Pre-Pessah cakes

Every baker has a repertoire of one-bowl cakes that can be put together on short notice.

cake 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
cake 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In my childhood, I always liked the period before Pessah, because it was the time to use up our flour. In my mother's kitchen, this meant plenty of homemade cakes - not just for Shabbat, but also as after-school snacks. Of course, with all the cleaning to do before Pessah, these sweets were not time-consuming to prepare, like our Purim hamentashen. Usually, they were one-bowl cakes, whipped up quickly with the mixer. The batter did not require separating eggs and beating the whites in a second bowl; instead it was the kind that included whole eggs for richness and rose thanks to baking powder. In short, these treats were quick and easy to make. In our family, the favorites were a cocoa applesauce cake and a cinnamon-swirled sour cream cake. Both looked and tasted completely different from each other but were made by the same method: Beating butter, margarine or oil with sugar, adding whole eggs, then beating in flour and flavorings. Every baker has his or her repertoire of one-bowl cakes that can be put together on short notice. My Jerusalemite friend Ronnie Venezia, author of Great Cakes and Desserts (in Hebrew), calls this category "homey cakes," and her tempting selection includes a spiced apple cake with raisins, pecans and apple brandy, and a lemon cake enriched with butter and sweet cream. Ruth Jolle, author of Quick and Easy Cakes (in Hebrew; the literal translation is "Five-Minute Cakes"), calls cakes made from this type of batter "stirred cakes." Hers include a coconut cake flavored with citrus zest, a Swiss vanilla cake with pecans and a Dutch butter cake with candied ginger. Benny Saida, author of Easy Cakes (in Hebrew), gives some of his stirred cakes a Middle Eastern accent, adding a generous amount of sesame seeds to a simple white cake batter, and chopped dates, nuts and brandy to another. Carine Goren, author of The Kitchen Helper - Desserts (in Hebrew), notes that there are endless ways to vary stirred cakes by adding spices, nuts, fruit and even vegetables. For her banana hazelnut cake flavored with honey and brown sugar, she suggests several variations: replacing the honey with date syrup or maple syrup; adding cinnamon, raisins, chocolate chips or grated carrots, or replacing the banana puree with persimmon puree. The appeal of these cakes to bakers and their families lies not only in their convenience. They are delicious enough on their own so that no frosting or other embellishment is needed. PEAR CAKE WITH HONEY Use good, sweet ripe pears to make this cake, or substitute tender apples such as Golden Delicious or well-drained canned pears. 900 gr. pears, ripe but firm 225 gr. butter or margarine 1 cup sugar 1⁄3 cup honey 3 large eggs 1 tsp. vanilla extract 3 cups all purpose flour 21⁄2 tsp. baking powder 2 tsp. finely grated lemon zest Preheat oven to 175º. Lightly grease a 33- x 23- x 5-cm. cake pan. Line base and sides of pan with a sheet of foil and grease foil. Peel, halve, core and finely dice the pears. Beat butter until smooth. Add sugar and beat until fluffy. Beat in honey. Add eggs one by one, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla. Mix flour with baking powder and stir mixture into egg mixture. Stir in grated zest. Last stir in pears. Spread batter in prepared cake pan. Smooth top. Bake for 45 minutes or until cake tests done with a cake tester or toothpick. Cool in pan on a rack about 20 minutes or until just warm. Turn out onto a rack. Cool to room temperature. Makes about 12 servings. COCOA APPLESAUCE CAKE For this quick and easy cake you can substitute whole-wheat flour for one third of the flour. 1⁄2 cup vegetable oil 1 cup sugar 1 large egg 11⁄2 cups all-purpose flour; or 1⁄2 cup whole-wheat and 1 cup all-purpose flour 1⁄3 cup unsweetened cocoa 11⁄2 tsp. ground cinnamon Pinch of ground cloves or grated nutmeg (optional) 1 tsp. baking soda 1 cup applesauce, preferably unsweetened 1 tsp. vanilla extract (optional) Preheat oven to 175º. Grease and flour a 20- to 23-cm. square baking pan. Beat oil, sugar and egg until pale in color and fluffy. Sift flour with cocoa, cinnamon, cloves and baking soda. Stir flour mixture alternately with applesauce into egg mixture and mix well. Add vanilla. Bake in greased pan for 25 to 30 minutes for a 23-cm. pan or about 35 minutes for a 20-cm. pan, or until a cake tester inserted in cake comes out clean. Turn out onto a rack or leave in the pan; cool completely. Serve at room temperature. Makes 8 to 10 servings. Faye Levy is the author of Chocolate Sensations and of 1,000 Jewish Recipes. Her latest book, just published in March, is Healthy Cooking for the Jewish Home.