Tart, cheesecake among dairy best for Shavuot
Ukrainian Cheesecake Syrnyk

By Tina Wasserman
Many reasons have been given over the centuries as to why we eat cheese on Shavuot. Originally a harvest holiday to celebrate the beginning of the wheat harvest and the first fruits, generally the figs, the holiday morphed into a celebration of the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. Aside from associations with the laws of kashrut, it is more than likely that cheese and other dairy products play prominently into the celebration because the birth of calves and lambs occurred at this season so milk was plentiful. Blintzes probably became symbolic of the Torah scrolls and the re-introduction of crepes and blintzes in the 1930s by companies like Golden’s probably cemented the connection between blintzes and Shavuot.
No blintze recipe today but I would like to share three, previously unpublished recipes of mine that all contain dairy for your enjoyment over the holiday.

Savory Texas Cheese Tart

I first created this recipe for Marshall Field & Co. when I was “Chef Field” at the Galleria Store. I was told to use some jalapeño jelly from the inventory and knew little more than it was poured over a brick of cream cheese. I couldn’t just do that so I created this tart to be used as an appetizer. Customers loved it so I hope you will as well.

  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick cold unsalted butter
  • 3-4 tablespoons water
  • 4 ounces mild shredded cheddar cheese
  • 8 ounces cream cheese
  • 2-ounce jar sliced pimentos, rinsed and drained well
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • ¹/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • ¹/8 teaspoon dried basil
  • ¼ teaspoon cumin
  • ½ cup beer
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 8 ounces of mild or hot pepper jelly
  1. Combine the flour and salt in a processor work bowl and pulse on and off 5 times to combine.
  2. Cut the cold butter into 8 pieces and distribute around the work bowl. Pulse the processor on and off at least 10 times or until it looks like coarse meal.
  3. With the motor running, add the water 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough just begins to form a ball. Remove dough from processor and gently pat into a disk and refrigerate, covered, for at least 15 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, scrape out the work bowl until it is fairly clean. There is no need to wash the bowl for the next step.
  5. Add the cream cheese to the work bowl and process until no lumps appear. Add the cheddar cheese and process until the cheese mixture is pretty smooth.
  6. Scrape down side of work bowl and then add the remaining ingredients EXCEPT the pepper jelly.
  7. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  8. Roll out the refrigerated dough on a lightly floured surface to ¹/8-inch thickness. Fit the dough into the bottom and a little up the sides in a 9-inch springform, pie or quiche pan. Prick the bottom with a fork and bake for 15 minutes in the preheated oven.
  9. Pour the filling into the partially cooked crust. Reduce the oven to 350 degrees. Immediately place the tart into the oven and bake for another 20 minutes or until the mixture is set and crust appears to be a golden brown.
  10. Melt the jelly in a microwave oven for two minutes or until the jelly is pourable.
  11. Carefully pour over the tart surface and let sit for a while until jelly resets.
  12. Serve warm, at room temperature or chilled depending on your preference.

Tina’s Tidbits:
• It is very important to mix your cream cheese well before any eggs or liquids are mixed in. If you don’t, no amount of mixing will eliminate any lumps in your batter.
• Beating too much air into a cheesecake can cause it to crack while baking. Tapping the full pan on the counter for a few times will allow any trapped air bubbles to come to the surface during baking and pop.
• If you have too much filling for the pan you are using you can always spread some of the mixture onto baguette slices and bake in the oven for a few minutes until bubbling and toast is golden brown.

Ukrainian Cheesecake Syrnyk

I originally researched this recipe when Cantor Vicky Gliken first joined Temple Emanu-El and I wanted to welcome her. The Tvorag (Russian for cottage cheese) is very easy to make and resembles either a dry pot cheese or moist ricotta depending on how long you let it drain. Store bought is fine but I thought it would be fun for you to see how easy it is to make.

