The iconic Israeli cocoa-based birthday cake known as Ugah Kushit (black cake) or Ugat Yomledet (birthday cake) would be a great treat for Rosh Hashanah. As this Rosh Hashanah commemorates 5774 years since the birth of the world, this delicacy belongs on our Yom Tov menus.
Israeli-born Yigal Ben Aderet remembers his Turkish-born mother baking this “big deal,” spongy, moist, chocolaty cake, sometimes frosted, sometimes with whipped cream. It was eaten with milk and/or dunked in milk. Yigal Rechtman recalls that the class mothers responsible for the treats for special occasions who were expert bakers on his kibbutz occasionally made the very dark, unfrosted, somewhat coarse, round cake with a hole in the middle for very special occasions. The last time he tasted it may have been when he became Bar Mitzvah in 1979. Winners of the community Purim lottery might have won such a cake, as he recalls.
Some Hebrew speakers would be concerned about this apparently un-PC name for the black cake, which actually comes from the word kushi, referring to a black person. The word is based on the biblical text mentioning Moses’s wife’s land of origin in the Kingdom of Cush in Africa, “And Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married; for he had married a Cushite woman” (Numbers 12:1). The cake definitely has an exotic and ancient background.
My research for On the Chocolate Trail: A Delicious Adventure Connecting Jews, Religions, History, Travel, Rituals and Recipes to the Magic of Cacao, led to many wonderful recipes, including this one. As I plan for Rosh Hashanah’s commemoration of 5774 years since the birth of the world, this Israeli birthday cake will be a celebratory addition.
1 cup milk 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
12 ounces butter, melted 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 3 cups flour 2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda 1⁄2 teaspoon salt 2 cups sugar 1 cup boiling water (optional: 1⁄4 cup instant coffee for additional flavor)
3⁄4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1⁄2 cup whipping cream (optional: add 1 tablespoon instant coffee)
41⁄2 ounces dark chocolate, crumbled
Sprinkles, for decoration (optional)
FOR THE CAKE: Preheat the oven to 320ºF. Lightly grease a 10-inch springform pan or Bundt pan, or line a cake pan with parchment paper. Mix together the milk, eggs, melted butter, and vanilla. In a separate bowl, sift the flour with the baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the sugar and mix. Fold the milk mixture slowly into the dry ingredients. Mix the boiling water with the cocoa; stir into the batter. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan. Bake for 40–45 minutes. Check with a toothpick to see how firm it is; bake until it is firm inside, perhaps another 20–30 minutes. Cool completely in the pan. Remove when cool.
FOR THE FROSTING: Warm the cream in a large heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water; do not let it boil. Add the chocolate and stir until melted. If you prefer to cover the entire the cake with frosting, double or triple the recipe. Once the frosting has cooled, apply it to the cake. Decorate with sprinkles.
Quantity: 10–15 servings
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