 19, 2007 8:16 AM

Does anyone good ideas for prefast meals that are vegetarian (and maybe a bit healthier than mac and cheese)? I've made strata in the past (at the same time as making the kugel for the break fast). Anyone have any other ideas?

Also, you're not supposed to fast if you're pregnant or nursing. If you have a medical condition like that (or many others, including diabetes) you're excused from the fast.

Posted by: Alexandria, VA | September 19, 2007 10:01 AM

Regarding Yehudi's post: Pregnant and nursing mothers should get a pass from God, and not fast. The health of your child should always take precedence over your mythic beliefs.

Posted by: Sleepless Knight | September 19, 2007 10:45 AM

I'm curious as to why you don't recommend melting chocolate in a microwave. It's cleaner, and as far as I have noted, comes out just fine.

Posted by: lyla ward | September 20, 2007 11:14 AM

Sleepless Knight's sarcasm is annoying. "Mythic beliefs" or obedience? I'll take obedience over "Sleeplessness" anytime...
And pregnant women can easily adopt a modified fast to comply with the beautiful, meaningful observance of Yom Kippur without harm to the developing baby. Consult your rabbi.

Posted by: Elizabeth Richardson | September 20, 2007 4:32 PM

What does "KOD" mean in the recipe?

Posted by: E. Vickery | September 20, 2007 7:01 PM

I think KOD stands for Kim O'Donnel, the author of this column. The notes in parenthese are her modifications to the recipe.

Posted by: catwitz | September 20, 2007 7:17 PM

Hi Kim.
I remember Jeff telling us about this recipe in NOLA. I cannot wait to try it out.

Posted by: K. Morales | September 21, 2007 2:42 PM

I made this cake the other day. While flavourful and very pretty to look at, it is very dry. My husband actually choked a bit on the crumby texture. I drizzled on some chocolate syrup and that helped a bit.

Posted by: Phyrie | September 24, 2007 11:28 PM

Sorry to hear that, Phyrie. Perhaps you overbaked it -- or overworked the batter? I didn't experience dryness until the cake began to stale, about three days after it was baked.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | September 25, 2007 7:56 AM

This cake is delicious, I have made ones something like this every year at Christmas, to give to my friends as gifts, they all love them. Never heard of the Black and White cake, sounds good.

Posted by: Shirley | September 26, 2007 8:51 PM

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