  • 1½ pounds homemade Tvorag or whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 4 large eggs separated
  • 2 ounces unsalted butter
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fine semolina flour plus additional for preparing the pan
  • Juice of ½ small lemon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2/3 cup golden raisins
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees in a convection oven (or 375 degrees in regular oven).
  2. Melt the butter in the microwave and use a small amount of that butter to brush the inside of a large loaf pan. Dust with some additional semolina flour.
  3. If the raisins aren’t soft, place in a small glass bowl, cover with water and microwave for 1 minute. Set aside until needed. Drain before adding to batter.
  4. Put the egg whites into a 2-quart bowl and the yolks into a 3-quart bowl.
  5. Using a hand mixer, beat the egg whites until frothy and then gradually add ¼ cup sugar until the whites form peaks. Set aside.
  6. Add the Tvorag or ricotta to the bowl with the egg yolks and using the same beaters (no need to wash them from the whites) beat the cheese and the yolks together until smooth.
  7. Add the remaining sugar, melted butter, semolina flour, lemon juice and vanilla to the cheese mixture and mix until well combined.
  8. Gently fold the beaten egg whites into the cheese mixture using a rubber spatula and then fold in raisins.
  9. Pour into the prepared pan. Place in the center of the oven and bake for 10 minutes.
  10. After the first 10 minutes reduce the oven temperature 25 degrees and continue baking for another 35-45 minutes (depending on the type of oven you are using, less time for convection).
  11. When cake is done, turn oven off and allow the cake to cool to room temperature before removing it to the refrigerator. Cool overnight or for at least a few hours until it is firm. Slice and serve plain or with some fruit preserves or sour cream for breakfast or for dessert. Serves 10-12.

Homemade Tvorag (Russian Cottage Cheese)

  • 1 gallon whole or 2% milk (lactose free is OK)
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar or lemon juice
  • Salt to taste
  1. Bring milk to a temperature of 200 degrees or until edges begin to bubble and mixture steams. Do not let it come to a boil!
  2. Turn off the heat and stir in the vinegar or lemon juice. Let the mixture sit for 15 minutes and then scoop up the solids and place in a double mesh strainer or cheesecloth-lined strainer over a bowl. Let the mixture drain for at least 45 minutes. The longer it drains the drier the cheese.
  3. Salt can be added before draining or after to accommodate your taste.

Tina’s Tidbits:
• The cheese that best meets the criteria for this cake is Friendship Farmers Cheese, which is found in the kosher dairy case. If you do not find it, then cottage cheese that is well drained can be used.
• Long ago I realized that “farmer cheese” in Texas often referred to a firm, yellowish cheese that was sliced somewhat like swiss without the holes. This isn’t the kind you want.
• Semolina flour is durum wheat flour that is more coarsely ground that our traditional white flour. It is fine ground but still coarse. For this little amount, bread flour could be substituted because of its high protein content.
• If you want to make cheese cheaply, look for gallons of milk that will soon expire and are often on sale for $1 a gallon. This works perfectly.

Lokshen (Noodles) with Cottage Cheese

This is the ultimate “Shiterein” recipe where amounts aren’t given but “handfuls” of this or that are added to make a recipe. This recipe definitely tells a story of one’s ancestry. If you were lucky to be given this simple and cheap dish one night for dinner when you were young you could have discovered your family’s origins. Litvaks and Russian Jews used salt and pepper with a dollop of sour cream added to their cooked noodles but Galitzianers from southern Poland and Belarus loved their sugar and cinnamon sprinkled copiously on top. Whatever way you make it, it is the easiest way to the Jewish cooking soul and your picky eaters might love it if you don’t overwhelm the dish with lots of cottage cheese. Ess!

  • Cooked noodles, any amount
  • 1 or more tablespoons of unsalted butter
  • Cottage Cheese, Farmer Cheese or Ricotta, any amount
  • Sour Cream, optional
  • Salt and
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste, optional
  • Cinnamon and sugar, optional
  1. Cook wide noodles according to package directions until tender, but not mushy.
  2. Drain and immediately toss with butter until well coated. The amount depends on the number of noodles you have cooked.
  3. Add the cheese to the noodles in the amount you would like. The more cheese, the more bound together the mixture will appear.
  4. Season with some salt and add your choice of pepper or cinnamon and sugar.

Tina’s Tidbits:
• I generally use large or extra-large noodles but you can use any pasta you still have in your pantry.
• Tossing cooked pasta with a little bit of butter coats the pasta and prevents it from sucking up any moisture in the sauce or accompanying ingredients. This is especially important in dairy dishes, not so much with tomato -based sauces.
• For a little more tang and cutting caloric content, thick, Greek yogurt can be used in place of sour cream.
• Eliminate the pepper if you are using the cinnamon and sugar. Additionally, any added dried fruit or smoked fish could be added to make this more of a “party”!!!

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