The 3-by-5 file cards are yellowed with age, carefully covered in Saran Wrap and taped in the back. On the top right corner, the name Judy H; on the next line: Chocolate Yeast Kuchen, followed by the not overly detailed recipe written in small black letters explaining how to make one of my favorite deserts.
"You kids loved that cake," my mother said as we began to take out the flour, sugar and eggs to make it together in my Los Angeles kitchen. These were her recipe cards, from her Atlanta recipe file, attached to a shelf right above her busy kitchen counter. She kept them wrapped because, with six kids, spills were everywhere.
As we melted the butter in the milk and separated the eggs and waited for the yeast to proof, she said she got this recipe from Judy Herzenstein when we lived in Cleveland.
"I ate it at her house maybe 40 years ago," she said. "Probably on yontif when our families celebrated together," she said, referring to the Yiddish word for holiday.
Judy is no longer living, and our family long ago left the Midwest for the South. But, instantly, I was transported to our old brick house on Fenwick Road, where huge oak trees arched over the street where we played, tadpoles darted back and forth in our small backyard pond and, on the holidays, beautiful French doors with crystal handles opened to the dining room filled with warm foods, my five brothers and sisters, my laughing dad, and my smiling, fast-moving mom.
As I watched my mother preparing the light creamy dough -- patting it out evenly, gently, with her hands, then spreading one rectangle, then another with the whipped egg whites, followed by a generous sprinkling of chocolates, raisins and nuts -- I wondered how she found time to make a multistaged desert.
"Oh, I only made it for Friday night or yontif because it takes so much time," she said as she moved from rolling the dough to carefully lifting then lowering it into the bundt pan. I still found this amazing. Because she prepared this truly wonderful, sophisticated cake along with a full Shabbat or holiday meal while she managed the constant care and feeding of a household of eight.
She is right. Every one of us loved the Chocolate Yeast Kuchen. But more now, I love her for giving me these special memories, unique tastes, and old recipe cards colored with meaning.
Chocolate Yeast Kuchen
1/2 pound butter (2 sticks)
1/2 cup milk
2 packages bakers yeast (2 tablespoons)
1/4 cup warm water (105F-115F)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate morsels
1/4 cup raisins
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons sugar
Powdered sugar (optional)
In a microwave-safe measuring glass, pour milk and add butter sticks. Microwave until butter is completely melted (roughly two minutes). Separate eggs and refrigerate the whites for filling later.
Pour yeast in warm water and let proof until bubbly and completely dissolved. Add yolk to yeast mixture.
In bowl of electric mixer with paddle attachment, sift flour and sugar together. Make a well in the flour and pour egg mixture into center. Turn mixer on low and slowly add butter mixture. Increase mixer speed only slightly and continue to mix, scraping sides of bowl if necessary, until batter is completely blended and creamy dough begins to pull away from the sides.
Pull dough into a large ball with your hands and place in large glass bowl. Sprinkle the top with flour (approximately 1/2 teaspoon) and cover with paper towel. Refrigerate at least three hours or overnight. It will rise to at least double its size and then fall a little.
Bring dough to room temperature. Punch down and knead slightly in your hands until dough is evenly textured and hardened top from refrigeration is softened and mixed in.
Divide dough in half and place on sheets of wax paper. Pat into two large rectangles, about 10-by-12 inches, large enough to be rolled and meet in the center of a greased 10-inch (12 cup) bundt pan.
Preheat oven at 350F.
In large bowl of electric mixer with whip attachment, beat egg whites on medium until white and foamy. Slowly pour in sugar, a few tablespoons at a time, keeping mixer on medium, until soft white peaks form when beater is lifted away. Do not over mix.
Spread egg white evenly on each dough rectangle, leaving a half-inch on sides without cover. In small glass bowl, combine nuts, chocolate morsels, raisins, cinnamon and sugar, and mix with hands. Sprinkle evenly on each half covering egg whites. (Cinnamon and sugar that slips to bottom of bowl should be sprinkled over as well.)
Roll dough from narrower side, over filling, like a thick spiral, lifting from opposite side for very last roll. Some of the filling may ooze out, but that is fine. Using wax paper to help lift, carefully place each roll into bundt pan, open end on the bottom and slowly release roll from paper. Pinch open sides of each roll onto other. Again, some filling may be outside dough, but that is fine.
Bake 45-55 minutes, until dough rises and is golden brown.
Let cool on metal rack 15-20 minutes and then, using a small knife, loosen cake from sides. (Egg white is especially sticky, so make sure those areas are released from sides.) Using oven mitts, turn cake over onto serving platter and let cool completely.
Dust with powdered sugar, if desired, and serve. n
Lisa Solomon's writes food articles for several publications, including The Atlanta Journal Constitution, Washington Jewish Week and The Canadian Jewish News.